Born in 1860 in Oromocto, Sir John Douglas Hazen was a lawyer, university administrator, politician, and judge. He was the progeny of James King Hazen and Elizabeth Marian Beckwith and the grandson of John Adolphus Beckwith.
Douglas Hazen, known primarily by his middle name and seldom using his first, was a descendant of the Sunbury Hazens, a minor line of one of New Brunswick’s most eminent aristocratic families. The prearranged marriage of his parents was short and fraught, leading to the family’s split according to enduring family lore. His maternal grandfather, John Beckwith, took his daughter and her two children to his home in Fredericton shortly after Douglas’s birth. His father, James, passed away in 1878 when he was 42, and his mother, Elizabeth, who lived up to the ripe age of 97, never remarried.
Hazen received his education at the Fredericton Collegiate School and the University of New Brunswick, earning a BA from the latter in 1879. He began studying law shortly after, in the distinguished Fredericton firm of Premier John James Fraser, Edward Ludlow Wetmore, and Edward Byron Winslow. He was admitted as an attorney in 1882 and joined the bar in the subsequent year. Between 1882 and 1890, he served primarily as the University of New Brunswick’s registrar and treasurer, while his law practice was sporadic. He was more engaged with Conservative politics, first cutting his teeth in the field by campaigning for Fraser during the federal election of 1882. When Frederick Pemberton Thompson, an MLA for York, was appointed to the Legislative Council three years later, Hazen got his first chance to run. He represented the Conservatives in the subsequent by-election, but his Liberal opponent soundly defeated him.
After his foray into politics, Hazen’s interest in the field remained undiminished. Thwarted at the provincial level, he turned his attention to Fredericton’s city council, where he served as an alderman in 1885 and became Mayor in 1888. Despite being home to the government, superior courts, and the province’s only university, Fredericton was comparatively sleepy against the bustling port city of Saint John, the legal and commercial hub of New Brunswick. Saint John was also the traditional base of the main Hazen family branch, and circumstances soon led Hazen to the place where he would spend his remaining years. In 1888, his affluent uncle, Francis Brinley Hazen, passed away prematurely without children, and Douglas was called upon to handle his estate. By 1890, he resigned from his university positions, relocated from Fredericton to Saint John, where he revived his law practice and started assessing the political terrain.
In the federal election of 5 March 1891 Hazen, running chiefly on his family name, was elected for Saint John City and County and joined Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservative government in Ottawa. At 30 years of age Hazen was possibly the youngest anglophone mp up to that time, yet when parliament convened in April he was given the honour of moving the address in reply to the speech from the throne. His mature and polished eloquence made an impression, and throughout the next five years Hazen was a busy and well-informed backbencher who spoke frequently to matters of local and regional interest. By autumn 1895 he was confident enough to go out on a limb and oppose the policy of his own government. At the time Portland, Maine, was Canada’s winter port for overseas mail shipments, and the service was subsidized by the federal government. The Beaver Line of steamships offered to operate this service from Saint John if it could obtain an annual subsidy of $25,000. When no satisfactory answer was forthcoming, Hazen and John Alexander Chesley, a fellow Conservative MP from Saint John, dispatched a telegram to Ottawa, parliament being out of session, announcing that they would resign their seats within 24 hours if the subsidy were not paid. The stratagem worked, and the government promptly came through with the necessary funds. (The subsidy was subject to changing circumstances rather than being permanent.) Hazen clearly did not lack conviction or political courage, but his maverick behaviour might have got him into trouble had it not been for his good relationship with the prime minister, Sir Mackenzie Bowell.
In the federal election of 23 June 1896 Hazen lost by 191 votes to Joseph John Tucker, a Liberal newcomer to politics whose “chief political asset,” in the words of historian John Irvine Little, “seems to have been his wealth.” Hazen’s defeat is difficult to explain. The electorate may have been punishing the government for its handling of the principal issue of the campaign, the Manitoba school question, which had split the Conservative Party in both parliament and the country. If any local issue affected the outcome, it was the failure of successive Conservative governments to sustain Saint John’s claim to be Canada’s winter port and terminus of the fast line of North Atlantic mail steamers. Years later, as federal minister of marine and fisheries, Hazen would be in a position to divert both steamship lines and individual vessels from Halifax to Saint John, and he would not hesitate to do so.
