The second part of Mrs. Ariel Dyer’s research 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. He was raised in Scotland and spent much of his life in Guelph.
Adam Johnson gave leadership to many of the most worthwhile projects in the city, including having a part in the promotion of the building of the Brock Road, leading from Guelph to the macadamised road in East Flamborough Township that was part of the Governor’s Road from Toronto to London. As County Solicitor, he was influential in having the railway, later known as the Grand Trunk line, come to Guelph. An attempt to have an extension go to Galt put him at logger-heads with Sir Allan MacNab, whose line to Goderich would have been affected by another line to the interior.
In Leo Johnson’s “History of Guelph”, published in 1977, there are many references to Adam Johnson in all the affairs of the city, including the Mechanic’s Institute, the Upper Canada Bible Society, the Curling Club, the Building Society, which eventually became the Guelph and Ontario Investment and Savings Society, the building of the County Court House, and the Guelph Market building. He was appointed Colonel of the Militia in 1866. He owned a large estate called the “Homestead”, but sold it on the death of his father and moved to “Woodhill” in East Flamboro. Adam Johnson was very involved in the provincial governments of the time, so perhaps did not have time to mingle with the residents of Flamboro, and perhaps that is why he has been largely forgotten by this time.
In March 1863, he was appointed Receiver-General in the ministry of John Sandfield MacDonald; in May of the same year he became Provincial Secretary. When Sandfield MacDonald resigned in March 1864, Governor General Monk asked Adam Johnson Fergusson-Blair to form a coalition ministry, but he declined to do it because of the uncertain loyalties of several members. Instead, John A. Macdonald and George Brown formed the Great Coalition to solve the political stalemate and implement Confederation.
In 1865, Brown left the Cabinet and Fergusson-Blair became President of the Council. Brown “fell out” with his former friend, but Sir John A. Macdonald realised his worth, and when Confederation was finally accomplished, he appointed Adam Johnson Fergusson-Blair to the first Senate of the Dominion of Canada, and he became President of the first Privy Council, where he wielded tremendous influence in the infant nation until his unexpected death when Canada was just five months old.
Adam Johnson enjoyed his spacious house and the rolling acres of Woodhill. The story is told that he took his favourite horse through the house, much to the consternation of the housekeeper, Mrs. Ford. Sad to say he did not live long to enjoy his Flamboro home. He was stricken with a heart attack on 29 December 1867, shortly after the prorogation of the first session of the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada. He was 51 years of age, and had never married. He was buried beside his father, the Honourable Adam Fergusson, in St. Luke’s Anglican Church Graveyard, Ontario Street, Burlington.
Mr. William Kempling, Burlington M.P., is trying to have the grave of Canada’s first top civil servant marked as an historical site — for Adam Johnson Fergusson-Blair was a great Canadian. There is a strange side to his burial in this Anglican churchyard, for by religion, the Fergusson family were Presbyterians, and the Presbyterian Church of St. Paul’s, Dundas Street, Nelson Township was in existence at the time of his death.
Mr. George Tower Fergusson, writing about his uncle in 1912, wrote…
“in personal appearance, Mr. Fergusson was exceedingly unlike his father. Although tall, he was of a slender build, while his voice and eyesight were both weak, the latter causing him to have the appearance of stooping. As a judge he was felt to be thoroughly honest, so that his decisions gave general satisfaction. His promotion from one office to another in political life attests the confidence which was placed in him.”
A.E. Bryerly, in his book “Fergus”, wrote, “while Mr. Fergusson is no doubt the most noted statesman ever produced in this County (Wellington), he was not an ambitious man in the sense of trying to make his name a shining one in the nation”.
George Brown, in the obituary published in the “Globe” in 1868, paid his old fried highest praise and forgave him his political mistakes, claiming that he had “remained in spirit” with his Reform friends, he had been a “sound lawyer”, and “an able politician whose retiring habits prevented him from rising to the position to which his talents entitled him”.
“Dictionary of Canadian Biography”, Volume IX 1861-1870. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. 1976.“The History of Guelph”, Leo Johnson“Fergus, or the Fergusson-Webster Settlement, With an Extensive History of North-East Nichol”. Elora: 1934.Private papers and letters of the Honourable Adam Fergusson, Honourable Adam Johnson Fergusson-Blair and George Tower Fergusson.
Editor’s Note:The Woodhill estate was tragically lost to fire, July 2020.
Originally published in Heritage Happenings, February 1985.
© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1985, 2020