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Source: Some Notes of the Minutes of the Town Meetings of the Township of Sidney, W.S. Herrington, Royal Society of Canada, Proceedings and Transactions, 1919, sec 2, 77-90, Robarts Library.
This article is presented with permission from the Royal Society of Canada.
Some Notes on the Minutes of the Town Meetings of the Township
By W. S. Herrington, K.C., F.R.S.C
(Read May meeting, 1919)The Township of Sidney was numbered eight among the first townships laid out upon the Bay of Quinte, although as a matter of fact it was not the eighth upon the list either from the date of survey or settlement. Richmond number ten had acquired some settlers as early as 1785 and was probably surveyed in the latter part of that year. Thurlow number nine was surveyed in 1786 and a few settlers had taken up land the same year, but Sidney was neither surveyed nor settled until 1787. At that time it was so remote from the more thickly settled townships at the eastern end of the bay that it was regarded as beyond the bounds of civilization; and the surveyor evidently thought it scarcely worth his while to give his personal attention to the matter, but left it to his less competent assistant with the result that after a few years it was found necessary to direct, a new survey to be made. A few straggling settlers followed upon the heels of the surveyors, and quite naturally selected what they deemed to be the choicest locations. The practice adopted in the first settled townships, of entering the names of the locatees upon a map provided for the purpose was not followed in Sidney so we have no reliable record of the locations of the original settlers. The records of the Land Board are not a safe guide as many changes might and no doubt did take place before the certificates of location were issued by that body.
Unlike the townships on the other side of the bay,
Although Sidney lags a few years behind its sister townships upon the bay in the matter of survey and settlement it is the banner township in organizing its town meetings and thus providing a means, meagre though it was, for local self government. Adolphustown (Fourth Town) points proudly, to the fact that on March 6, 1792, was held the first Town Meeting at which were appointed a town clerk, a constable, two overseers of the poor, three pound-masters and two fence viewers. A similar meeting was held on the fifth of March, 1793. These meetings were the spontaneous acts of the inhabitants and were not authorized by statute. It was not until July, 1793, that a statute was enacted by the Legislative Assembly providing for the appointment of just such officers as had been appointed at the two annual meetings in Adolphustown. Hallowell held its first meeting in 1798 and Sophiasburgh in 1800. There is no record of the first meetings held in any of the other townships upon the bay except the township of Sidney, whose officials have kindly placed in the hands of the writer, a well preserved minute book containing the records of all town meetings from 1790' to 1849 inclusive. Adolphustown easily took the lead among the townships at the eastern end of the bay in producing,men qualified to lay the foundations of a municipal government and it is quite improbable that any of the neighboring townships took the initiative in this respect and held an annual meeting prior to 1792. In any event it is quite clear that until the minutes are produced and the fact clearly established Sidney must be accorded first place and credited with having held the first meeting in the district of Mecklenburgh. This distinction seems all the more creditable when we remember that the townships at the eastern end of the bay, besides being settled several years earlier than Sidney, possessed many other advantages, among them being a denser population and a closer relationship with Kingston, the recognized official centre of the district. We might, at first glance, quite reasonably expect to find these older townships taking some steps towards municipal organization at a much earlier date than Sidney.
On the other hand we must bear in mind that the first settlers of 1784 came in a body as a military organization. They were not equipped as fighting men, but for convenience they were in the charge of real army officers who had been in command for several months before they reached their final destination. Most of the companies were under the same officers who had commanded them during the war. . The discipline was not so rigidly enforced as when on active service yet there were the two distinct classes, the officers and the rank and file. While these townships might be said to be under military rule it was of a very mild form. To the best of their ability the officers endeavored to enforce the civil law as 'they understood it; but for the most part they relied upon their own sense of "justice and .their decisions were, as a rule, accepted without cavil. Having ready at hand these arbiters, whom they were accustomed to obey and in whom they had confidence, several years passed before they felt the need of appointing other officers to assist in carrying on the affairs of the municipality.
