June 1, 1992
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This is the story of a great Nova Scotian whose achievements and contributions to his native Province were not fully recognized nor appreciated during his lifetime. It is part of the human condition that when we walk and talk with greatness we very often fail to recognize it presence and influence upon us. It was so during the time I worked with Ernest H. Blois, the subject of the brief biography. It was my good fortune to have been associated with Mr. Blois and learn from his wisdom and experience when I was very young, and he was in the prime of a long and illustrious career. He was a unique personality in the sense that he belonged to a time when mean and women dared to be themselves and carry their own torch without much concern as to what others may have thought. He was his own man, secure and confident in where he stood, modest and unassuming in the front he presented to the world, and wise in his understanding of the faults and foibles of mankind. I sincerely hope that what I have said here will record for future generations the excellence and broad scope of the contribution this pioneer social worked made to the economic and social betterment of all Nova Scotians. Nova Scotia is a better place because he lived and passed this way.
June 1, 1992 F.R. MacKinnon
On February 17, 1992 Honourable Roland Thornhill was sworn in as Minister of Community Services in the government of Honourable Donald Cameron. Mr. Thornhill is the 22nd Minister presiding over this Department since it was formed by Statute in 1944. The Department of Community Services controlled a budget in excess of $500,000,000 for the fiscal year 1991-92 and the Minister is responsible for a staff of 1, 183 persons.
The Department of Community Services is the third largest department of the Provincial Government just behind Education and Health. Because of the variety of services it provides through Childrens Aid Societies, Family Court, day care, childrens institutions, group homes, homes for the disabled, Social Assistance and home care, the department touches and greatly affects the lives of thousands of Nova Scotians from birth to old age. The Minister now presiding over this large, sprawling department is a vereran politician who has served in municipal government and filled several onerous cabinet posts before being assigned the Community Services portfolio. Referring to his responsibilities, the Minister has jokingly remarked that in other portfolios he faced one crisis a month, while now in Community Services, crisis comes his way on an hourly basis. The programs and services which are now provided by the Department never fail to produce a succession of dramatic, human interest issues which attract the media.
When and how did all this begin? Social welfare is not like agriculture, public health or highways, for example. It was not too many years ago that most of the programs now emanating from the Department of Community Services simply did not exist nor were they thought of. Indeed, prior to 1906 there was not a vestige of what now constitutes the Department of Community Services. That story and the beginnings of the Department of Community Services are part and parcel of the life and times of Ernest H. Blois which we will recount here.
Ernest H. Blois was born at the Gore in Hants County on June 18, 1878, the son of Oliver Blois. The Blois family roots go back to the 17th century and Abraham Blois, who was born in 1747 in the Parish of Lawrence, Essex, England. Abraham joined the 84th Highland Emigrant Regiment which had its beginnings in 1774 and was disbanded on October 10, 1783 at Windsor, Nova Scotia. Abraham chose to stay in Nova Scotia and was given a grant of land at the Gore. He married Sarah Margaret Kilcup on November 20, 1788. Ernest H. Blois, the subject of this story, was a great grandson of Abraham Blois, and one of twelve children born to Oliver Blois.
The Blois farm, which was originally a land grant to Abraham, has had a most interesting history and was the subject of a story in the Montreal Star of March 9, 1979. The farm has been owned and lived in by seven generations of the Blois family and is now owned by Thomas Barron of the Gore. Thomas Barron is married to a Blois.
Ernest married Jennie MacMillan of Sheet Harbour and there were three children of this marriage. Freda, the eldest, married George C. Laurence, a scientist living in Deep River, Ontario; Mac is living in Halifax and Robert, the youngest, is Counsel to the legal firm of Blois, Nickerson, Palmeter and Bryson.
Mr. Blois graduated from the Halifax County Academy in 1897. He then attended Dalhousie University from 1897 to 1898 and from 1902 to 1904. Leaving Dalhousie he taught school at Tangier, Halifax County and from there joined the staff of the Halifax Industrial School in 1901.
The Halifax Ragged and Industrial School began operations in 1864 on Albermarle Street. Albermarle Street later became Market Street and the School was located in the vicinity of what are now the Halifax Memorial Library and St. Davids Presbyterian Church. In 1870 the School was moved to Quinpool Road where it remained until 1948 when the boys were transferred to the Nova Scotia School for Boys, the new location, in Shelburne. The School had a fourteen acre farm in the Quinpool and Chebucto Roads and later the area became the Armcrescent sub-division.
Ernest H. Blois was appointed to the teaching staff of the School in 1901 and he became the Superintendent on June 1, 1906. He held this position until he was appointed Superintendent of Neglected and Dependent Children and Chief Probation Officer by the Provincial Government on February 7, 1912. The new office came under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General and the Premier was the Hounourable George H. Murray. The position title, Superintendent of Neglected and Dependent Children, was changed a few years later to Superintendent of Neglected and Delinquent Children. The rationale for the change is unclear.
