McCammon, Andrew J. - M.A
British Colonialism, Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe, and Local Government in Early Upper Canada - Dr. Gilbert Stelter, advisor
Upon the cessation of the American Revolution the British empire adopted a new and completely integrated system of colonial management for what remained of British North America. By design, this system was engineered to penetrate to and be just as operative at the local level as at the highest echelons of colonial administration. For his part, John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor, was to elicit profound effects upon both of these levels in the political formulation of early Upper Canada. Ultimately, these included fostering the evolution of the elite of the Family Compact, shaping the direction and the composition of the tools of local administration, and forging the link between the two. As a result of all of these influences, local government triumphed over local self-government in early Upper Canada and thereby became an integral and firmly entrenched component of its colonial experience.
While in effect the overall Canadian mold had been hollowed out by earlier events, cast, and left to solidify, with important finishing touches instrumented by Simcoe, upon the passage of the Constitutional Act of 1791, the local manifestations of the new system were similarly formed and then firmly embedded in the colonial plaster in three stages between July 16, 1792 and May 20, 1795. The first stage, as decreed in Simcoe's Proclamation of July 16, 1792, consisted of the selection of the district rather than the county as the administrative unit of local government in Upper Canada as well as, and more importantly, the investiture of direct responsibility for the district in the Lieutenant Governor rather than in or with the consent of the Parliament. The second stage, as unfolded in the first two sessions of the first Parliament of Upper Canada, comprised the disposition of various articles of legislation eventually either further empowering the District Courts or restricting the influence of town and township meetings. Finally, the third stage, as expressed in the May 20, 1795 rejection of Simcoe's two proposals for Lieutenants of Counties and for municipal corporations, was inaugurated as a result of an avowed proclivity on the part of the home authority against any potential alterations to the established system. Following these early developments, no substantive and lasting alterations to the system of local government were made until the District Councils Act of 1841 and the municipal Corporations Act of 1849.
Perfectly in keeping with the new colonial orientation, local government as provided for in the District Courts was highly centralized around the Lieutenant-Governor, divorced from the influence of the Assembly, and predicated in a manner that was at once both simplistic and highly static. Additionally, it was virtually all encompassing in terms of judicial, regulatory, administrative, and specific urban responsibilities. Local self government through the provision of town and township meetings, meanwhile, was extremely restricted as these meetings were at first outlawed and then thoroughly subjugated, with what little responsibility they were empowered, to the appointed officials of the Lieutenant-Governor.
These perspectives considered, the purpose of this study is to analyse the implementation of the system of local government both as an important tool of imperial policy and as a fundamental attribute of the early Upper Canadian colonial experience.