In the township of Sidney the conditions were quite different. The population did not come in as a body and they were not on intimate terms with each other. Many of them met for the first time in the woods. They had no organization of any kind, no leaders upon whom they were accustomed to depend, hence there was in fact a greater need for providing some means of carrying on the affairs of the township through the medium of the town meetings than there was in the front townships of Frontenac,
First as to the book itself. It is a well preserved quarto volume bound in mottled cardboard with sheepskin back, and a memorandum on the first page informs us that it cost 18s. 9d., and that this sum was made up of contributions of 7½d. each from twenty-six contributors and 1s. 3d. each from Caleb Gilbert and Cornelius Lawrence. The first name upon the list is Caleb Gilbert and he appears to have occupied the same prominent place in the general affairs of the township as he did upon the list of contributors towards the purchase of the book.
Although the first meeting was, according to the entry, held on the 15th day of May, 1790, this memorandum shews that the book itself was not obtained until March 8, 1806. It is quite evident therefore that although the book contains a faithful record of all the town meetings from 1790 the entries for the first sixteen years have been transcribed from some other original documents which have not been preserved. An examiriation of the book provides convincing proof that the records are genuine, but the transcriber, in his zealous endeavour to be precise, rather over-reached himself in his heading to the minutes of the first meeting which reads as follows:—
"1790 Upper Canada,
May 15. Pursuant to an Act of the Legislature of the Province of Upper Canada in such case Made and provided the first annual meeting of the Inhabitants of the Township of Sidney was held at the dwelling
house of Aron Rose thence adjourned to the dwelling house of Stephen Gilbert, Esquire, in Sidney and to be held on the first Tuesday of May ensuing."
As the first session of the first Provincial Parliament was not held until
The officers appointed at the first meeting in Sidney and at the annual meetings for the three following years were a Moderator, a Town Clerk, a Constable, two Pathmasters and two Fence Viewers. The Moderator during this entire period was Captain John W. Meyers, the pioneer mill builder upon the Moira River.
The statute of 1793 provided for the election of a Parish or Town Clerk, Assessors, a Collector, Overseers of Highways, a Pound Keeper and Town Wardens. As the duties of the Overseers of Highways, under the Act, included those performed by the pathmasters and fence viewers appointed at the Town Meetings it will readily be seen how closely the statute followed what had already been in practice for four years in the township of Sidney. It recognized the need of appointing a constable also but delegated this authority to the Justices of the Peace assembled in Quarter Sessions. The complete minutes for the first meeting held after the passing of the Act read as follows:—
. Sidney, March 3, 1794.
At an annual Meeting of the Incorporated Townships of Sidney and Thurlow held this . . . for the Nomination and Appointing of Town and Parish officers and doing such other Business as the law directs Have Enacted (by a Majority of Votes) the following Laws and regulations and appointed the following Persons as Town and Parish Officers for the ensuing year, viz.:—
regulations for fences
1st. That Fences shall be four feet Six Inches high and not exceed five Inches open for three feet high for the
regulations for hogs
2nd. Hogs to run at Liberty until they Trespass through or over a lawful Fence. And Hogs to be confined from the first of May to the first of december.
Resolved that the following Persons serve
as Parish and
George Meyers and Archibald Chisholm
The regulations passed at the meeting of 1794 are interesting inasmuch as they are the first attempt at Municipal enactment in the County of Hastings. The putting of hogs upon their good behaviour under a penalty of imprisonment is rather unique. Here again we find the town meeting leading the way and taking upon itself authority to enact regulations before authority to do so had been conferred by Parliament. The Act authorizing the town meetings to determine in what manner and at what periods, animals might run at large was not passed until the 9th July, 1794.
We find no change in the proceedings at the annual meetings for the next few years, the same regulations remaining in force by resolution, year after year, until the meeting of 1798, when the following restraint was put upon rams running at large, "that Rams be confined from the first day of September to the tenth day of December under the penalty of twenty shillings." There is no suggestion either by statute or regulation as to the manner of imposing these penalties. This defect in the means of enforcing the regulations was remedied; in part in the next year 1799 by the following: "Resolved that the'' Laws and regulations be the same as in the year 1798 with the addition that if any person or persons whomsoever shall find either said hog or Ram during the ensuing year running at large on the Highways or Commons they are hereby authorized and empowered to impound the same, the pound keeper (not ?) to deliver them until the owner shall pay the sum of twenty shillings, the one half to the person or persons taking said Hog or Ram to the pound, the other half to the Collector to the public stock of the district. If we desired to be hypercritical we might suggest that this amendment still left it open to both the owner and the animal to escape punishment if the wrong-doer effected his trespass upon his neighbor by any other means than over the highway and even by that means he would go scot-free if once he gained the sanctuary of his home pasture.
