Nicholas Flood Davin

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Nicholas Flood Davin
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Assiniboia West
In office
Preceded byElectoral district created
Succeeded byThomas Walter Scott
Personal details
Born(1840-01-13)January 13, 1840
Kilfinane (Republic of Ireland)
DiedOctober 18, 1901(1901-10-18) (aged 61)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Political partyConservative Party of Canada (1867–1942)

Nicholas Flood Davin (January 13, 1840 – October 18, 1901) was a lawyer, journalist and politician, born at Kilfinane, Ireland.[1] The first MP for Assiniboia West (1887–1900), Davin was known as the voice of the North-West.

Davin founded and edited the Regina Leader, the first newspaper in Assiniboia. He tried to gain provincial status for the territory.

Davin is considered one of the architects of the Canadian Indian residential school system. In 1879 he wrote the Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds, otherwise known as The Davin Report, in which he advised the federal government to institute residential schools for Indigenous children. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the assimilation amounted to cultural genocide.[2]

Early life[edit]

Davin was a parliamentary and war correspondent in England before he arrived in Toronto in 1872, where he wrote for The Globe. Although a fully qualified lawyer, Davin practised little law. The highlight of his legal career was his 1880 defence of George Bennett, who murdered George Brown.

Move to West[edit]

The first Leader Building, Regina, Assiniboia

A chance visit to the West in 1882 determined his future. In 1883, he founded and edited the Regina Leader, the first newspaper in Assiniboia, which carried his detailed reports of the 1885 trial of Louis Riel. A spellbinding speaker and Conservative MP for Assiniboia West from 1887 to 1900, Davin tried to gain provincial status for the territory, economic, and property advantages for the new settlers, even the franchise for women, but he never achieved his ambition to be a Cabinet minister. A mercurial personality, he became depressed by the decline of his political and personal fortunes, and he shot himself during a visit to Winnipeg on October 18, 1901. Davin wrote The Irishman in Canada (1877), as well as poetry and an unpublished novel.

Imposing grave site of Nicholas Flood Davin.
Nicholas Flood Davin grave site at Beechwood National Cemetery, Ottawa, ON Canada.

He had an interesting, often-illustrious career and upon his death, he was so well-thought of that his colleagues in Ottawa had his body sent from Winnipeg to Ottawa to be buried in Beechwood National Cemetery. The epitaph, carved in stone beneath a plinth upon which his bust in bronze is ensconced, reads: "This monument has been erected by his former parliamentary associates and other people as a lasting proof of the esteem and affection which they entertained (sic) on one whose character was strongly marked by sincerity and fearlessness, whose mind by vivacity and clearness of comprehension and whose classical scholarship and wide culture united to his brilliant oration and singular wit made him intent in debate and delightful in society."

The Davin Report[edit]

Davin is considered one of the architects of the Canadian Indian residential school system. In 1879, he was sent by the Canadian government to investigate Indian Education in the US. In his report, Davin applauded US efforts to concentrate Indigenous peoples on reservations, divide the communal territory into individually owned parcels of land, and prepare Indigenous children for citizenship through industrial education.

Davin believed industrial boarding schools were superior to day schools, where children returned to their homes after a day’s education and were still under the ‘influence of the wigwam’.[3] The industrial boarding school was in his view the best option for Indians ‘to be merged and lost’ within the nation.[4] But Davin also felt that the migratory nature of Indigenous groups in the northwest made the extensive establishment of industrial boarding schools expensive and inefficient; he argued Canada should use its already existing network of denominational missions for the residential schooling system. Soon after his report, several government-sponsored boarding schools opened.[5][6]


Davin used, among others, the literary device of inter-textuality to draw upon British canonical writers including Tennyson, Byron, and Shakespeare to connect the associations of empire with his 19th-century audience. In 1876, Davin wrote an adaptation of Shakespeare The Fair Grit; or The Advantages of Coalition. A Farce, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The play is a farce on governmental coalitions and the corrupted role of media in Canadian politics – a power fully realized by Davin as a writer and founder of the Regina Leader newspaper located in Canada’s North-West.

Three years later, Davin produced the Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds, otherwise known as The Davin Report (1879), in which he advised John A. Macdonald’s federal government to institute residential schools for Indigenous youth; the recommendation led, in part, to the establishment of the Canadian Indian residential school system that decimated Canadian Aboriginal families.[7][8]

In 1884, while visiting Ottawa, Davin wrote Eos – A Prairie Dream (1884), a collection of poems that, in his own words, "strike a true and high note in Canadian politics and literature" (5) while he represents, through his poetry, the destruction of Aboriginal culture (Moll, "The Davin Report: Shakespeare and Canada's Manifest Destiny," Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project, par 2).

Gunhilda Letters[edit]

Nicholas Flood Davin complimented the 'Gunhilda letters' "for felicity of expression, cogency of reasoning, fierceness of invective, keenness of satire and piquancy of style" and "Nothing equal to them has appeared in the Canadian press for years."[9] In 1881, Susan Anna Wiggins used the nom de plume 'Gunhilda' to write the Gunhilda Letters--Marriage with a Deceased Husband's Sister: Letters of a Lady to [John Travers Lewis], the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Ontario, which consisted of letters of support for Mr. Girouard's bill regarding the legalization of marriage with a deceased wife's sister, long-time prohibited by British law at home and overseas. The Gunhilda Letters were dedicated to the members of the Senate of Canada and of the House of Commons of Canada who supported Mr. Girouard's Bill.[10]


  1. ^ Thompson, John Herd (1994). "Davin, Nicholas Flood". In Cook, Ramsay; Hamelin, Jean (eds.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. XIII (1901–1910) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  2. ^ "Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada" (PDF). National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 31 May 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 July 2016. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
  3. ^ (Davin, 1879: 1)
  4. ^ (Davin, 1879: 11)
  5. ^ Woolfrd, Andrew; Gacek, James (October 2016). "Genocidal carceral and Indian residential schools in Canada". Punishment & Society. 18 (4): 400–419. doi:10.1177/1462474516641375. ISSN 1462-4745. S2CID 147431910.
  6. ^ Koester, C. B. (1980). Mr. Davin, M.P. : a biography of Nicholas Flood Davin. Saskatoon, Sask: Western Producer Prairie Books. ISBN 978-0-88833-056-7. OCLC 7402557.
  7. ^ Henderson, Jennifer; Wakeham, Pauline, eds. (2013). "Appendix A: Aboriginal Peoples and Residential Schools". Reconciling Canada: Critical Perspectives on the Culture of Redress. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-4426-1168-9. Retrieved May 5, 2017.
  8. ^ Davin, Nicholas Flood (1879). Report on industrial schools for Indians and half-breeds (microform) (Report). [Ottawa? : s.n., 1879?]. Archived from the original on May 29, 2016. Retrieved July 11, 2016.
  9. ^ Morgan, Henry James, ed. (1903). Types of Canadian Women and of Women who are or have been Connected with Canada. Toronto: Williams Briggs. p. 75.
  10. ^ Marriage with a deceased wife's sister : letters of a lady to the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Ontario.

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