Ahead of his time
If ever there were a man ahead of his time, it was Sir Howard Douglas, Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick from 1823 to 1831 and a founder of the University of New Brunswick.
Born in Scotland and educated at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, England, Douglas's arrival in British North America was inauspicious, to say the least. The ship on which he served as a senior officer, bound for Quebec, was wrecked off the coast of Newfoundland. Just 19 years old, he was one of a handful of survivors who spent a desolate winter on Cape Ray. Moving on to Upper Canada, over the next three years he served in various military capacities, returning to England in 1798 as a mate on a trading brig.
He did not return to Canada until 1824. In the intervening years, he distinguished himself as a soldier; an educator at the Royal Military College at High Wycombe; an author of several books on fortifications, marine propulsion and naval warfare; and an inventor of surveying equipment. His promotion in 1821 to major-general qualified him for a colonial governorship. Fortunately for UNB and this province, New Brunswick was the first to become available.
The most popular governor
"He proved by far the most popular of New Brunswick's colonial governors," wrote UNB historian D. Murray Young in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. "He was charming, fond of talk, and always ready to listen to others, but the roots of his popularity lay deeper, in a contagious optimism which matched the mood of the turbulent, expansive society taking shape in New Brunswick.
"He had the restless energy and inventiveness of an ambitious man who enjoyed using his enormous powers in the service of a community of which he seems to have become fond and whose future he sought consciously to mold."
A man who put the people first
He was the first lieutenant-governor to tour the province. He reorganized local government, laid out new roads, chose the site for the town of Dalhousie and directed firefighting in the great forest fire of 1825 when more than 6,000 square miles from Miramichi Bay to Oromocto was ravaged.
A living legacy
A group of 110 exceptional UNB students is helping keep Sir Howard's legacy alive.
He created a provincial militia, acted on behalf of the province in the Maine-New Brunswick border dispute, defended the rights of aboriginal families to stay together and own land, encouraged the establishment of rural schools, prompted the construction of lighthouses, advocated immigration from Great Britain and promoted agricultural societies and fairs.
King's College - his crowning glory
But the crowning glory of his seven-year term was the transformation of the College of New Brunswick into King's College (predecessor to UNB), for which he secured a royal charter and commissioned a fine Georgian building on a hill overlooking Fredericton. It opened on New Year's Day in 1829. His words on that occasion inspire us to this day:
Firm may this Institution ever stand and flourish-firm in the liberal constitution and Royal foundation on which I have this day instituted it-enlarging and extending its material form, and all its capacities to do good, to meet the increasing demands of a rising, prosperous and intellectual people; and soon may it acquire and ever maintain, a high and distinguished reputation, as a place of general learning and useful knowledge.
Sir Howard Douglas imparted a vision of what a great public university could be a full 30 years before the Morrill Act created the major land grant colleges in the United States. And he imbued this institution with a direction and a purpose it has followed steadfastly, supporting the development of this province, this region and this country.