Sidney having given Thurlow a fair start and then launched it forth on its independent career, next, in 1801, took Rawdon under its wing. The latter township appears to have been a sort of junior partner in the town meeting business until 1820. The name does not always appear in the headings of the minutes during this period; but the last time it does appear is in the minutes of 1820.
The hog and ram appear to have been the cause of much anxiety to the early settlers and various expedients were adopted to restrain them from doing damage. In 1801 we find a regulation authorizing "any persons finding Hog or Ram within the said limited times running at large on the highways or commons to castrate them. The Owners to run the risk." In 1804 the yoke was first introduced by the following regulation "Hogs to run at large till they do damage the owners thereof to pay the same and yoke them with a Crotch yoke six inches above the neck and four below." So on year after year we find the resolutions of the town meetings directed chiefly towards devising means to check the trespasses committed by domestic animals.
How often when travelling through the country have we observed bends in the road with no apparent reason for deviating from a straight line. To-day in choosing a location for his buildings the farmer takes into consideration the course of the highway which he must use in going to and from his buildings. With the early settler it was quite different. When he built his first cabin there was perhaps no road, only a trail through the forest. Later on, when his improvements had been enlarged and assumed a more permanent character he sometimes invoked the machinery provided by statute and had the road brought to his building.
Two fair illustrations of how this was done are recorded in the old minute book, one in the year 1804 and the other in 1808. The entry in respect to the former will better serve our purpose:—
"IId Concession Road Registered
We whose names are hereunder subscribed being summoned according to law as Jurors to take into consideration whether it be necessary: to alter the plan for the road which was left by direction of the Government between the first and second concession of the townships of Sidney and part of Thurlow in the County of Hastings in the Midland District and Province of Upper Canada to some other place Have unanimously agreed that for the benefit of the Inhabitants and the - Public in General that the said road should be removed and to begin at a dug-way on Lot Number one or nearly in the Second concession of Sidney aforesaid thence at right angles to the west line of the, Township aforesaid (nearly) and as straight direction as the lands will admit to the dwelling house of Andrew Lott, thence to the cleared lands of John Row, thence to the dwelling house of Francis Van de Voort thence to William Sharrards Junr dwelling house thence as straight as the lands will admit to the rear of the dwelling house of Henry Smith thence with an Easterly Course and straight direction to the forty foot Road between Lots No 30 and 31 thence south 16° East along said Road to. the front of said second concession, thence north 74° east along the same to the Township line Between Sidney and Thurlow, thence nearly at right angles across the lots and with as straight a line as the lands will admit of to Singleton's River at or near Capt. John W. Myers Mill or Bridge."
It frequently occurred that the regulations of the previous year would be deemed sufficient. In such cases we find the fact stated very briefly as in the year 1806, "Laws and Regulations the same as in the year 1805."
In the year 1808 we find the phraseology slightly altered and a new set of regulations provided. These evidently were regarded as very satisfactory as they remained in force for the ensuing fifteen years without a single amendment being made. It must be remembered they-constitute the only code of municipal by laws, as they were sometimes called, in force in the township during this entire period. As they played such an important part in the history of the township I give them in full:
"Hogs to run at large till they do damage, the owners thereof to pay the same and yoke them with a crotch yoke six inches above and four inches below the neck.
"Pigs to be confined till three months old. Rams to be confined from the first day of September to the tenth day of November, any person finding either ram or said hog running at large on the Highway or Commons they are authorized to castrate them, the owner to run the risk.
"The Lawful standard for fence is such as the fence viewer or viewers shall deem sufficient."
It speaks volumes for the law-abiding character of the citizens of the township that a population of over 1500 were content with such a brief and simple set of regulations for so long a period.
The by-laws of 1808 which remained in force for so long a period contained a provision respecting rams. This was done in direct opposition to a statute passed in 1804 taking out of the hands of the inhabitants the power to determine at what periods sheep shall be allowed to run at large.
At the annual meeting in 1823 there appears to have been a complete revolution. Not a single officer of the previous year was reappointed except two out of twenty-four pathmasters and one out of four poundkeepers. The old regulations met the same fate as the old officers. They dealt with them in a summary manner and wasted no words in their law-making which read as follows:—
"1st. The Town Law concerning Rams is repealed.
