This Heritage Paper begins the first part of a biography on the Honourable Adam Johnson Fergusson-Blair, who, for a short period of his life, lived in East Flamborough Township, but is virtually unknown to local residents, even though he was the first senator from the Township, and President of the Privy Council of Cabinet in Sir John A. Macdonald’s first Dominion Government of 1867.
This series was prepared by Mrs. Ariel Dyer, local author and member of the Society, who in 1983 published “The Laird of Woodhill”, the story of the Honourable Adam Fergusson. Today, Mrs. Dyer lives in Fergus, but continues her association with the Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society with research about another Flamborough resident whose very illustrious life was cut short when he was but 52 years of age.
The Honourable Adam Johnson Fergusson-Blair was the second son of the Honourable Adam Fergusson who built his home, “Woodhill”, on the third concession of East Flamborough in 1833 — over one hundred and fifty years ago. Adam Johnson’s father was the eleventh Laird of Woodhill in Perthshire, Scotland, but this property was sold when the family emigrated to Upper Canada. His mother was Jemima Johnson Blair, who was the posthumous child of Major James Johnson and his wife, Margaret Blair of Balthayock, also in Perthshire.
Adam Johnson was educated at home by his well educated parents, and by several tutors, and was later examined at Edinburgh Academy. He went on to Edinburgh University where he studied law. His course was interrupted when he accompanied his father and the rest of his family to Canada in 1833. His mother had died when her seventh son was born, but his father had married again shortly before coming to Canada; the lady was Miss Jessie Tower.
Adam Fergusson Sr. had made a tour of discovery for the Scottish Highland Agricultural Society to assess the potential for successful emigration of farmers to the New World. His findings were published in a book called “Notes on a Tour of Upper Canada and Some Parts of the U.S.A.” It is said to have had a powerful influence in the tide of emigration to Upper Canada that took place soon after its distribution. Indeed, Mr. Fergusson was so impressed with the possibilities for a good future for his family in this British colony that, with six of his sons, his bride and a Presbyterian clergyman named Rev. Patrick Bell as tutor, he made the trip in 1833. He found a spot near Waterdown that he thought “would make a suitable place for an abode”, and the handsome dwelling at “Woodhill” was built soon after.
Adam Johnson returned to Scotland to complete his education. His father soon became well-known in agricultural and political circles. His remarkable achievements in these fields are recorded by Mrs. Ariel Dyer in her book, “The Laird of Woodhill”, published in 1983. He had become the Honourable Adam Fergusson — one of the most illustrious pioneers of this country.
Adam Johnson Fergusson returned to Canada and joined a Mr. J.J. Kinsmill in a law practice in the city of Guelph. He was called to the Canadian Bar in 1839. The partners built a stone office on Douglas Street that is still occupied by a firm of lawyers. In 1840 he was appointed as the first Judge for the newly formed County of Wellington, a post that he filled with honour.
His father, with the consent of his friend, Premier Robert Baldwin, advised him to give up the Judgeship and run as a Reform candidate in the election of 1848. He was opposed by his father’s former partner in the founding of the town of Fergus — the Conservative candidate, Mr. James Webster. Mr. Webster obtained a small majority, but when a recount was held, it was found that Mr. Webster had more votes polled for him than there were eligible voters. It was found that female landowners had voted and as this was not lawful at that time, a petition resulted in Mr. Fergusson winning the seat. He served the riding of Waterloo-Wellington South from 1849 to 1854. That he was well liked by his constituents is shown by the fact that the small village of Carlisle in Waterloo County had its name changed to Blair in his honour.
Adam Johnson represented Wellington South 1854 to 1857. In 1860 he was elected by acclamation to an eight-year term as Legislative Councillor for the Brock Division. His father was also a member of this body, so there were two Honourable Adam Fergussons in the Legislative Council. Adam Johnson became a very staunch ally of George Brown, Editor of “The Globe”, the Reform paper of the time. Their fathers had been friends in Perthshire.
Guelph became the home of Adam Johnson. Being an astute Scottish businessman, he bought up land that became very valuable when the railroad and good roads came to that city. He also had a lucrative law practice beside his government work. When his elder brother Neil died in Scotland, the maternal inheritance of the estate of Balthayock became his in 1862. Because he was so involved in legal and parliamentary affairs, he decided, with the consent of his brothers, to sell the property. Because it had been entailed to be owned by none but Blairs, he was required to add Blair to his name before he could sell it to strangers. It was finally disentailed. In fact, Adam Johnson and his brother, Robert, were in Scotland when their father, the Honourable Adam Fergusson, died in September of the same year. Adam Johnson Blair inherited Woodhill, so with his real estate holdings in Guelph as well, he became the wealthiest man in Guelph.
Editor’s Note:The Woodhill estate was tragically lost to fire, July 2020.
Originally published in Heritage Happenings, January 1985.
© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1985, 2020