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The Speakers of the Senate of Canada


Hon. Josiah Burr Plumb

Josiah Plumb immigrated to Canada from New York State in 1865 at the age of 49. His Canadian-born wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of a United Empire Loyalist and sister of Thomas Clark Street, who was both a member of the House of Commons and one of the wealthiest men in Ontario. Plumb had been a successful banker and railway entrepreneur in the United States. After the American Civil War, he retired from business and settled in the Niagara Falls area.

Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald became aware of Plumb’s connections and business acumen, and encouraged him to run for a seat in the House of Commons. He was successful in by-elections in December 1874 and March 1879. Three years later he was defeated, however, and Macdonald nominated him for appointment to the Senate in 1883. A Cyclopaedia of Canadian Biography noted that, as a senator, Plumb was “distinguished by his urbanity and judicial rectitude.”

Prime Minister Macdonald appointed Plumb as Speaker in 1887 to replace William Miller. Less than a year later Plumb died suddenly. His death – the first time a Speaker had died in office – precipitated a debate on how the chamber should proceed without a Speaker. Eventually the senators decided to ask a member to take the chair, and then adjourn until a new Speaker was appointed.

Plumb’s New York Times obituary said that he “was popular because of his Parliamentary experience, his fluency in speech, his conceded ability, and his faculty as an entertainer in the social life of which he was so prominent a figure.”

Plumb was the only Speaker of the Senate who was born in the United States, a native of East Haven, Connecticut.

Next Speaker: Hon. George William Allan

Previous Speaker: Hon. William Miller

Portrait of the Honourable Josiah Burr Plumb

Born: East Haven, Connecticut, United States, 1816

Died: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, 1888

Professional Background:
Banking, Business

Political Affiliation: Conservative

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: