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Enos Collins, Halifax Entrepreneur

For the week of Monday, November 14, 2011

On November 18, 1871, Enos Collins died at the age of 97. As both mariner and businessman, he had made a great contribution to the development of Halifax.

Enos Collins was born on September 5, 1774, in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and while still young he signed on as cabin boy on merchant ships, and fishing boats. He rapidly rose to become a skipper, but he gave up that position to become first officer on a privateer. Thereafter, his personal fortune grew swiftly thanks to interests he held in several merchant ships, and blockade running during the Spanish War of Independence (1807-13). In 1811, Collins moved to Halifax, finding the town of Liverpool too confining for his ambitions.

Enos Collins
© Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management / Notman Studio / 1983-310 / 10, about 1870.

Thanks to the three privateers that he owned, which waylaid many American vessels and appropriated their cargoes, Collins grew rich during the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States. He also speculated in money markets and made investments in the United States. All these investments made him a rich man, to the point where he was said to have the largest fortune in British North America.

When Collins wanted to leave Nova Scotia for good, local dignitaries offered him a seat on the Council of Twelve to persuade him to remain in Halifax. His rise in society continued when, with a group of merchants, he founded the Halifax Banking Company, which local people promptly dubbed “Collins’ Bank” because of his predominant role in it.

 

Halifax Banking Company / Collins Bank and Warehouse, 1825-1908
© Parks Canada / C. Reardon / 1994

 

 

In subsequent years, Collins’ reputation was tarnished by the Brandy Dispute, a debate as to whether to restore the full tariff or to abolish the tax on imported alcoholic beverages. Profiting from the period of indecision, Collins sold vast quantities of tax-free liquor, an initiative that sullied his name. In the end, he lost his position on the Council of Twelve, partly as a consequence of the introduction of responsible government.

Collins spent the last 30 years of his life as a recluse in his house, but he continued to manage his assets. He made a return to public life only to oppose the proposal for a Canadian confederation. Throughout his life, Collins donated a portion of his wealth to local charities.

As a great entrepreneur and mariner, Enos Collins was recognized as a person of national historical significance for his important contribution to the development of Halifax. The city erected a commemorative plaque in his honour in 1975. The Halifax Historic Properties, which include the Halifax Banking Company, also known as the Collins Bank and Warehouse, are similarly identified by a commemorative plaque.

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