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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part IV: Chapter X. From 1851 to 1859


BETWEEN the above mentioned years is included a period which was of no great importance in the local history of Toronto. It was pre-emmently a political period—a season of ministerial change, of bitter encounters in the parliamentary arena, of incisive diatribes in the columns of the party organs. Perhaps the city was more closely identified with these matters than she might otherwise have been, Inasmuch as in 1855 the Government offices were again removed to Toronto. But with politics a history of Toronto pure and simple, such as this, has little to do, except where political action directly influenced the prosperity or the repute of the city. It will not, therefore, be within the province of these pages to deal with the political duels which were fought within the walls of the Legislative buildings between 1855 and 1859, nor to descant at any length upon the manoeuvre by which Ottawa was finally selected for the. honour of being the permanent capital of Canada. These matters belong to the history of Canada; our business is with Toronto.

The first year of the period which forms the subject of this chapter was marked by the inception of a work which would place the city in close relations with the towns of Western Ontario, would narrow down to nothing, as it were, the distance between Lakes Ontario and Huron, and would, by making Toronto the receiving house for the products of the north-western part of the Province, contribute largely to her importance and her progress. This was the inception of the first railroad in the western half of the Province, the Ontario, Simcoe, and Huron Railway, an inconveniently long title which was soon after exchanged for the simpler one of the Northern. On the 15th of October Lady Elgin turned the first sod for the new highway on a spot nearly opposite the Parliament Buildings on Front Street. The road was completed and opened to Aurora in May, 1853, and to Colingwod in 1855, in which year also Toronto obtained direct railway communication with Hamilton by the Toronto and Hamilton, and with Montreal by the Grand Trunk road. The latter line was extended westwards to Guelph in the early part of the following year, and soon after to Sarnia.

Towards the close of 1854, Sir Edmund Walker Head succeeded Lord Elgin as Governor-General, and m November of the following year, a month after the removal of the seat of Government to Toronto, he entered into the occupancy of the old Government House, which stood on the site of the present building, and which, as well as the Legislative Chambers, had been repaired and decorated for the use of the four-year visitors. On the 15th of February, 1856, a memorable session of Parliament was opened. It was a fortnight old when the famous altercation arose between the Hon. John A. Macdonald and Mr. George Brown, in the course of which the latter was accused by the former of grave delinquencies in connection with the Penitentiary Commission, of which Mr. Brown was secretary. With those charges, and with the investigation that followed, and the personal enmity' between the two gentlemen concerned in the matter, we have nothing to do here, any more than with another celebrated altercation between Mr. Macdonald and Colonel Rankin, which very nearly led to a duel. One matter, however, did come up during this session, in which the City of Toronto was immediately interested. This was a motion, introduced by Mr. John Sandfield Macdonald, in favour of discontinuing the system of alternating the seat of Government between Toronto and Quebec. This motion was carried, and, thanks to Lower Canadian influence, the Assembly decided, by a vote of 64 to 56, that after 1859 Quebec should be the permanent capital of Canada. Another political event which marks the last stay of the Government in Toronto, was the celebrated " Double Shuffle," by which, within the space of a few days, two changes of ministry occurred, the Macdonald-Cartier Government making room for the short lived Brown-Dorion Ministry, which in forty-eight hours was followed by the Cartier-Macdonald Administration. It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader that to the unpopularity of Her Majesty's selection of Ottawa as the permanent seat of Government were due these rapidly shifting scenes on the political stage. The time had now come when Toronto had for the last time been the arena on which were fought out the battles of Upper and Lower Canadian politicians. In 1859 the Government offices were finally removed, to remain at Quebec until 1865, and then to be shifted, for the last time, to Ottawa. Dm '.ng November of this year, Toronto was the meeting place of a great Reform Convention, attended by nearly six hundred members of the party, who adopted resolutions condemnatory of the union in ts then existing state, and in favour of Local Governments for the management of local affairs, and of a "joint authority" to regulate matters of interest to the Province at large.

In municipal affairs the period with which we arc engaged was as uneventful as its political aspect was eventful. In 1853, during Mr. Powes's term of office as Mayor, a seventh ward, known as St. John's, was formed from St. Patrick's. The following year Mr. Powes was succeeded by Mr. Joshua G. Beard, who had represented St. Lawrence Ward in the Council almost continuously since 1834, the year of the city's incorporation; but Mr. Beard falling ill shortly after his election, his place at the head of the Council board was temporarily taken by Mr. John Beverley Robinson. In 1855, Mr. (now the Hon.) G. W. Allan succeeded to the chief magistracy, and was followed in 1856 by Mr. J. B. Robinson. In 1857, Mr. John Hutchison was elected, and in 1858 Mr. W. H. Boulton succeeded to the civic chair. The latter gentleman, however, resigned early in November, and Ijs place was taken by Mr. D. B. Read, Q.C. Mr. Read was the last Mayor elected by the City Council until the revival of that system in 1867. During 1858 an Act—known as the "Upper Canada Municipal Institutions Act"—had been passed, by which it was provided that mayors of cities and towns should thereafter be chosen by the electors of such cities and towns at the annual election to be held on the first Monday in January. This system prevailed until 1866, and under it Mr. Adam Wilson, who now occupies an honoured position on the Bench of Ontario, was elected; but inasmuch as he had also been returned to Parliament, Mr. John Carr, a representative of St. Patrick's Ward, was appointed President of the Council, to represent the Mayor during the latter's absence.

The city's progress from 1851 to 1859 was very far from being such as its well-wishers would have desired. Already in 1856 there were evidences of commercial depression and monetary stringency, but 1857 will long be remembered as the gloomiest epoch in the history of the commerce and industries of the country. Solvency and enterprise seemed to be things of the past. Mercantile houses of long established reputation went by the board; the factories were idle, trade was stagnant, and the streets swarmed with beggars and vagrants. Even those who had hitherto been in ordinarily comfortable, circumstances now tasted for the first time the bitterness of poverty, and there is reason to believe that not a few deaths from starvation occurred. As usual, in such times of depression, drunkenness was rife, and during the year close upon two thousand people were committed to gaol. During 1858 the condition of affairs underwent a slight improvement, but it was not until the following year that confidence was re-established, and the city resumed its normal business-like aspect.

In 1851, at the opening of the period under consideration, the population of the city was 30,775. In 1856 this had increased to 45,000. The average daily attendance at the city schools in) 1854 was 1,459, and in 1857, only 1,863, although the population now numbered over 45,000. The unsatisfactory attendance at the schools at this time was the subject of bitter comment by the Superintendent of Education, who despairingly- contrasted the returns with those of 1844, when, with a population of only 18,500, the average daily attendance was 1,194, at a cost of £1 10s a head, whereas the cost m 1857, with the above meagre result, was £3 11s per head. In the year last mentioned the number of houses in the city was 7,476, and the real and personal property assessment value £515,806, yielding a gross sum of £74,962.


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