Pioneer Days in Wellington
First voting in Guelph—Woman
Suffrage in Puslinch—The Owen Sound Suffrage
A sketch of the first political election has
been given, but at that time the elections were held so far from Guelph that little
interest was taken in them.
The first Parliamentary election held in Guelph was that of 1841, being the first election after
the union of Upper and Lower Canada. The immense district previously combined
for Parliamentary purposes was divided, Wellington
being separated from the old Gore District.
There had been two members for the old Gore District, but now one
member was to be elected in each division.
Mr. Jas. Durand, one of the old members, a son-resident, carrying on
the business of general merchant in Dundas, was determined to
run. He was very popular in Waterloo, and was
confident of being elected, as the controlling preponderance of votes lay
with the German settlement. Guelph and
the surrounding country opposed Mr. Durand on the ground of his being a
non-resident, with no care for Guelph’s
interest. The Reform party was cold on
the election, but the Waterloo
people were en bloc in favour of Mr. Durand. The question of opposing Mr. Durand was
discussed in Guelph,
but it was not known until election day that he was really to have an
opponent, when Robert Christie, father of the late David Christie, afterwards
a prominent statesman, was nominated.
The nominations and the election were on the
same day, and as this was the first election in Guelph, it created quite a commotion. Mr. Durand was nominated by Jas. Cowan of
Waterloo and Mr. Christie by Adam Johnston Ferguson, sr., father of the first
Mr. Christie’s principles were Liberal, but
the Conservatives were glad to vote for anyone who would oppose Mr.
Durand. The election was held in a
small frame building, two stories high, on the present site of the livery stable
west of the Royal Hotel. The upper
part was devoted to the election. The
room was reached by an outside stair, and the crowding and jostling on the
steps indicated an unusual excitement.
Dutchmen’s coats brushed the more modern and higher-toned store
clothes of the Guelph
and Fergus people. The scene was the
more interesting to Mr. Stirton because his team and sleigh containing
several voters and the bagpipes formed part of the proceedings.
There was some speech making at the
nomination, and after that the voting began.
It was not long until it became evident that Mr. Durand would be
elected. The poll was kept open two
days, when Mr. Christie retired.
The next election, known as the Metcalfe
election, was held in 1844. Sir
Charles Metcalfe had quarreled with his Government on the question of
patronage. The Government retired and
there was a new election. Mr. Durand
was determined to keep the field, against the wishes of the Reformers. He was opposed by Mr. Webster, of Fergus, a
This was the first election in which voting
was held in the separate municipalities, consequently the Waterloo
voters went to Preston. A resident of Guelph
was sent to Preston as returning officer,
with instructions to keep down the Dutch vote, if not by fair play, then by
any means that could be more or less legitimately employed. The voters were required to subscribe to
all manner of oaths of which there were legally five or six, and the delay in
calling the votes was such that only a fraction of the Dutch vote was
polled. The result in the whole
district was that Mr. Webster was elected by seven of a majority.
This was the first occasion of the holding
of a Parliamentary election in Puslinch.
The votes were few and the reformers were cold to Mr. Durand. Mr. Stirton was the only man on the liberal
side in the township who took any active part in this election, in connection
with which, he relates the following incident. Mr. Higginson was
returning officer, and although the vote was small, there was considerable
feeling between the Reform party and the returning officer.
An old, feeble lady was brought to vote,
conveyed thither in a lumber wagon drawn by oxen. She voted, although the officer was
remonstrated with that such voting was illegal. At that time, women were not entitled to
vote but they were not positively debarred.
This is the only known case of woman suffrage in the district. The returning officer voted, although there
was no tie, which was also illegal.
The Conservatives had a majority of two in the township, and Mr.
Stirton remarked of it in his usual jocular way that the Conservative
majority consisted of two old women, which did not particularly please the
In the next Parliamentary election, in 1848,
Mr. Durand retired permanently, and Adam Johnston Ferguson, jr., the county judge retired
from the judgeship, in order to oppose Mr. Webster.
The district included an immense extent of
territory from the south boundary of Puslinch to Owen
Sound and from the west boundary of Dumfries to the eastern
boundary of Erin. The section between Arthur and Owen Sound was known as
the Garafraxa road, and had been given in free
grants to settlers on condition of permanent settlement. Fifty acres were given to each settler, which
made sixteen settlers to each mile for sixty miles. The settlers were entitled to their deeds
after certain settlement duties had been performed, but many had not yet
received them. An extra effort was
made by Mr. Webster to secure patents for all the settlers from the
Government. A peculiar feature of this
election was the introduction of what was afterwards known as the Owen Sound suffrage, a
method not previously attempted.
Mr. Ferguson was aware that an attempt was
being made to introduce fraud, and so sent responsible people from Guelph to fifteen
townships to act as agents. When these
men put in an appearance, they were considered a block on the contemplated
proceedings. The first agent, Walter
Benn, sent up to Arthur, was imprisoned in his bedroom. He was well treated but was never allowed
to go to the poll. Another old man,
sent from Pilkington, was carried away to a beaver meadow, sheltered in a
haystack, with men set to watch him.
Owing to the Owen Sound suffrage, Mr. Webster was returned
by a majority of several hundreds. Mr.
Ferguson, who was competent to judge of the legality of the proceedings,
frankly told the electors that he would follow the matter up in Parliament. Mr. Webster only held his seat for a short
time, being unseated during the first session. Mr. Ferguson then held office until 1857,
when he retired to be a candidate for the Legislative Council. Mr. Stirton succeeded him as a member in