This is a bare outline of Mr. Blois introduction to the social welfare field and the public service of Nova Scotia. Much happened between 1900 and 1912 which set the stage for the next quarter century.
The sequence of events affecting Mr. Blois between 1901 when he began teaching at the Halifax Industrial School and his Provincial appointment in 1912 is not well documented. I have therefore had to rely on the recollections of Mr. Blois as he recalled events to me during the period 1939 to 1947 when I worked with him as his assistant.
By 1900 a small group of activists in the City of Halifax had begun to exert extraordinary influence on all aspects of social policy affecting children. Mr. Blois was one of the leaders of this group which consisted of Mrs. Bessie Egan, a worker with the S.P.C; Mr. Justice Benjamin Russel, a justice of the Supreme Court; R.H. Murray, later a County Court Judge; W.B. Wallace; A.K. MacLean, a member of the Murray Cabinet from 1909 to 1911 and later a justice of the Exchequer Court of Canada; and Miss Mary Fletcher. There may have been others of whom I do not have knowledge.
Nova Scotia enacted laws for the protection of animals in 1822 and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was organized in 1876. Further legislation was enacted in 1880 enabling the S.P.C. to deal with abused and neglected children. The first Childrens Protection Act was not passed until 1906 and for several years the S.P.C. continued to play an active role in alleviating the plight of abused and neglected children. The records show that in 1888 two-thirds of all the S.P.C. cases involved children and families.
The S.P.C. became the focal point of pressure for improved laws relating to children and the need for some form of society that would have the authority to intervene actively on behalf of families and children. Heading this effort was a triumverate of Mr. Murray, Mrs. Egan and Mr. Blois.
The major accomplishment of the Blois, Murray and Egan triumverate was to convince the Provincial Government to play a leadership role in the development of childrens services. The appointment of a Provincial Superintendent of Neglected and Dependent Children in 1912 was, for that time, a daring experiment socially and financially and it marked the beginning, the first step in the development of the Department of Community Services as we know it today.
These pioneers laid the groundwork well. The S.P.C. provided a platform for action and a source of information. The group referred to, including Mr. Blois, used it effectively. They were vocal in pressing for the involvement of the Federal Government and enactment of the Federal Juvenile Delinquents Act of 1908. The involvement of senior judges added greatly to the effectiveness of their interventions.
The Ontario experience was not unlike that of Nova Scotia with the S.P.C. there being active on behalf of abused and neglected children. In 1893 Mr. J.J. Kelso, a Toronto newspaperman, was appointed by the Provincial Government as Superintendent of Neglected and Dependent Children so that the precedent was set by another province for the Nova Scotia appointment of Mr. Blois in 1912. In 1891 the first Childrens Aid Society was established in Toronto and by 1905 Mr. Kelso had organized 40 Childrens Aid Societies in Ontario. Mr. Kelso was invited by the Halifax Local Council of Women to visit Nova Scotia and on November 26, 1905 he addressed a meeting in the old Halifax Academy of Music. The Chairman was Premier Murray, and the activists Blois, Egan, Murray, MacLean, et al, were very much involved in promoting this historic event.
The next day, November 27th, Mr. Kelso, the child welfare missionary from Ontario, addressed other audiences of City Aldermen, students of Pine Hill Divinity College, pupils of the Halifax Ladies College and a public meeting in St. Pauls Hall. The Lieutenant Governor, the Mayor and the Premier attended the St. Pauls meeting.
On December 5, 1905 the Childrens Aid Society of Halifax County was formed and the President of the Society, Justice Benjamin Russell, was appointed by the Provincial Government to head a legislative committee to make recommendations regarding Childrens Protective Legislation. Mr. Blois was a member of the committee. The following spring the Provincial Legislature passed legislature to incorporate the Society and the first Childrens Protection Act became law.
The Juvenile Court for the City of Halifax was established in February 1911 with W.B. Wallace as presiding judge. Mr. Wallace was a member of the activist group that played a leading role in pushing for reform and protective legislation for children.
Mr. Blois was appointed Chief Probation Officer of the Halifax City Juvenile Court on February 6, 1912 and Judge Wallace stated, "He (Mr. Blois) is the right arm of the Court, and brings to the discharge of his all-important duties the spirit of a devoted missionary." Later in this report, Judge Wallace, commenting on the children coming before the court, stated, "The rod and reproof give wisdom; but the child that is left to his own will bringeth his mother to shame." That philosophy held by Judge Wallace would not be acceptable in 1992 but it was typical of the social mores at the turn of the century.
