William Henry Pope was born May 29, 1825 in Bedeque, Prince Edward Island (PEI), and later died on October 7, 1879.1 A man of many talents and great intelligence, Pope was a politician, journalist, lawyer, judge, and land agent throughout his life.2 The man had more successful careers than most people can hope for in five lifetimes. That person in law school that is involved in every club, seems to be at every event and is also probably a Dean’s Lister; this was William Henry Pope.
Pope received his post-secondary education in England where his father had originally emigrated from in 1819.3 After receiving his law degree, Pope returned to his native land of Canada to article under Edward Palmer back in PEI.4 After being called to the bar in 1847, Pope began a successful land agent practice.5 His practice became notorious after a few questionable business decisions took place. Pope’s father-in-law falsely convinced a client that the Liberal government at the time would not be interested in purchasing the client’s land.6 This caused the client to sell the property to Pope and his business partners for a mere $14,000, who then flipped the property to the Liberal government for nearly double the price.7 The deal was dubious, almost on the verge of fraud, but it cemented Pope as a legendary businessman. And we wonder why lawyers often get bad reputations in popular culture?
Fast forward into the 1850s, Pope moved away from his land agent practice, and began a political career. Pope was one of the few Prince Edward Island supporters of Confederation, which led to a deep feud with fellow PEI politician and former legal mentor Edward Palmer.8 Both men attended the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences, with Palmer adamantly against Confederation and Pope in favour.9 As a result, the Conservative Party in PEI underwent deep-rooted conflict with regards to a united Canada. The popular vote favoured Palmer becoming Premier of the province, with William Henry Pope (and fellow ally Colonel Gray) needing to accept the harsh reality that Confederation was not popular amongst Islanders.10
Throughout the 1860s, Pope’s political career began to dwindle. It was rather unexciting until he was appointed to the bench in 1873. Pope was appointed by John A. MacDonald’s government to Prince County Court that year.11 As a judge, Pope focussed extensively on pushing for Prince Edward Island’s inclusion in a united Canada.12 Pope aggressively advocated this position even when it was still unpopular to do so. His passion for Confederation was evident throughout his judicial career, and likely impacted many of his decisions. In this role, Pope’s legal record was outstanding, with only two decisions out of thousands ever being appealed.13
With his death, Pope leaves behind an impressive legacy. Pope’s admirable career as a judge seems to make up for questionable land agent tactics nearly 30 years prior. Further, he will always be remembered as one of the few Islanders willing to stand up for Confederation, and help push the country into a united state.
1 Ian R Robertson, “William Henry Pope” (16 January 2008), The Canadian Encyclopedia, online: <www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/william-henry-pope/> [Robertson, “William”].
3 Robertson, “Pope, William Henry”, online: (2003) 10 Dictionary of Canadian Biography <www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pope_william_henry_10E.html> [Robertson, “Pope”].
5 Robertson, “William” supra note 1.
8 Robertson, “Pope” supra note 3.