Casting about for another field of political activity, in 1896 Hazen became secretary-treasurer of the provincial Conservative Party, which in those days was a loose and ill-defined coalition of individuals opposed to the governing Liberals. In the provincial election of 18 Feb. 1899 Hazen ran in his native county of Sunbury and won by 20 votes. He could not have risked contesting solidly Liberal Saint John, where his party’s leader, Alfred Augustus Stockton, was defeated. The opposition elected 4 members to the Legislative Assembly, of whom Hazen was one, to 40 for the government. Stockton relinquished the party leadership, and Hazen, invited to succeed him, rose energetically to the challenge. He had his work cut out for him, for the Liberals had been in power since 1883, flourishing under such strong premiers as Andrew George Blair, James Mitchell, and Henry Robert Emmerson. The Conservatives, meanwhile, had a serious credibility problem. It was not clear what they were opposing, other than Liberal success. They were also burdened with the albatross of the federal Conservative Party, with which they had customarily aligned themselves, and which was then labouring under the tired leadership of the near-octogenarian Sir Charles Tupper.
Hazen took the optimistic view that the opposition, however fragmented and unfocused, was a government-in-waiting. His dynamism helped to drive Emmerson out of provincial politics. Hazen had campaigned against his mishandling of contracts in his position as minister of public works, and once in the legislature he persisted, going so far as to accuse the Premier of personal dishonesty. In 1900 the government appointed a public inquiry whose report exonerated Emmerson, but in August he resigned. Seven years later Emmerson, then a federal mp, would prosecute the editor and proprietor of Fredericton’s Conservative Daily Gleaner for criminal defamation, and Hazen would act as lead counsel for the accused, James Harvie Crocket, who was his close political ally and associate. Despite the Liberal legal talent deployed on its behalf, the prosecution was stayed.
The provincial election of 28 Feb. 1903 saw the opposition’s standing rise from four to ten seats. According to political scientist Calvin A. Woodward, “Hazen’s effort was directed at the mobilization of an all-party coalition to contest the election against the Government.” Distancing himself from the unpopular federal party, he considered everyone unhappy with the governing Liberals to be a prospective Conservative voter. Hazen was the first effective leader of New Brunswick’s Conservative Party, and thanks to him it finally stood for something positive – political reform – rather than simply being an oppositionist party. The Liberals were easily victorious, but Hazen correctly discerned that the way ahead lay in adhering to strict party lines and vigorous partisanship, as well as in distinguishing between the provincial party and its federal counterpart. To this extent, Douglas Hazen may be credited with inventing the modern politics of New Brunswick.
Despite being deeply involved in provincial affairs, Hazen had not lost interest in federal politics in Saint John, where he continued to live and practise law. In December 1903 the retirement of Blair, who had defeated George Eulas Foster in the general election of 7 Nov. 1900, necessitated a by-election in the riding of Saint John City. The Conservatives nominated former mayor John Waterhouse Daniel, Foster having moved to Ontario, while the Liberals put forward Harrison Andrew McKeown, mla for the city and solicitor general in the government of Lemuel John Tweedie. Hazen, who was president of the Conservative riding association, made a direct appeal to the chair of the local Liberal executive that both parties commit formally to a campaign free of corruption. The Liberals agreed in principle but declined to go any further. Whether Hazen’s initiative resonated with voters cannot be known, but on by-election day, 16 Feb. 1904, Blair’s previous majority of nearly 1,000 votes in Saint John City turned into a majority of 269 votes for Daniel, McKeown’s Conservative opponent. Daniel would be easily victorious in the general election nine months later.
The provincial Liberals waited as long as they could, until 1908, before calling another election. By then they were dogged by allegations of systemic corruption and led by Clifford William Robinson, a well-liked and respected but weak leader. Hazen argued that the Liberals were inefficient, incompetent, and wasteful, and implied that corruption may have been responsible for their long hold on power. He also made it clear that his party, and whoever joined it, stood for clean electioneering and integrity. Calvin A. Woodward makes the point that in 1908, the year of a Canadian federal election and American presidential and congressional elections, “purity” was an issue.
