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Hon. James Colledge Pope

Photograph: Hon. James Colledge Pope


Hon. James Colledge Pope.

(June 11, 1826 - May 18, 1885)

James Pope was a prominent Prince Edward Island businessman and politician. Although not strongly opposed to colonial union, he campaigned against the Québec Resolutions as being insufficient for the Island's needs. He was elected as premier in 1873, with a promise to obtain better terms. He was named as the federal minister of marine and fisheries in 1878.

James Pope was born at Bedeque, Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), the second son of Joseph Pope and Lucy Colledge. He received his early education on the Island before being sent to Saltash (near his father's hometown of Plymouth, England) for further study. Upon his return, he joined the family business at Bedeque. He left briefly to go to California during the gold rush of 1849, but after contracting a fever he returned home to recuperate. Once recovered, Pope again went into business with his father, also establishing his own store at Summerside. He was also involved in a variety of other ventures, including shipbuilding and contracting, land agency, and trade in many types of goods. In addition, he was appointed collector of customs for the district of Bedeque in 1851. He married Eliza Pethick on October 12, 1852.

Pope began his political career in 1857, when he won a seat as a Conservative member for Prince County in a provincial by-election. Two years later, when the Conservatives won the 1859 general provincial election, Pope was named to Edward Palmer's Executive Council. (His brother William Pope, though not a member of the assembly, was named as colonial secretary.)

Pope and his brother held differing opinions regarding the question of colonial union. Where William was an enthusiastic supporter of Confederation, James was not. James did not participate in the Charlottetown or Québec Conferences, and he did not become involved in the executive dispute over the terms of union. He did support the Confederationist premier, Col. John Hamilton Gray, in the ensuing power struggle with Edward Palmer over the premiership. When both Gray and Palmer resigned their seats in the Executive Council over the matter, Pope became premier in January of 1865. He stated that while he favoured union in theory, he felt that the terms being offered were insufficient for P.E.I.'s needs. As a result, he introduced a "No Terms" resolution to the legislature in 1866. (His brother, absent from the legislature at the time, would later resign over this matter.) Despite this action, Pope was not completely against the idea of union. He did not send a delegate in support of Joseph Howe's anti-Confederation mission to London, and he let it be known that an increase in the proposed funds allotted for purchase of absentee land holdings could sway P.E.I. opinion in favour of union.

The Liberals beat the Conservatives in the 1867 provincial election. Pope did not even contest his seat. As a means of regaining support for a return to power, the Conservative Party turned to support of denominational schools. However, Pope lost a Summerside by-election on the issue in late 1868. Remarkably, he was able to form a coalition government less than two years later, when the Liberal government collapsed in 1870, on the condition that no action be taken regarding either denominational schools or colonial union, without first calling an election.

As a result, Pope's government turned its attention to railway construction (an initiative his brother had long supported). However, the financial consequences proved disastrous, resulting in the defeat of the Conservative government in 1872 (although Pope was elected as a member for Charlottetown). The situation was so desperate that Robert Haythorne's anti-Confederation government was forced to send a delegation to Ottawa in 1873 to negotiate terms for union with Canada. These terms were put before the electorate in April of that year. Pope and the Conservatives succeeded in regaining power with a promise to obtain even better terms. As a result, James Pope was premier when P.E.I. entered Confederation on July 1, 1873.

Following Confederation, Pope was elected to the federal legislature as a member for Prince County. However, the Conservatives lost all of the federal seats in the 1874 general election. Pope himself did not run. He was elected as a provincial member for Summerside in 1875, but was not given a cabinet position. After a defeat in the August 1876 provincial election, he returned to federal politics three months later as the member for Queens County. When the federal Conservatives regained power in 1878, Pope was named as minister of marine and fisheries. While a federal minister, he defended Conservative tariff policies as a means of forcing the United States to negotiate a free-trade agreement.

The death of his brother in 1879, and a number of business setbacks, were severe blows to Pope, and probably contributed to his mental and physical decline. He took a leave of absence from the cabinet after the 1881 session, but not even the care of a number of doctors (including Charles Tupper) could improve his health. He did not contest the 1882 election, and by 1883 had been declared unfit to manage his own affairs. James Pope died two years later.


"Pope, James Colledge". -- Macmillan dictionary of Canadian biography. -- Ed. W. Stewart Wallace. -- 4th ed. -- Toronto : Macmillan of Canada, 1978. -- P. 670-671.

Robertson, Ian Ross. -- "Pope, James Colledge". -- Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition. -- Ed. James H. Marsh. -- 3rd print ed. -- Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999. -- P. 1862.

Robertson, Ian Ross. -- "Pope, James Colledge". -- Dictionary of Canadian biography. -- Ed. Francess G. Halpenny. -- Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1982. -- Vol. 11, p. 699-705.