By 1912 the foundation was solidly laid for the formation of a Provincial Office and the appointment of an official whose duties would include the development of Childrens Aid Societies and the provision of leadership in the development of services for the protection of all dependent, neglected and delinquent children in the province.
The first Report of the newly appointed Superintendent covers the period February 7, 1912 to September 30, 1913. Childrens Aid Societies had been formed in Wolfville, Springhill, Amherst, Windsor, Yarmouth and New Glasgow. The Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty continued to be active and the Superintendent, Mr. Blois, exercised the function of a Childrens Aid Society in those areas where a Society had not been formed. It is interesting to note that these first Societies were all organized in urban communities and it was not until much later that the rural areas were served by Childrens Aid Societies.
Mr. Blois appointment placed him in a position where he could advocate change and progressive legislation and because he was a public official his views stood some chance of being heard in those places where they might be influential. For example, in his first Report to the Legislature he stated:
"Shall there be a Child Welfare Bureau at Ottawa? We hope so. There are many things which such a Bureau or Department could do, which no other agency is doing or can do. If the Dominion can afford to spend thousands of dollars to procure accurate knowledge regarding the rearing of cattle, horses and hogs, it surely can afford to spend something on the child."
In the Report for the year ending September 30, 1914, Mr. Blois commented:
"There are important matters to be considered and satisfactorily settled before the work throughout the Province is on an efficient and creditable foundation. Foremost among these are the problems of providing temporary shelter for the children; properly trained agents; funds to pay agents salary; the support of children having no settlement in the Province and the care of feeble-minded children."
The Maritime Home for Girls opened September 1, 1914 to receive girls under the age of 16 who were in conflict with the law. Until then there was a notable absence of suitable facilities for Protestant girls brought before the Courts. Mr. Blois played a leading and supportive role in this new development.
Saint Marys Home for Children was opened in Sydney on March 1, 1917 and here again Mr. Blois provided leadership and support.
He attended the American Humane Association Annual Meeting in Rochester, New York, October 13-16, 1912 and the Annual Report of the Department for that first year echoes the encouragement which he received from this visit to the United States where social welfare programs were much farther ahead of Canada and Nova Scotia.
The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children was incorporated in 1915 and began receiving children March 11, 1921. Mr. Blois office played an active role of encouragement and support in the development of this facility.
From the earliest days when he was Superintendent of the Halifax Industrial School Mr. Blois was greatly concerned about the lack of facilities for the training of mentally retarded children. On January 29, 1916 the Provincial Government appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the state of feeble-minded persons. The Commissions findings were presented March 15, 1916 and Mr. Blois was one of the Commissioners. No definitive action followed this Report until 1926 when a second Royal Commission was appointed with Hon. W.L. Hall as Chairman. Mr. Blois played a leading role in its formation and in carrying out the recommendations which resulted in the establishment of the Nova Scotia Training School at Brookside, Colchester County, in 1929.
Writing on September 30, 1921 on the subject of retarded children in Poor Farms, County Homes and Asylums, Mr. Blois stated:
"It is altogether a thing to be deplored that this Province still permits a few children to be kept in such institutions. The Superintendent of Neglected and Delinquent Children is charged with the duty of visiting such children but is not given the authority to have them removed."
Widows with dependent children were mentioned in several of Mr. Blois early Reports to the Legislature and as a result of his urgings a Royal Commission was appointed December 10, 1919 to report on the advisability of paying Mothers Allowances or Mothers Pensions. Mr. Blois was a member of the Commission and since two of the four Commissioners were actively involved in the Childrens Aid Society field he obviously played a major role in recommending the appointment of the Commissioners. The Commission reported in 1921 and in 1930 the first Mothers Allowance Legislation was enacted.
The Royal Commission appointed to consider the feasibility of Mothers Pensions was also empowered to report on the hours of labour, wages and working conditions of women employed in industrial occupations. Mr. Blois was a member of this group and the Report was tabled April 16, 1920.
By 1921 Childrens Aid Societies had been formed serving Cape Breton, West Hants, Stellarton, Halifax City, New Glasgow, Annapolis, Kings, Amherst, Truro, Springhill and Yarmouth.
The Annual Report for the year ending September 30, 1923 contained the following interesting statement which summarizes Mr. Blois views on the complex issue of heredity vs. environment.
"The children of this country are either potential assets or liabilities. On which side of the balance sheet they finally appear depends on two things - heredity and environment during youth, - and the child has no control over either. Much has been said and written upon the relative importance of these two determining factors. Sufficient for us to know that neither can be clearly shown to outweigh the other in importance. Thus while admitting the importance and fixedness of inherited tendencies, Child Welfare Work is necessarily based on the theory that it is possible and practicable to improve a childs environment and to correct bad inherited tendencies to such an extent that the childs position is changed from the debit to the credit side of the sheet.
