Joseph Howe honoured with Nova Scotia Heritage Day

Joseph Howe was more than a stoic figure sitting behind a desk — he had trouble with money, told vulgar jokes and may have even considered leaving Nova Scotia.

Known for his work as a politician and newspaper publisher, Howe had many other sides

Joseph Howe helped define Nova Scotia. His statue stands in downtown Halifax. This year's Heritage Day honours his contributions to Nova Scotia. (Robert Short/CBC)

Joseph Howe is one of Nova Scotia's most well-known public figures and today he's being honoured as part of Nova Scotia's Heritage Day.

Heritage Day is an annual provincial holiday that highlights the remarkable people, places and events in Nova Scotia history.

Howe is best known for his work as a newspaper publisher, his defence of free speech and his work as a politician, but there's more than one side to him.

Money trouble

Even though he owned a newspaper and later became a politician, Howe was never well off financially, according to Howe researcher and author Michael Bawtree.

Bawtree headed up the Joseph Howe Initiative celebrating Howe's 200th birthday in 2004 and wrote the young adult novel Joe Howe to the Rescue.

"He was always in money trouble, partly because he made some errors in his financial dealings, but partly also because he was so generous in giving it away," said Bawtree.

That generosity extended to several loans that Howe gave to friends, which he never asked to be repaid.

As for his political positions, representatives weren't be paid at the time unless they held a government office. It wasn't until Howe became provincial secretary in 1848 that he had a paying government job.

"I think he cared much more about Nova Scotia than about himself," said Bawtree.

Howe the athlete

Howe might have spent a lot of time at a desk writing, but Howe also had a very active side. He was very good at a game called "rackets."

"A kind of tennis you play against a wall," said Bowtree. "A very fast game and he was the champion in Halifax at that sport."

Howe also stayed fit travelling all over Nova Scotia, both as a journalist and then as a politician. In the 1840s and 1850s, the railway didn't travel everywhere in the province.

"It really required a lot of commitment to make those journeys," said Stephen Henderson, an associate professor of history at Acadia University.

Gift for gab

Along his travels, Howe honed his skills as an orator and could talk to anyone from any social class. He wasn't afraid to talk to people on their own terms, in language they could understand.

"Howe could tell a very vulgar joke when the time called for it, " said Henderson.

Ambitions beyond Nova Scotia

Bawtree believes Howe wanted to climb the ladder of power in the British Empire. From his research, he believes Howe felt like a big fish in a small pond.

"He was always writing to London saying, 'Could you please give me some kind of government post which is part of the British Empire'? He would love to have been made governor of a Caribbean island or something like that."

This never ended up happening.

"They didn't bite," said Bawtree.

About the Author

David Burke


David Burke is a reporter in Halifax who covers everything from politics to science. His reports have been featured on The National, World Report and As it Happens, as well as the Information Morning shows in Halifax and Cape Breton.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.