Celebrate the 225th anniversary of Ontario

By MPP Toby Barrett

In six months we all have an opportunity to celebrate not only Canada’s 150th birthday but also the 225th anniversary of the Parliament of Ontario.

In fact it was 225 years ago this month – June 10th to be exact – that the boundaries of Ontario were created with the signing of the Constitutional Act of 1791. The Act divided the Province of Quebec into Lower Canada and Upper Canada, along the present-day Québec-Ontario border

By the end of the American revolt in 1783, what had been a trickle of wartime Loyalist refugees became a stream. The 5,000-6,000 migrants set a tone and fashioned a British-centered ideology that would influence much of Upper Canada’s future. It was the United Empire Loyalists who came to what is now Ontario, mostly American frontiersmen, that caused Britain to modify the inadequate Quebec Act of 1774, thus creating the Constitutional Act of 1791.

But we did not see Ontario’s first parliament meet until Sept. 17, 1792, at Newark (now Niagara – On – The -Lake). It’s unclear where exactly the first sitting was held. Cases are made for Navy Hall, Butler’s Barracks, the Freemason’s Lodge and a large tent pitched under what is now known as Parliament Oak.

Then, as now, legislation was introduced and debated, ranging from the establishment of trial by jury, to the destruction of wolves, to regulation of surveys. Duties were proposed on liquor, wine, and goods sold by auction. There was a bill to prevent smuggling. The legislature authorized town meetings, established the Winchester system for weights and measures, looked for better regulation of highways, and empowered magistrates to raise money for jails and courthouses.

The first leader of this new wilderness society was Lt-Gov. John Graves Simcoe.

Simcoe used troops to build a series of primary roads, got the land boards and land distribution under way, established the judiciary, abolished slavery and showed a keen interest in promoting Anglican affairs.

Land ownership, the question that concerned most settlers, was established on the British pattern of freehold tenure. Land was granted in lots, with heads of families receiving 100 acres and field officers receiving up to, and eventually more than, 1,000 acres. Clothing, tools and provisions were supplied for three years.

On July 1, 1867 – 75 years after Ontario’s legislature first met ­- church bells rang and four million people celebrated the creation of the Dominion of Canada.

And in 2017, Canada’s sesquicentennial will kick off in Norfolk where much of it began in the historic village of Vittoria. Between 1815 and 1825, Vittoria was the judicial capital of the London District of Upper Canada and was the largest commercial hub between Niagara Falls and Detroit. This past June 19, I had the pleasure of taking part in Loyalist Day held in Vittoria by the Grand River Branch of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada.

As we celebrate Canada Day – the original Dominion Day – we mark confederation. Both Caledonia and Port Dover have gigantic parades, attended by thousands. Port Dover has been hosting its Callithumpian parade every year since 1867, claiming it to be the longest-running Canada day parade in the country.

I encourage all to get involved, come up with projects – large and small – to mark the establishment of both Canada and Ontario.