It would be foolish for us to claim 100 per cent success. We acknowledge we have failures, but we claim that the percentage of success is relatively high. If we keep clearly in mind the object of the office, as we understand it to be, namely, to make it possible for children to have a reasonably fair change in life, we feel sure that we can show a large measure of success."
The Liberal Government of Premier Armstrong was defeated in a Provincial Election held in 1925 and the Conservative Government of Edgar N. Rhodes took office. Mr. Rhodes was later replaced by Gordon Harrington on August 11, 1930 and the Rhodes-Harrington government went down to defeat by Angus L. Macdonald leading the Liberals in the 1933 Provincial Election.
Honourable William Lorimer Hall, a barrister from Liverpool, was a leading figure on behalf of the Conservatives in the 1925 election. He later became Attorney General and from that position was appointed to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Justice Hall would be described today as a Red Tory. His views on social issues were far ahead of his time and certainly he outstripped the other members of the Rhodes-Harrington Cabinets in the breadth of his social thinking and the social programs he promoted. E. H. Blois was a ready-made instrument for advancing his progressive ideas and the two made a unique team.
Mr. Justice Hall was, like Mr. Blois, an imposing figure both mentally and physically. Recollecting about past events and people, Mr. Blois told me that the only man he ever met or knew who intimidated him and left him a little uneasy was Mr. Justice Hall. Later in the 1940s on one of the many excursions I had with Mr. Justice Hall when he was Chairman of the Board of the Maritime School of Social Work, he confided to me that he was always a bit uneasy in the presence of Mr. Blois. Each highly respected the other. Justice Hall described Mr. Blois as one of the best legislative draftsman he had ever known in Nova Scotia. That was indeed a compliment for a man who had no formal legal education.
Mr. Blois had been appointed a Justice of the Peace for the county of Halifax on June 1, 1918 and on November 25 the newly elected Rhodes Government appointed him judge of the Juvenile Court for the City of Halifax. He held this position until the fall of 1933 when he became Director of Old Age Pensions. Such an appointment as a Judge would not be possible now on two grounds: first, Mr. Blois was not a barrister and that is a primary requirement today; and, second, he would be excluded on grounds of conflict on interest. He continued to hold the position of Director of Child Welfare and in that capacity those acting on his behalf were bringing children before the Court over which he presided. That would be out of the question with todays insistence on legal niceties. I am sure no harm was done and the Court was well served by having a man of Mr. Blois intellect and character presiding over it.
The Royal Commission appointed by the Rhodes Government in 1926 and which reported in 1927 recommended the establishment of a Training School for retarded young people in a central part of the province. Justice Hall chaired the Commission and leaned heavily on Mr. Blois, as the Director of Child Welfare, for counsel and advice. Mr. Blois served as Secretary of the Commission. The recommendation did not meet with much enthusiasm from the Rhodes Cabinet which at the time was faced with financial problems and other needs which, in the view of Cabinet, should have had a higher priority. Justice Hall was not easily pushed aside and his public stature was such that the Government could ill afford to lose him from Cabinet. The result was acceptance of the Report and the first part of the School was built in 1929. Mr. Blois became Secretary of the first Board of Management and the School continued to be his major preoccupation until his retirement in 1947.
By 1929 there were six Juvenile Courts in the Province. The Halifax Court was formed February 11, 1911. The Act was proclaimed covering the County of Pictou and the incorporated towns therein effective September 25, 1915. The County of Cape Breton, including the City of Sydney and the incorporated towns therein, were covered effective December 30, 1929. The Counties of Hants and Kings were covered effective December 20th and 30th, 1929, respectively. The County of Colchester and the Town of Truro had the Act proclaimed December 30, 1929.
The Juvenile Courts and social work with children in trouble with the law were matters of special interest to Mr. Blois and he played a prominent role in having these courts established. Viewed in retrospect, what was accomplished in Nova Scotia was unique inasmuch as it placed the Courts emphasis on the treatment aspects of juvenile offenses rather than on the legalistic rituals which now seem to dominate the entire juvenile and Family Court system. Moreover, it placed the Courts under the direction not of the Attorney General but of the Minister responsible for Social Welfare matters and this further accentuated the treatment emphasis. No other Province took this progressive and forward looking view of the needs of children before the Courts. Nova Scotia still leads in this direction of having the Family Court under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Community Services rather than the Attorney General.
The Mothers Allowance Act recommended in 1921 was enacted in 1930 and Mr. Blois became Director along with his other duties in the Juvenile Court and as Director of Child Welfare.
