The Establishment of Municipal Government in Ontario
written by local historian Catherine Milne
The first Council for Hamilton Township wasn't elected until 1850. Who ran things before that? When loyalists from the U.S. first settled Canada in the late 1700's, they wanted SOME form of LOCAL government like they had been used to in New England. In response, the government divided Upper Canada into four large districts. Hamilton Township and Cobourg were included in the District of Newcastle.
In 1792 a form of municipal government was set up in each district called the Courts of Quarter Sessions. To make up this body, a number of local justices of the peace were appointed by the powerful Family Compact, who had control of the government. The duties of the Courts of Quarter Sessions were to appoint property assessors and census takers, maintain the peace, control the wandering cows, sheep and especially pigs (called hog wardens), award tavern licences (taverns were the biggest money makers in the country) and lay out roads and oversee the heights of fences. They appointed men in the neighbourhood to these latter duties and they were called pathmasters and fenceviewers.
A number of towns like Cobourg fought the Family Compact to become incorporated and in 1837 a Board of Police was set up in Cobourg. Five members were elected for a year and all were prominent Cobourg men. They took over running the town but in the rural areas, like Hamilton Township, the Courts of Quarter Sessions still had control.
All this changed in 1849 when the new Reform government of Canada West (later Ontario), under Robert Baldwin, passed an act establishing the municipal organization of counties, townships and towns. Local affairs would be administered by elected Councils who would serve for a year and could levy taxes. Elections for five Councillors were held each January. Until 1866 the Councils chose two of their own members to act as Reeve and Deputy Reeve. There have been many changes over the years but this is more or less the form of local government we have in Ontario today.
Information on early politicians, gathered by Ms. Milne can be viewed by clicking the selections below:
Austin Burke Carpenter
James Bonwell Fortune
Quaker James Staples
Reeve Listing from 1850 to 2004
Mayor Listing from 2004 to Present
Council Listing from 1850 to Present