Lawrence O'Connor Doyle--Wit and Beheader of Eagles?

AuthorMcDonald, David
PositionSketches of Parliaments and Parliamentarians of the Past

One of the wittiest parliamentarians to emerge from Nova Scotia, and possibly all of Canada, Lawrence O'Connor Doyle had a sharp tongue that kept his colleagues in stitches. In this article, the author relates some of the most well-remembered of his offerings, some perhaps more mythic than others.

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Lawrence O'Connor Doyle was born in Halifax on February 27, 1804 and was a member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly from 1832-1840 and 1843-1855. In 1848, he was appointed a member of the first responsible executive in the British Colonies. He was a strong supporter of parliamentary reform and introduced bills and resolutions that helped Nova Scotia win responsible government. Some of these measures included: opening the Legislative Council to the public; advocating for elections every four years instead of every seven years; and fighting for fishers to have the same right to vote as farmers did. The purpose of this sketch is not to highlight his political career, but to describe some of his antics. The great orator, Joseph Howe, who was also his friend and fellow reformer, said that Doyle "was the wittiest man he had ever heard or read of." Howe's letters indicate that "ten thousand of [Doyle's] jokes are scattered about the Province."

The most often told story about Doyle in Province House is that he beheaded plaster eagles that decorate some of the window and door surrounds on the 2nd floor. I cannot, however, find any primary source material to corroborate this story. Rumour has it that he was incensed with the boundary dispute over timber between Maine and New Brunswick (Aroostook War) and lopped off the heads in disgust because he thought they were too American. According to the Journals of the House of Assembly, Edmund Murray Dodd was the most outspoken member over this border dispute. However, Mr. Doyle was a very witty man, so it was definitely in his character.

The following stories are from George Edward Fenety's The Life and times of the Hon. Joseph Howe, the great Nova Scotian and ex-Lieut. Governor; with brief references to some of his prominent contemporaries.

The Intoxicated Member

The hon. gentleman had the floor, but was in such an intoxicated state, that he was obliged to clutch the back of a chair in order to maintain his perpendicular. Members felt that they were in for a long (anti-Scofs Act) speech, and there was no way of compelling silence. At length an hon. member cried out "I move that the Speaker take the...

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