The Government appointed a Royal Commission on Jails on December 29, 1931 and Mr. Blois served as Secretary of the Commission. The Recommendations were progressive and would have brought and antiquated Nova Scotia jail system out of the dark ages and into something more in line with modern development elsewhere in Canada and the United States. Unfortunately, there was no body of public opinion supporting reform and forty more years would pass before the system began to change.
The Federal Government of William Lyon Mackenzie King enacted Old Age Pension legislation in 1927 which empowered the Provinces to pay means tested old age pensions up to a maximum of $20.00 monthly to persons 70 years of age and over. The legislation provided for federal cost sharing of fifty per cent of a provinces pension costs if the provincial plan compiled with federal requirements.
The Rhodes-Harrington Government hesitated in taking advantage of the Federal Act largely for financial reasons, believing the Province could not afford the large expenditure required. However, the Province introduced enabling legislation in 1930 which was not proclaimed. The matter stood thus until the election of 1933 when the Liberals under Premier Macdonald promised to pay old age pensions immediately if elected. The Liberals won the election and shortly after in the Fall of 1933 old age pensions became a reality in Nova Scotia. By this time the Federal Government had increased the cost sharing from fifty to seventy-five per cent.
The immediate question relating to old age pensions was who would administer this new and important program? Dr. Frank Davis, a physician from Bridgewater was Minister of Public Health in the new government, and the entire welfare program of mothers allowances, Childrens Aid Societies, juvenile courts, and childrens institutions were under his direction with Mr. Blois as Chief Executive Officer. The new office of Director of Old Age Pensions could be a juicy, political plum ready for picking and there were several contenders for the position. These delicate matters are never recorded for posterity but it is my understanding that the field of hopefuls narrowed down to a race between a gentleman from Kentville, a prominent veteran and worked in the Liberal party and Mr. Blois, the latter being favored by the Minister, Dr. Davis.
Mr. Blois was appointed Director of Old Age Pensions effective October 20, 1933 and he immediately resigned from the position of Judge of the Halifax Juvenile Court. He now held three positions, Director of Child Welfare, Mothers Allowances and Old Age Pensions and for all practical purposes he was Deputy Minister of a large and powerful department of the government. To Dr. Davis must go the credit for having the foresight and vision to insist that the Old Age Pension Plan was really an extension of the Child Welfare and Mothers Allowances programs and belonged in an integrated welfare department. Several other provinces treated old age pensions on a par with Workmens Compensation and placed the administration under a separate board. Eventually all provinces switched to the Nova Scotia model.
A Federal Pensions to the Blind Act became law in 1937 and the 1938 Annual Reports show this program became an integral part of the old age pension administration under the direction of Mr. Blois. The regulations affecting the means test and the monthly payments were similar to old age pensions.
There was little or no change in the structure of the welfare branch of the Department of Public Health between 1933 and 1938 with I next pick up the threads of this story.
I met Dr. Davis and Mr. Blois in the Fall of 1937. In the Spring of 1938 Mr. Blois invited me to join the department as Assistant Director of Child Welfare. He was greatly concerned that the Child Welfare program was being neglected and needed the stimulation that could only be provided by a staff member working full time. He was fully aware that his duties as Judge of the Halifax Juvenile Court, Director of Mothers Allowances and Director of Old Age Pensions left him with no time or energy for the Child Welfare task which was growing more onerous and demanding each passing year.
So I embarked on what became my lifes work and commitment, knowing nothing about what might lie ahead and, if the truth be known, only vaguely aware of how great the opportunities would be.
Dr. S.H. Prince was a Professor at the University of Kings College. Bishop Leonard Hatfield has written a biography of Dr. Prince under the title "Sammy the Prince" and from the very early years Dr. Prince had been a collaborator with Mr. Blois in many of the Royal Commissions and projects in which Mr. Blois was involved. Very soon after I came to Halifax Dr. Prince came to the Department with a proposal to start a Maritime School of Social Work in Halifax. It was absolutely essential that Mr. Blois approve and lend his support to the project, so Dr. Prince bent all his efforts to achieve that end. Mr. Blois was not greatly enthusiastic and he had some reservations about becoming involved. However, Justice Hall agreed to serve on the Board of Trustees of the new School. He was never at ease in this position and on several occasions he expressed regret that he had agreed to serve. Part of this reluctance was due to his conviction that there was a conflict of interest between his position as Deputy Head of the Department and Chairman of this Board. He knew that Dr. Prince would be looking to Dr. Davis and the Government for financial support for the School and it was unthinkable for Mr. Blois that he should be put in this position with his Minister, Dr. Davis. He resigned at the end of one year in office to be replaced by Mr. Justice Hall.