It was not the only issue, however, or even the most important one. For years Hazen had excoriated the government for fiscal irresponsibility, pointing out that the public debt had been allowed to rise unrestrainedly and contending that the Liberals were poor stewards of the public interest. By comparison with his opponents, Hazen spoke like a modern chief financial officer who was determined to reduce provincial indebtedness to sustainable proportions. He argued that everyone who opposed the inept government was a Conservative, and this strategy worked. Voters deserted the Liberals in droves on 3 March 1908, with 31 Conservatives being returned against 12 Liberals. Hazen became both Premier and Attorney General in the new administration.
After nine years as leader of the opposition, Hazen would be premier for a mere three. Just after assuming office he appointed Pierre-Amand Landry, a justice of the Supreme Court of New Brunswick and former Conservative MP, chair of a commission to inquire into the relations between former Liberal governments and the Central Railway Company, a failing venture in which the province had invested to the point of gaining control. The commission, which was a pointless exercise in political retribution, produced a damning report that caused a firestorm. For doing what the government expected of him, Landry would be rewarded with a promotion to chief justice of the King’s Bench division when the restructuring of the Supreme Court took place in 1913.
As premier, Hazen had several constructive measures to his credit. A ban on the export of pulpwood from provincial crown lands, a far-seeing forestry-conservation measure that made possible an indigenous pulp-and-paper-manufacturing industry, was proposed in 1909 and effected two years later. A new judicature act that divided the Supreme Court into two separate divisions replaced a bill that had been passed, but left unproclaimed, in 1906. The Board of Public Utility Commissioners was set up in 1910, the Bureau of Labour was expanded, and the Board of Health was empowered to appoint district health officers. A bill to provide for building the Saint John Valley Railway was enacted. Given that accountability was the principal theme of Hazen’s career, he established a treasury board and appointed an independent auditor general to ensure responsibility in the province’s finances.
An early advocate of regional economic and political cooperation, Premier Hazen was the prophet and progenitor of the Maritime Rights movement. In August 1908 he had represented New Brunswick at the sesquicentenary celebration of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly and made a speech calling for Maritime solidarity as a bulwark against creeping central Canadian power. His perspicacity about the need for a united front was remarkable and set the tone for federal–provincial relations in eastern Canada for the next century. Historian Colin Desmond Howell observes that Hazen’s “marriage of progressive reform proposals and the defence of regional interests within Confederation became a common formula for political success in all three provinces.”
Hazen’s re-entry into the federal arena in 1911 was the result of the Conservative victory in the snap election called just three years into Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s fourth mandate. The most important issue of the campaign was reciprocity with the United States. This had been an important concern in the 1891 election, when the Conservatives had declared that such an arrangement would undermine the British connection, a claim that they repeated 20 years later. Hazen himself was of two minds about the matter. He had favoured limited reciprocity in earlier days, stating in 1891: “I believe that if a fair Reciprocity Treaty can be effected along the lines of the old Treaty of 1854, it will be of considerable benefit to both countries and that it will meet with favour from all parties in the Dominion of Canada.” Only belatedly and begrudgingly did he push an anti-reciprocity resolution through the New Brunswick legislature in 1911. Despite the deepening political tension in Ottawa, Hazen left for England that summer to attend the coronation of King George V as the official representative of his province, and to argue successfully an appeal case before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
On election day, 21 Sept. 1911, the Liberals lost ground in New Brunswick but still carried the province by eight seats to five. Countrywide the Conservatives scored a decisive victory. All four Tory premiers – Hazen, Rodmond Palen Roblin of Manitoba, Sir James Pliny Whitney of Ontario, and Richard McBride of British Columbia – were invited into the cabinet by Prime Minister Robert Laird Borden, but all declined except Hazen, who became Minister of Marine and Fisheries and of the naval service. A seat had to be found for him, and Daniel, now representing Saint John City and County, obligingly stepped down on the understanding that he would be appointed to the Senate. Hazen was acclaimed when the Liberals, who had fared badly against Daniel in four consecutive elections, declined to run a candidate.
