Life and career
Steeves was educated in public school and began his career running a small store before becoming a partner in Steeves Brothers, a family mercantile and lumber exporting business. Steeves moved to Saint John, New Brunswick in order to further the business and became a leader in the city's financial community.
Steeves was elected to New Brunswick's colonial House of Assembly in 1846 and was an advocate of governmental reform and the election of all members of the Legislative Council. He was appointed to the Legislative Council (the upper house) in 1851. In 1854, the compact government that had ruled the colony was finally defeated by a reform administration and Steeves became Surveyor General in the new government. He resigned the appointment later that year due to opposition to an unelected person from the Legislative Council being appointed rather than an elected member of the House of Assembly.
In 1855, Steeves became the first chairman of the Department of Public Works. He left government in 1856 when the reform administration of Samuel Leonard Tilley was defeated over prohibition, but he returned to office with Tilley in 1857 and remained commissioner of public works until 1861. He continued in Tilley's government as minister without portfolio until 1865 when the government fell due to its support for Canadian Confederation.
Steeves was a supporter of Confederation and was one of New Brunswick's delegates to the Charlottetown Conference and the Quebec Conference of 1864. He was appointed to the Senate of Canada as a Liberal, when the chamber was created in 1867. In that body, he acted as an advocate for the better care of the mentally ill. He served in the Senate until his death in 1873. He is interred in the Fernhill Cemetery in Saint John, New Brunswick.
Steeves was a maternal great-grand-uncle of the late Leader of the Opposition and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton and is the maternal great-great-grand uncle of Toronto City Councillor Mike Layton.
- "Father of Confederation". www.canadahistory.com. Retrieved October 6, 2013.
- Bowser, Les. The Search for Heinrich Stief. Nimbus.
- Hempel, Rainer L. New Voices on the Shores.
- Steeves, Philip Earle (2014). Heinrich and Regina: The Story of the First Steeves (This book contains the latest, most authoritative genealogy for both sides of the family in Germany (Stief and Stahlecker) based on original source documents. ed.).
- Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- William Steeves – Parliament of Canada biography
- Steeves Museum