By 1941 the towns and cities of the United Kingdom were subjected to heavy bombing by the Germans and the decision was made by the United Kingdom to send as many children as possible away from the main target areas, some to the surrounding countryside and others to the overseas Dominions and the United States. To achieve this the Childrens Overseas Reception Board was formed under the direction of Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare, Secretary of State for the Dominions, and Nova Scotia and the other Provinces were asked to respond by providing guest homes for as many British children as possible for the duration of the war.
Mr. Blois loved a challenge, and here was one that had all the elements one could wish for. The appeal for foster homes would me made on the basis of patriotism and helping the Mother Country in its hour of crisis. The Nova Scotia response was overwhelming. The investigation of the homes, the selection of children and their placement would be the culmination of a long and useful experience in placing Nova Scotia children in foster homes. Mr. Blois was a perfectionist and every step in the selection, placement and supervision of the children received his personal attention and oversight. He personally visited many of the foster homes and in many cases wrote personal letters to the parents of the children in the United Kingdom. His pride in the success of the project and his personal concern for the few situations that went awry were a great learning experience for me. He was there at the end when the children went back to England in 1944 and 1945 and the many discussions we had about the individual placements taught me more about the dos and donts of child placement that I could ever learn in the classroom.
The Ideal Maternity Home operated a Home for Unmarried Mothers and an adoption placement service at East Chester in Lunenburg County. The Home began in the twenties and gradually increased its operations until the forties when it became involved in a head-on confrontation with the Department of Public Health. The problem centred around the care provided the unmarried mothers who used the Home, the care of the children, and the manner in which the adoptions were carried out. Eventually, at the height of the Homes involvement with the Department, the Montreal Standard carried a two page story under the headline, "Babies for Sale in Nova Scotia." The Home promptly sued the Montreal Standard for libel and the end result was a loss of public confidence in the Home and eventually it went out of business.
The above is a brief summary of what happened. Unfortunately the Home, its practives and the care it provided to children became more and more a matter of concern for Mr. Blois and his Department, especially from 1941 to 1947 when as many as 125 children were in care at the Home at any one time. To compound the political sensitivity inherent in the situation, the Minister, Dr. Davis, represented the constituency in which the Ideal Maternity Home was located, and those who knew the Home and its owners as neighbors and service providers tended to be supportive of the home as against the Department of Public Health and its bureaucracy. Mr. Blois found himself in the centre of this controversy and he was naturally sensitive to having the child welfare program in his Province pilloried by the Upper Canadian Press. Fortunately the tide eventually turned, and the Department and its officials were vindicated. But the long struggle took its toll and was an unhappy chapter in Mr. Blois last years in office.
In 1944 the Government of Nova Scotia appointed a Royal Commission on Provincial Development and Rehabilitation. The Commission as headed by R. MacGregor Dawson and became known as the Dawson Commission. Dr. George F. Davidson was Executive Director of the Canadian Welfare Council in Ottawa and he was invited to report on Nova Scotias Public Welfare Services. This was carried out in the Fall of 1943.
Dr. Davidson recommended that the Department of Public Health be reconstituted as the Department of Health and Welfare and its internal organization be planned to provide for two Deputy Ministers, both reporting to the Minister. The Report contained other far reaching recommendations for updating Nova Scotias social welfare system, especially the antiquated Poor Relief structure. I do not recall that Mr. Blois was greatly concerned about implementing the sweeping changes recommended by Dr. Davidson. Some of the financial recommendations relating to Childrens Aid Societies were implemented but the main thrust of the Report which related to Poor Relief had to wait until the late fifties before changes were made.
The entire Social Welfare program for which Mr. Blois was the Chief Administrator under the Minister was a branch of the Department of Public Health. The Minister, Dr. Davis, had two Deputy Heads, a Chief Health Officer, and a Chief Welfare Officer, Mr. Blois. The decision was made to have these officials appointed Deputy Ministers and on April 1, 1944 Mr. Blois became the first Deputy Minister of Public Welfare. I then became Director of Child Welfare and Mr. H.S. Farquahar was appointed Director of Old Age Pensions. Mr. Blois continued to be Director of Mothers Allowances. I have no doubt the Davidson Report served to speed up this change.
The Canadian Conference of Social Work played a major role in these early years in the development of Canadian Social Welfare programs and the exploration of sound and progressive social policy. The Conference held its biennial meeting in Winnipeg in 1944. Mr. Blois was appointed Canadian President and the Conference agreed to meet in Halifax in 1946. That was in a very real sense the crowning moment of Mr. Blois long and illustrious career. His address to the delegates occupied his time and attention for weeks before the event and we were all proud that Nova Scotia had been able to present such an outstanding figure for the rest of Canada to see and hear his views.