"2d. Seed hogs not to run at large at any time.
"3d. The remainder of the by-laws as in the year 1808."
This brief code served the purposes of the township for another five years. Year after year the sum total of the work done at the town meetings outside of the appointment of the officers would be covered by the simple entry "By-laws stand as they were." The only change in 1828 was a return to the practice, of confining seed hogs for a limited period, and this slight change sufficed for another six years. In 1834 they threw aside their conservatism and ventured into an entirely new field by placing restraints upon geese and turkeys although 'there was no statutory authority for so doing. The entry is as follows:—"by-laws as they were last year with the additional clause gees and tirkeys to run at large till they do damage then the
owner shall pay the damage and taken care of them. The Town Clerk shall make out the Road List of each Road Master after he shall receive the Assessors bill." In the following year there was but one brief entry whereby the height of a lawful fence was no longer left to the discretion of the fence viewers:—"Lawfull fence to be five feet in height."
It was about this period in our history that the inhabitants began to chafe under the administration of their affairs by the Justices of the Peace assembled in Quarter Sessions. All the business of the local municipalities, except such as was covered by the regulations passed at the town meetings, was in their hands and they were in no way answerable to the people for their conduct of public affairs. Sidney had grown to be a populous township and the inhabitants felt that they should have more to say in the management of their own local affairs. In the year 1836 there were no less than thirty-six overseers of highways appointed yet not a single cent of their taxes could be expended upon their highways except upon the order of the Justices based upon the report of a surveyor appointed at the Sessions and under the control of the Justices.
From this time forward the minutes bear evidence of a deeper interest being taken in public matters. The by-laws for 1836 were as follows: -
"All horned cattle to run at large with the exception of those that are known to be breachy. Horses under the same restriction as horned cattle. Any horned cattle or horses running at large contrary to law the owner shall pay 5/- fine. Lawfull fence to be foure feet and a half in heighth. Seed hogs found running on the highways or commons the one (owner ?) shall pay 5/- fine Town Meeting to be held at the school house in the 5th con. 4 corners January 1837."
In 1837 we observe a further development in the municipal machinery. Joseph N. Lockwood was elected moderator, this title having been revived the previous year; and, in addition to the usual I officers, three commissioners were appointed, the moderator being one. Forty-two overseers of highways were appointed and for the first time since 1793 the overseers of highways were relieved of their duties of passing upon the sufficiency of fences when required to do so and thirty-three fence viewers were chosen. The following by-laws were enacted at this meeting:—
"Lawful fence shall be four feet and a half in heighth. Hogs under the restrictions as in 1836. Bulls to run at large, Horned cattle to run at large until they do damage. Horses not to run at large under the penalty of one shilling and three pence fine upon the owner of each Horse Running Contrary to Law. Twenty shillings fine on the owner of any Hound dog found Hounning Deer in the Township of Sidney"
The meeting in 1838 appears to have been an uneventful one, nothing being done except the appointment of the regular officers.
In 1839 some one appears to have muddled matters. A meeting was held at Joseph Courly's store house in the fourth concession on the 7th January. Joseph N. Lockwood who held office as moderator in 1836 and 1837 was elected chairman. A clerk, assessors and three wardens were also chosen; but Lockwood was not one of the wardens. The usual number of overseers of highways and pound keepers were appointed but no fence viewers nor commissioners as in the two previous years. Some slight alterations, afterwards obliterated, were made in the by-laws. An attempt to correct the irregularities and omissions of the proceedings of this meeting appears to have been made at a special meeting held at Thomas Ketcheson's school house in the fifth concession on the 18th of March following the regular meeting. Four stalwarts, Wm. Ketcheson, Wm. Bowen, Elijah Ketcheson and Rulif Perdy, according to the minutes, took matters into their own hands and filled up the vacancies and passed the following by-laws:—
"Resolved that all horned cattle be allowed to run at large on the commons or streets during the year of 1839 with the exception of 2 months, viz.: from the first of March to the first of May, if any chattles found running on the commons or streets, contrary to Law Made and provided in such cases the owner shall forfeit and pay seven pence half penny per head.
“Swine to run at large on the Commons or Streets till they do damage, then the owner to pay tihe damage and yoke his hogs with a croched yoake six inches above the neck and 4 inches below the neck.