Reciprocity disappeared from the political agenda after the election of 1911, and the issue of the day became naval policy. Hazen, like most other top Conservatives, was a contributionist: for him the naval service of Canada meant not the creation of a free-standing Canadian fleet, but the provision of money or ships for Britain’s Royal Navy to help counter the rising threat from Germany. Tenders for ships for the fledgling Royal Canadian Navy were cancelled while the Conservatives set about trying to replace Laurier’s Naval Service Act and developing their own policy. On 5 Dec. 1912 Borden introduced the Naval Aid Bill, which pledged $35 million for the construction of three British Dreadnoughts. The bill, which Borden and Hazen piloted through the House of Commons, had a rocky passage: the Liberals organized a filibuster led by William Pugsley, and on 9 April 1913 closure was introduced for the first time in Canadian history to prevent further debate. The bill passed the house a month later, but the Liberal-dominated Senate rejected it and Borden chose not to bring the bill forward again.
Hazen inherited a ministry, most recently headed by Rodolphe Lemieux, that was still in disarray and demoralized by the harsh findings of a 1908 investigation of its inefficiencies during the tenure of Lemieux’s predecessor, Louis-Philippe Brodeur. With the assistance of senior civil servants such as George Joseph Louis Desbarats, Hazen continued and completed the rebuilding of Marine and Fisheries, by far the more demanding part of his dual portfolio, before the outbreak of war in August 1914. His responsibilities were as extensive as they were diverse, including fisheries conservation, lighthouses, ports and harbours, and marine transportation and shipping. Among his achievements was the establishment in 1912 of the Biological Board of Canada, and that year he was also elected President of the North American Fish and Game Protective Association, a sign of his international standing as a conservationist. In 1912–13 he reorganized the fisheries branch to bring both minister and department into closer touch with regional fishing industries. In his capacity as minister of the naval service he was responsible for coastal defence, radio-telegraphy, and the hydrographic service; in June 1913 he announced that the Royal Naval College of Canada in Halifax, which was threatened with closure, would be continued. Hazen oversaw the amendment of the Customs and Fisheries Protection Act in 1913 and passage of the Fish Inspection Act of 1914; he also travelled to Washington, D.C., in March 1913 to call on President Woodrow Wilson and urge him to commit the United States to more robust enforcement of international fisheries regulations.
By 1914 Douglas Hazen was being viewed in party circles as one of the Prime Minister’s indispensable men. According to an editorial early that year in the Conservative Ottawa Citizen, “In Parliament Premier Borden has no more honourable and able lieutenant. With his frank and genial personality Hon. Mr. Hazen may be picked out at once as a leader.” Hazen was among the most effective and energetic members of the government and possibly already an heir apparent to Borden as party leader. The outbreak of World War I in August only served to emphasize the importance of Hazen, whose reliability stood in contrast to the irresponsibility and incompetence of the minister of militia and defence, Sir Samuel Hughes, whom Borden dismissed in November 1916. Hazen’s duties as navy minister, which included fisheries protection, naval transport, naval defence, and naval intelligence, had expanded because of the war effort. In 1917 he accompanied Borden to England as a delegate to the Imperial War Conference and became a member of the imperial war cabinet. He was in London for the birth of his first grandchild, John Douglas Hazen II, and in France he visited the grave of his younger son, James Murray Hazen, an artillery officer who had died the year before of wounds received in action near Ypres (Ieper), Belgium.
By 1917 the war in western Europe was going badly. In Canada the number of volunteers and those drafted from battalions not yet on active service overseas was too low to provide replacements for all those killed or wounded, and the cabinet concluded that conscription was necessary to meet troop-level commitments. Recognizing its potential divisiveness as a political issue, Borden offered Laurier a coalition (as had been effected in London) in order to carry out the policy. The leader of the opposition instead wanted a referendum on the subject, which the government could not risk losing if it was to retain office. Borden therefore sought to form a union government consisting of Conservatives and pro-conscription Liberals.