Here are a few excerpts from Mr. Blois address to the Conference delegates in June 1946:
"Let us have a real house-cleaning and do away with superfluous and out-moded private agencies. Let us take a leaf from business and combine, where it is advantageous, a number of weak private agencies into one strong one. Combine all the agencies doing similar or almost similar work. This can and should be done, both to effect economy and ensure better results."
"In certain fields where cooperation with Government agencies is possible, enter wholeheartedly into a mutually advantageous agreement with the Government for financial help for special services which local private agencies best can give their own communities. The aloofness on the part of private agencies towards Government Welfare Departments should cease. If the Government can do a better job than the private agency and is willing to do it, why not wish it God speed. The work is the main thing. Moreover this principle should also apply to the dividing line between the field of action in social welfare of the Federal and the Provincial Governments. Examine the situation fully and if one of the other can best to the work let that one do it, but there must not be either competition or duplication of services. That would be disastrous, besides the same people pay the bills."
"Believe in, preach convincingly and work constantly for, a coordinated and unified plan for the welfare of all the people, the so-called special agencies becoming properly adjusted in one masterplan, - a plan designed to take care of all human needs. Not only should we aim at a greater measure of voluntary coordination of private and public welfare services but we should also strive for more active cooperation with the Health and Education services if we are to meet adequately the needs of all the people."
"We must lay greater stress upon the importance of individual service and the character and personality of social workers. It is easy to find throughly competent persons to issue cheques and audit expenditures. It is a very different and much more difficult matter to find persons who qualify as competent case workers. I stress the importance of this point and plead for much greater care in the selection of field staff in all forms of social work. Private agencies as well as Government departments have too often neglected this matter."
"As workers let us rid ourselves of false claims to knowledge which we do not possess. Let us be less conceited and more humble in the presence of truth. We have been too eager to follow new and strange gods - to mistake the slogan for the battle."
"One thing we definitely need at this time and that is more exact knowledge. There is far too much taken for truth because someone, often of little importance and less knowledge, said it was true. We require scientific study of many matters about which we now know very little but what we are told by someone who arrived at that particular conclusion without careful and scientific study of sufficient facts to warrant a worthwhile opinion, much less the laying down ofa basic rule."
"Considerable spurious social science is being disseminated by writers who have neither the experience nor the knowledge to warrant their writing on such subjects as they deal with, who have, however, the gift of using words in a way which attracts and pleases the average reader and thus sells the magazine or paper for which their articles are written. Many of these articles expressing alleged new-found truths are based on very limited experience in a small field of observation and will not stand the test of time and universal application."
"The Dominion Department of Public Welfare could do no finer or more beneficial piece of work that to set up a research department to try to find out the truth regarding many of the social problems with which we are at present time attempting to deal. Far too much is being claimed for what financial assistance can do. We should frankly acknowledge that the hope of making everybody or even a large percentage of people perfect in their social and economic relations is still only a dream. It is well for social workers to realize their limitations."
"However complex and perplexing our economic and social problems may seem to be and however difficult the tasks which we have undertaken may appear, no one wants to return to the days of old, - not even to yesterday or the day before of twenty years ago, or a hundred years or five hundred years. Tomorrow is sure to be much brighter than today and the day after tomorrow brighter still. I have not the shadow of a doubt that the world, and especially Canada, is a much better place to live in today than it ever was before, and that it will be an infinitely better place tomorrow that it is today, and there always will be a tomorrow to follow today."
"Out of the shadow of night
The earth rolls into light,
It is daybreak everywhere."
On July 1, 1946 King George VI appointed Mr. Blois a Companion of the Imperial Service Order in recognition of his long and devoted public service. Looking back to that time I recall there was very little said or done to recognize the honor that was bestowed upon him. Today this honor would have been considered an outstanding event by those who worked with him. Unfortunately it received limited public attention from the staff and the social work community.
On July 1, 1947, as it must to all men and women, retirement came to Mr. Blois. He was 69 years old, four years past normal retirement age. He never wore his heart or feelings on his sleeve, so to speak, and he was not the kind of person who permitted an outward show of emotion; so on that Saturday morning almost forty-five years ago he walked out of the office and never came back. I know now the separation was not easy nor was it done without great inward emotion and nostalgia.
I visited him several times during his retirement and he enjoyed hearing what was happening in the office, especially when the news touched upon the people he knew. Like all of us, he found it easier to be critical of the shortcomings of the Government when he was out of office than when he was a part of the central decision and policy making process.
He died March 29, 1948 and is buried in Camp Hill Cemetery. Dr. Davis, who was his Minister longer than any other, died in office a few months later while attending a medical convention at Celtic Lodge, Cape Breton.
