By Toby Barrett, MPP
On July 1, 1867, Ontarians from all walks of life celebrated the birth of their new nation and new province, ever bearing in mind, Ontario’s Legislature preceded Confederation by 75 years.
In the provincial capital Toronto, a city with a population under 60,000, people marked the occasion by attending public bonfires, ox-roastings, military drills, lake excursions and fireworks.
Queen’s Park had opened just seven years earlier as a City of Toronto public park. Prince Edward, Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII attended a ceremony on September 11, 1860 and dedicated the park in the name of his mother, Queen Victoria.
There was no Legislative Building at Queen’s Park at the time, as sessions of the Legislature were held at a building on Front Street close to today’s financial district, at the intersection of King and Simcoe streets.
Members of Ontario’s first parliament, then known as MPs and governing the British colony of Upper Canada, first met in Newark, now Niagara-on-the-Lake, before moving to York, now Toronto, in 1793.
The first Premier of the new Ontario was John Sandfield Macdonald. A close ally of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sandfield Macdonald won Ontario’s first election during the summer of 1867. Sandfield Macdonald’s parliament had 82 Members. Most ridings were in the south of the province—a large portion of what is now northern Ontario was then part of Rupert’s Land—which was not brought into Confederation until 1870. Ontario’s borders continued to change, finally settling into its present-day boundaries in 1912.
The initial legislative agenda for the province’s Members of Provincial Parliament, formerly known as MPs and now known as MPPs, included bills ranging from encouraging settlement to more northerly areas of the province, an extension of rail systems, reform of social welfare institutions, to the creation of new colleges.
The Legislative Chamber—where I maintain a desk to represent Haldimand-Norkfolk – is where the rubber hits the road. As Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs), we meet in the Legislative Chamber to debate and pass laws on behalf of all people in Ontario. The Chamber differs from other provincial legislatures in that the architect, Richard A. Waite, chose to place the room in a front-facing position to symbolize government accountability and openness. In the 1930s, seating was altered to a horseshoe pattern, but reverted to the traditional two-sided style by the 1940s. I welcome all from Haldimand-Norfolk to come to Toronto to watch the proceedings live from galleries on the upper east and west sides of the Chamber.
The Legislative Chamber is ornate-decorated with wood carvings and elaborate plaster reliefs. Gargoyles and mythical creatures overlook the debates and are said to scare away evil spirits. Latin mottoes inscribed on pillars offer advice for good governance. Overlooking their handiwork are the faces of the wood carvers in the plaster reliefs.
Illuminating the room are four, one thousand pound, chandeliers and ten slightly smaller ones.
Outside the chamber, the spectacular quarter-cut white oak floor, once hidden by red carpet, gleams with its 1890s lustre, having been restored in 1999 by craftspeople skillfully sanding and applying one coat of stain, and multiple layers of polyurethane.
All in all, the building is an esthetic pleasure in which to work for my constituents. When in Toronto, I would urge any lover of great architecture and good government to visit.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk