John Bushell, the owner of the first printing press in what was to become Canada, is well remembered for publishing the first newspaper in the land. However, he also has the distinction of publishing what is believed to be the first bilingual document in the country’s history. In this article, the author explains the story behind this unique and historic government document.
David S. McDonald is Legislative Librarian at the Nova Scotia Legislative Library.
In September 1751 Bartholomew Green Jr sailed on the Endeavor from Boston to Halifax. He took his wooden press and type supplies with him. Unfortunately, he died less than a month later. News of his death reached his former partner, John Bushell, who soon after sailed for Halifax and established the first printing press in what was to become Canada. On March 23, 1752, Bushell published the first issue of the Halifax Gazette on Green’s press, which was the first newspaper published in Canada.
Aside from his newspaper, Bushell was sometimes asked to print government documents needed by the public. One such document was an agreement between the Governor of Québec, Ange Duquesne de Menneville, and the Governor of Nova Scotia, Peregrine Thomas Hopson.
In 1752, after years of war, there was an unsteady peace between the French and English. Hopson recognized the value of the Acadians as the only established agrarian population and he supported them. He also supported the Mi’kmaq and signed a treaty with Major Jean Baptiste Cope, Chief Sachem of the Mi’kmaq. This environment of conciliation and co-operation contributed to Hopson and Duquesne agreeing to an exchange of deserters.
The resulting A Cartel for the exchange of deserters = cartel pour l’echange des deserteurs, which was printed on November 8, 1752, is thought to be the first bilingual published document in Canada.
The document was printed on the same press that Bartholomew Green brought to Halifax a year earlier. Two copies were sent to the Lords of Trade in London and reside in the Public Records Office. There is also one copy in the Nova Scotia Public Archives and another in the Nova Scotia Legislative Library.