Port Hope, Canada – Political Connections

The history of Port Hope would be complete without some account of its connection with the political institutions of the country and so, while this chapter may scarcely be considered as dealing directly with the life of the Town, it is rendered necessary by the foregoing consideration.

Port Hope was originally situated in the District of Nassau—one of the four divisions into which Governor Dorchester divided Western Canada in 1788. The other three districts were denominated Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, and Hesse. These German names applied until 1792 when, by a proclamation of October 15th, Governor Simcoe changed them. The Nassau District became the Home District and it extended from the Midland District on the Bay of Quinte to a line drawn north from Long Point in Lake Erie. Meanwhile on the 16th of January the same Governor had divided Upper Canada into nineteen counties for electoral purposes. Of these Durham was the thirteenth and it, together with York and Lincoln, was required to send one of the sixteen members to the First Parliament of Upper Canada. This original county of Durham was more particularly defined in 1798 when it was proclaimed as consisting of the Townships of Hope, Clarke and Darlington, together with all the land northward to the chain of small lakes back of Peterboro’. These townships had been created in 1792, the first in response to a petition presented to Government by Jonathan Walton, Elias Smith and Abraham Walton, dated October 6th, 1792. It was so named in honor of Colonel Henry Hope, a member of the Legislative Council, to whom Governor Hamilton transferred the Government in 1787, pending the return of Governor Carleton from England. (Hope Gate at Quebec was also named in his honor.)

The counties of Northumberland, Durham, York and Simcoe by the same legislation composed the Home District with the District Town at York. The same Act also provided that when the population of Northumberland and Durham combined had reached one thousand and when six townships therein held regular meetings that the two counties should be formed into the Newcastle District. This result was attained by the first day of January, 1800, and the Newcastle District was duly constituted with its capital at the village of Newcastle near Presqu’ile Point. The same year the representation in Parliament was altered slightly and Durham, the East Riding of York and Simcoe formed one constituency.

By an Act of 1802 it was provided that a Jail and Court House should be erected at Newcastle but, such a situation proving most inconvenient, the Act was repealed in 1805.

As a consequence the Magistrates of the District were authorized to select a suitable site, and Amherst, a small village where Cobourg jail now stands, was chosen and next year a frame Court House and jail was erected there.

In 1808 another change gave the Newcastle District a member in the Legislature and this representation continued until 1825 when, owing to the result of the first census returns of Canada, taken during the preceding year, each county was allowed two members.

Meanwhile for many years there had been much contention among various sections in regard to the situation of the Court House and numerous lawsuits were entered into disputing the legality of the magistrates’ action in building at Amherst. The result was that in 183o the highest legal tribunal declared that the Court House was no Court House at all, as the magistrates had not been authorized to erect such a building. To settle the difficulty the next session of the Legislature legalized the Court House and granted indemnity to the magistrates for “the illegal expenditure of money applied in its erection.” Two years later the present Cobourg Jail was erected to serve as Court House and Jail combined.

The Counties had all this time been growing rapidly and by 1821 Durham had taken in the new townships of Cavan, Manvers, Cartwright*, Emily, Ops and Mariposa. It continued to comprise portions of Peterborough and Victoria Counties, until by the ” Municipal Institutions Act ” of 1849 these two new divisions were definitely set apart and the modern County of Durham with its six townships was left. (These northern townships had formed part of the Colborne District since 1838.)

From 1825 to the time of the Act of Union Durham and Northumberland were each entitled to two members and for Durham sat Messrs. Smith, Fothergill, Brown, Boulton and Elliot. Since the Act of Union East Durham has been Port Hope’s constituency. Up to Confederation it was represented by John Tucker Williams, James Smith, Francis FL Burton and John Shuter Smith consecutively.

Since Confederation two sets of representatives are required by law, one for the Dominion Parliament and one for the Provincial Parliament. For the former the Town of Port Hope has supplied all the members, viz. F. H. Burton, Lewis Ross, Colonel A. T. H. Williams, H. A. Ward, T. Dixon Craig and H. A. Ward for a second term (1900.) For the latter the representation has been as follows,—Colonel Williams, John Rosevear, Dr. Brereton, T. D. Craig, George Campbell and W. A. Fallis.

When the Newcastle District was constituted, its first courts of justice were held at Newcastle (Presqu’ile.) The earliest one recorded was presided over by Justice Thompson of Kingston and so small were the quarters provided that when the jury retired, they were compelled to deliberate in the open air seated on a log. The Amherst Court House was but a slight improvement as there was still insufficient accommodation for the Jurymen, who in this case were wont to withdraw to a neighboring tavern. It was not until the erection of the present commodious Court House in Cobourg that the course of justice has succeeded in running smoothly.

The earliest form of County Government was by means of Quarter Sessions, presided over by the District Magistrates and this continued until 1841, the Newcastle District Judge being D. M. Rogers of Grafton. The Union Act of 184.1 established District Councils, similar to the County Councils of the present day, with the exception that the Warden was a Crown appointee. He became an elective officer in 1847 and has since remained so. The Town of Port Hope withdrew from the Counties in 186o and remained independent until 1894. Efforts have been made at various times to separate the counties but hitherto without result.