On paper the strategy was sound: the Liberal Party was badly split on the issue. In practice, however, it proved difficult to carry out, especially in New Brunswick, where the Laurier Liberals were strong. Borden wanted to bring a Unionist Liberal from New Brunswick into the cabinet. Hazen assumed that any new minister from his home province or from elsewhere in the Maritimes would join him, rather than replace him. He was thus, according to Borden’s diary, “excited and angry” to learn in early October that he was being dropped from the cabinet in favour of either William Pugsley, Laurier’s former minister of public works, or Frank Broadstreet Carvell, known as “Fighting Frank,” the Liberal mp whom New Brunswick Conservatives most loved to hate. The field was cleared for Carvell when Pugsley, an old Saint John political enemy to whose appointment Hazen was inveterately opposed, accepted an invitation from Borden to succeed the late Gilbert White Ganong as Lieutenant Governor. Carvell, who had not been a member of Laurier’s cabinet, appeared to have dim prospects for winning in the Victoria and Carleton riding until James Kidd Flemming, the disgraced former Premier and prospective Conservative candidate for that riding, stood down to enable Carvell to be acclaimed as the Unionist candidate. Carvell became Minister of Public Works, while Hazen was succeeded as Minister of Marine and Fisheries and of the naval service by political neophyte Charles Colquhoun Ballantyne, a Unionist Liberal businessman from Montreal. The general election of 17 Dec. 1917 saw the Union government take 7 of New Brunswick’s 11 seats and win an overwhelming victory nationwide. Hazen did not run again; the dual constituency of Saint John and Albert, which included his old riding, was easily taken by the Unionists.
Hazen’s tenure as a minister had a distasteful end. On 6 Dec. 1917, less than two months after he left office, the munitions-laden Mont Blanc exploded in Halifax Harbour. Almost immediately the search for villains and scapegoats commenced. Naval historian John Griffith Armstrong notes that there was an “already widely-held belief that the government of Canada, through its Department of the Naval Service, had been criminally negligent in contributing to the collision and, therefore, the ensuing disaster.” The new minister, Ballantyne, lacked experience in parliament, government, and his department. According to the official history of the Royal Canadian Navy, Ballantyne “wanted the department’s officials to ensure that none of the accusations being flung about Halifax were aimed at him.” Prime Minister Borden, for his part, was determined to plumb the depths of responsibility, even if such action meant inculpating Hazen. In February 1918 Borden wrote to him to ask whether there had been adequate departmental oversight of harbour pilots. Hazen replied sharply, insisting he was entirely blameless. The hastily appointed, hastily reporting royal commission on pilotage that followed did not address the role of either the current or the former minister.
By this time Hazen had been chosen to lead the Canadian delegation at the International Fisheries Commission, which began its meetings in 1918 and issued its report the following year. On 6 Nov. 1917 he had become chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Brunswick. Borden had originally intended to make him Canada’s first “high commissioner,” as he described it, to the United States, but this plan fell through because of the steep estimated cost of setting up this proposed diplomatic position in Washington. The Prime Minister then learned that Ezekiel McLeod, whom he had named New Brunswick’s chief justice in 1914, could be bought off with a pension and a knighthood. Hazen, who had no experience on the bench, was thus dropped from the cabinet and appointed to the chief justiceship. His acceptance of such an inappropriate and unlikely post signified demotion and defeat, a sad transition from political power to political impotence. Hazen had had only a limited law practice and lacked the temperament or aptitude to be a judge. He was a consummate politician, a man of action, who had spent nearly 30 years in the thick of politics only to be shunted into a position of mere prestige while still in his prime.
In May 1918 Hazen was created a kcmg in the King’s birthday honours. Just as McLeod had been granted a knighthood to induce him to give up the chief justiceship, so Hazen was given one as a reward for taking on that position. He had to learn quickly on the job, and his profound inexperience was a liability that soon became apparent. Hazen’s judicial decisions proved bizarre, to say the least. In March 1929, for example, sitting as trial judge in the court’s chancery division, he handed back to the minority of Presbyterians who dissented from the United Church of Canada the property of the former St. James Presbyterian Church in Newcastle, which since 1926 had been part of the St. James and St. John United Church. The decision was overturned by the appeal division and the reversal upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. Hazen was a legal formalist of the worst kind, and his 17-year tenure as chief justice was among the least distinguished in the court’s entire history.