“Rams to be restrained from running at large on the .Commons or Streets from the 9th of September to the first of December the owner of any ram running at large contrary to law shall pay five shillings per head damages.
“N.B. all Horned chatties that are known to be breechy is not allowed to run at large on the Commons or streets during the year of 1839 if found on the Commons or Highways running at large may be impounded in the pound nearest to where such animals are running at large.”
The four men who, according to the minutes, were responsible for what took place at this meeting were all Justices of the Peace and were designated "Esquires" in the minutes. If from any neglect a town meeting had not been held the justices assembled at Quarter Sessions had power prior to 1835 -to appoint officers for the township to fill the vacancies until the next town meeting but at no period had they authority to do what these four men appear to have done at a "special session." In 1835 all legislation relative to the appointment and duties of township officers was consolidated; but no provision was made for the justices to fill vacancies. The consolidated Act provided that when the inhabitants neglected or refused to assemble and appoint officers, or for any reason failed to appoint the required number, then the officers for. the preceding year, or such of them, as were not relieved by the appointment of other officers as their successors, should continue in office. Again in 1838 another consolidation was made but the provision in respect to the neglect or refusal to assemble and appoint a full quota of officers remained the same as in the consolidated Act of 1835 so that for four years at least before this remarkable "special session" the justices had been deprived of all power to interfere.
It seems incredible that such a high-handed proceeding could take place, but there is no mistaking the entry in the minute book which reads as follows: "At the special session held at Thomas Ketcheson's school House 5th con. of
The minutes for 1840 are quite regular, the usual officers appointed and the former by-laws retained with some slight variations.
At the meeting of 1842 there were appointed 43 overseers of highways, 15 pound keepers, 12 fence viewers and water course men, and for the first time two representatives to the District Council and seven School Commissioners. The School Act of 1841 though crude in many details aimed at uniformity in the schools and was welcomed by the people. Like the District Councils Act it was one step in advance towards local self government.
In 1843 and 1844 the town meeting appointed the usual officers, and each year enacted a complete set of by-laws instead of continuing in force those of some other year as so frequently occurred. There were no less than nine distinct resolutions in the latter year, and these appear to cover nearly every contingency that was likely to arise within the limited sphere of their jurisdiction. The draftsman exercised more care than in the earlier years in defining the restrictions and the penalties to be imposed for the violation of them. One can almost read between the lines an increasing desire for more power and a restless and irritating inclination to break away from their environment.
In 1845 and 1846 very slight alterations were made in the by-laws. In the latter year an innovation was introduced by inserting in the minute book declarations of office whereby all the newly appointed officers undertook to faithfully and diligently perform the duties of their respective offices.
The meeting of 1847 was marked by no special occurrence and the by-laws of 1844 were accepted with one or two minor variations. The meeting of 1848, however, reached the highest point yet attained in the matter of the making of by-laws.
The last town meeting was held on the first day of January, 1849. At this meeting 55 overseers of highways, 21 pound keepers and 15 fence viewers and water course men were appointed. The by-laws of the previous year were renewed. The several officers elected signed their respective declarations of office after which follow a schedule of pound keepers fees and a memorandum respecting the duties of their office, and thus conclude the minutes of the last town meeting of the township.
When the District Councils Act of 1841 was first introduced there was a great outcry from certain quarters that it was too democratic in principle and few attacked it more mercilessly than Mr. Robert Baldwin the member for Hastings who declared that it was an abominable bill and that he viewed it with detestation. So successfully did the Act work out the objects of its sponsors, that, within the space of two years, the same gentleman had become such a thorough convert to its principles, that in 1843, as the Honorable Robert Baldwin and Attorney General for Upper Canada, he introduced an Act going several steps farther and providing for the incorporation of Townships, Towns, Counties and Cities in Upper Canada. It passed the Legislative Assembly but was strangled in the Legislative Council. It, however, was a question that could not be kept down. Responsible government for the local municipalities was demanded from every part of the Province. Early in the session of 1849, when the Baldwin-Lafontaine Government was once more in office, Mr. Baldwin again introduced his bill, slightly improved since its last appearance, which is substantially our Municipal Act of to-day, and it speedily became law. During the same session the Township Officers Act of 1793 and the District Councils Act of 1841 with their respective amendments were repealed and the old town meeting became an institution of the past.
1. Canniff s Settlement of
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