How was Mr. Blois viewed by staff who worked closely with him in the later years? Many of these co-workers are gone but a few remain and their comments about the man and his work bear witness to the contribution and mark he made on Social Welfare in Nova Scotia.
Mrs. Beatrice Renner (nee Crosby), a graduate of the Maritime School of Social Work, now living in Dartmouth, worked closely with Mr. Blois for several years. She writes:
"Ernest H. Blois was my first "Boss" and my memories of him are warm and strangely comforting. I remember him as a giant of a man, with massive shoulders, thick snowy white hair and a rosy glow to his cheeks - sometimes rosier than others, depending on the situation. We called him "the great White Father", and he was definitely in charge. We had the impression he was there to look after us and we were expected to act like loyal members of a disciplined family. I always felt that any burden I may have had could be transferred very readily from my shoulders to the very broad ones in the corner office."
Lillian Romkey, West Dublin, Lunenburg County worked in a secretarial position with Mr. Blois for several years before attending the University of Toronto School of Social Work. Lillian writes:
"Mr. Blois had the unique ability to create loyalty and faithfulness in his staff. It was often stated by his workers that they would walk barefoot through Nova Scotia for him. I saw him as a kindly grandfather figure who expected much from his associates and always seemed to get the best. Mr. Blois was a true pioneer for social welfare in Nova Scotia. He was to Nova Scotia what J.J. Kelso was to the Province of Ontario. It was a rare privilege to have worked under Mr. Bloiss direction and I will always remember him as a great man."
Florence Miekle of Halifax was a Mothers Allowance visitor and a great admirer of Mr. Blois. She remembers him affectionately.
"Mr. Blois was deeply religious, kind and rather shy and had a delightful sense of humour. He was keenly interested in all who worked with him and he urged them to make the most of their opportunities. His weekends were filled with reading and gardening - his two main hobbies. He was especially careful and concerned about the abuse of government money, whether by clients or staff and the care of government cars was very important to him. His memory will live long with those who knew him best."
O.O. Johnson of Amherst was an Old Age Pensions Inspector and knew him at a distance when he was a field worker.
"My first impression of Mr. Blois, on January 4, 1940, was that he was a "giant" of a man. He had all the qualities of a "big" man, not only physically, but, as Deputy Minister, in other ways as well. He kept a close eye on my expense accounts and no detail was too small when it came to expenditures to get the job done. He taught me, above all else, never play to favourites in religion or politics and I came to have a great respect for him."
Gwen Pickering of Dartmouth was hired by Mr. Blois as a stenographer and ended her career in 1986 as Deputy Minister of the Department. She writes:
"Those who met Mr. Ernest H. Blois, had good reason to remember him and recall their associations with him. He was an impressive, outstanding and unique person. Mr. Blois interviewed me, over forty-five years ago, for a stenographic position in the Department of Public Welfare. His appearance was dramatic - over six feet tall, thick white hair, ruddy complexion and immaculately dressed. He peered at me over his reading glasses, and in a rather soft-spoken voice, conducted the interview, which was precise, direct, and to the point."
"Service to people was the theme on which Mr. Blois ran the Department. To achieve the highest level of performance, he began with the basics - ensuring the secretarial staff produced quality material and that inquiries from clients and the public were treated with respect and courtesy. His conviction that services could only be as good as the quality of staff was the basis for his recruitment of professional staff. Mr. Blois philosophy and approaches to staff recruitment and development were unique in the 1940s and played a crucial part in the development of the Department over the years."
Lawrence Hancock was a teacher in the Bridgewater High School when I recruited him to become head of the Childrens Aid Society of Lunenburg County. Mr. Blois met Lawrence and was so impressed Lawrence was offered a supervisory position in the Main Office. The result was I had to look elsewhere for a Director of the Lunenburg Childrens Aid Society. Dr. Hancock remembers Mr. Blois:
"I first met Mr. Blois when he interviewed me for a position as welfare worker in his Department. I immediately liked the big, fatherly man who gave undivided attention to our conversation and appeared to be interested in me. Later I developed a deep appreciation for his profound concern for disadvantaged and deprived people in our society."
"As my knowledge of the social welfare movement grew, I understood more fully how his natural interest in and concern for people enabled him to introduce a program of welfare services which placed Nova Scotia in the vanguard of the Canadian Social Welfare Movement."
For me Mr. Blois was a great father figure whose administrative skills were to be emulated, whose demands were to be obeyed with loyality and devotion, and from the day I began working with him on December 10, 1939, until he retired in 1947, knowing him and working under his direction was the greatest learning experience of my life.
Mr. Blois believed intensely in the value and importance of professional education for social workers and education generally. His political instincts were shrewd and far-sighted. He was an outstanding manager of money and of people and withall he was a warm, caring human being. I will remember his best as a great communicator and teacher.
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