John William Ritchie (March 26, 1808 - December 13, 1890)

The long-serving law clerk for the Nova Scotia Legislative Council, John William Ritchie replaced Robert Barry Dickey as a delegate to the London Conference. He went on to become a senator, and later a justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

John William Ritchie was born in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, the son of Thomas Ritchie and Elizabeth Johnston. He received his early education at home and during the 1820s, he studied law with his uncle James William Johnston. He was called to the Nova Scotia bar as an attorney in 1831, and as a barrister in 1832. He established a practice at Halifax, and devoted his first few years to furthering his legal studies rather than attracting clients. He married Amelia Almon in 1836.

Ritchie first stood for office in 1836 in Annapolis Royal, but was defeated. However, when the Nova Scotia Council was divided into executive and legislative branches in 1837, he was appointed as law clerk for the Legislative Council, a position he held until 1860. Ritchie was an incorporator of the Union Bank of Halifax in 1856, serving as director until 1866. In 1859, he was a member of the three-man committee appointed to investigate the Prince Edward Island land question. In 1863, he was appointed to the Board of Governors of Dalhousie University, a position he held until his death. He also represented the churches of St. Paul's and St. George's before the legislature. Like many Nova Scotians of the time, he sympathized with the Confederate cause in the American Civil War, going so far as to defend the three men involved in the Chesapeake Affair when they were put on trial for their actions.

In 1864, he was made a member of the Legislative Council, then joined the Cabinet as solicitor-general. He replaced Robert Dickey as leader of the Upper House, and oversaw the passage of the Confederation legislation. Not only was Ritchie a more vocal supporter of Confederation than Dickey, he was instrumental in the legislation's passage. It was this support that caused Charles Tupper to appoint him in Dickey's stead as a delegate to the London Conference. His support was also rewarded with a seat in the Canadian Senate in 1867.

He was appointed to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court as a puisne judge in 1870, becoming judge in equity in 1873. He was one of the founders of the Nova Scotia Historical Society in 1878, and served as the society's first president. After his retirement from the bench, he spent his time at Belmont, his property in Halifax, where he died.


  • MacKinnon, Neil J. "Ritchie, John William". Dictionary of Canadian biography. Ed. Francess G. Halpenny. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1982. Vol. 11, P. 754-755.

  • "Ritchie, John William".  Macmillan dictionary of Canadian biography. Ed. W. Stewart Wallace. 4th ed. Toronto : Macmillan of Canada, 1978. P. 706.

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