Hazen’s opportunity to return to the hurly-burly of federal politics seemed to have come in August 1919, when the retirement of Sir William Thomas White as Minister of Finance obliged Borden to restructure the cabinet. Carvell wanted to leave as well, and after White was succeeded by Sir Henry Lumley Drayton, Carvell took Drayton’s former position as chair of the Board of Railway Commissioners. Borden then asked Hazen to resume his position in the cabinet as the representative from New Brunswick, but Hazen declined. In December Arthur Lewis Watkins Sifton resigned as Minister of Public Works to become Secretary of State, and the Prime Minister summoned Hazen to Ottawa to again offer him a cabinet post. The answer was no. Though he told Borden that he feared the by-election in Sifton’s riding would be too difficult to win, Hazen may well have resented his earlier removal from cabinet.
In October 1921 Arthur Meighen, who had succeeded Borden as Prime Minister the year before, appointed Hazen chair of the royal commission on reparation claims following the war. Before the commission could report, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, who defeated Meighen in the general election of 6 Dec. 1921, relieved Hazen of his post in March 1923 so that he could replace him with Hazen’s old rival Pugsley. In 1924 Hazen was invited to succeed H. A. McKeown as dean of the University of New Brunswick’s law school, which had been affiliated with Nova Scotia’s University of King’s College as the Saint John Law School. Though Hazen’s connection to the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton was long and intimate – he was a member of its senate for over 30 years – his connection with the law school was tenuous, if not non-existent. Yet he was in many respects an ideal choice. Hazen lent the support and stature of his office as chief justice, not to mention his own immense personal prestige, to help secure the future of the law school as an integral part of the university. He would remain dean until shortly before his death.
Hazen’s final years were clouded by illness and sadness. He lost one of his daughters and his sister in 1934, and his aged mother the following year. He lived to see the provincial Conservatives, defeated in 1917, returned to government in 1925 under John Babington Macaulay Baxter, and then ousted in 1935 by the revitalized Liberals under Albert Allison Dysart. He also witnessed the federal Conservatives’ return to power, briefly in 1925–26 and again in 1930, and saw his son Douglas King Hazen, a lawyer in Saint John, run unsuccessfully in Saint John and Albert in the general election of 14 Oct. 1935. In January of that year Hazen retired on pension, chiefly to ensure that his successor would be appointed by the Conservative government of Richard Bedford Bennett. To no one’s surprise the new chief justice was Baxter, who had been made a puisne justice in 1931, three months after losing the premiership. Two days after Christmas in 1937 Hazen was carried off by pneumonia, which physician Sir William Osler had dubbed the “old man’s friend.”
The rivalry between Borden and Hazen epitomized and mirrored the historic tension between Halifax and Saint John, the cities where they respectively built their careers. They had little in common except their profession and political allegiance. Borden was an elite counsel who headed a gilt-edged firm and was at best a reluctant politician; Hazen, on the other hand, was an indifferent lawyer whose real love was public life but who never achieved the level of political success that Borden did. Hazen was no less aggressive, ruthlessly ambitious, and determined than Borden, but, certain that he was indispensable, Hazen was perhaps more trusting of Borden than the prime minister was of him.
Sir John Douglas Hazen’s historical significance as a regional figure is secure, but his place on the national stage was fatally undermined by the sudden and premature end of his career in federal politics. As a minister, he was far more experienced and distinguished than Carvell, and Borden’s decision to sacrifice him to political expediency was unwise and unnecessary. The Union government could have managed quite well without a token Unionist Liberal from New Brunswick. Hazen’s exclusion weakened the cabinet, especially because Ballantyne, his successor at the Department of Marine and Fisheries, was parachuted into a portfolio of supreme importance to the war effort despite being a political novice. From 1911 to 1917 Hazen was a strong figure in the cabinet, and two years after dropping him Borden needed and wanted him back, seeming finally to have recognized how short-sighted and imprudent his sacking of Hazen had been.
Sir John Douglas Hazen Park, an open-green-space area of Oromocto, is located adjacent to the Oromocto and St. John river systems and the Trans-Canada Trail and named after Hazen.
The park features a wide selection of natural flora and fauna. Interconnected with the Deer Park Nature Trail system. The park is home to Fort Hughes Military Blockhouse, the Small Craft Aquatic Centre and the Oromocto Marina. A free Internet access point.
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