THE CORPORATIONS OF KINGSTON AND NIAGARA
History is a chronicle of half-remembered events.
In 1795 Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe proposed right out of the blue to his astonished superior in London that two corporations be created in Upper Canada. Their names were to be the 'City of Niagara' and 'City of Kingston.' The idea had come from Richard Cartwright, but Simcoe advanced it as his own. In a letter to the Duke of Portland, Simcoe suggested that both places were of great importance because of their strategic locations. For this reason, he believed it would be in the public interest and King's best interests if these two towns were incorporated.
Each new corporation would consist of a Mayor and six Aldermen, and all Justices of the Peace would
be ex officio members. In addition, Common Councils would be created composed of "a competent number of individuals" with all members of the Corporations appointed by the Crown. Successors to any vacant seats would be appointed in the same manner, so as to render elections both unnecessary and, he hoped, unpopular. In spite of his aversion to democracy - Simcoe was dubious of democracy in all its forms - he wondered whether His Grace the Duke might think it desirable for the inhabitants of these two cities to elect their representatives. Reluctantly Simcoe had to admit that if they were elected, it might give them more respectability.
Simcoe's purpose in creating the Corporations was to contribute to and provide support for the aristocracy of the country. It was all part of his pledge to produce a governing structure for this province that came as close as possible to being the perfect image and transcript of the British government and its constitution. The Corporations were to have responsibility over both land and maritime matters, with the jurisdiction over Lake Ontario to be divided between Niagara and Kingston. Lake Erie was to be divided between Niagara and the post at Long Point.
Because the straits of Niagara (i.e. the Niagara River) and the Port of Kingston occupied positions on the border where people normally left or entered the country, Simcoe said he thought negotiations with the United States would be necessary to devise a treaty which would prevent criminals from one country finding refuge in the other. Simcoe thought stricter laws and a vigilant border police from both countries would also be required to enforce this provision.
Simcoe suggested that the Corporations should be able to sue and be sued. They should also have sufficient powers to enforce all internal regulations and to promote the welfare of the community. He wanted to ensure the Corporations occupied "a competent tract of ground" and stated that the City of Niagara should include Queenston, where a good deal of building was then being planned, along with the existing Town of Newark.
He urged that the name "Niagara" be incorporated as soon as possible "to preserve its name in the King's Dominions" and so forestall its absolute appropriation by the new republic. Simcoe said the
United States had already laid sole claim to the name "Americans." It was the policy of that country to reserve that name to themselves and apply it solely to residents of their country. They and only they were considered to be native to the continent. Residents of colonies connected to or dependent upon any European country were simply labelled by Americans as "foreign invaders."
Simcoe requested that charters of incorporation with all appropriate powers be forwarded to him from London as soon as possible, so that Upper Canada's legislation could pass the required legislation in its final session before a new election. He stated that the members of the current Assembly were loyal and likely to cooperate, the inference being that he might not be able to say the same for those elected to the next Assembly.
It was five months before Simcoe received a reply to this audacious proposal, and when it came it could not have been less than he expected. In a letter dated May 20th, 1795, the Duke of Portland began by sympathizing with Simcoe in his difficulties in dealing with the Americans and assured him he had the Duke's entire approbation. Having said that the Duke then disdainfully dismissed Simcoe's call for corporations and proceeded to denounce his proposal.In His Own Words
"as absolutely unfit to be encouraged by the Parent State in a dependent colony." Power, said Portland, must be concentrated in the hands of the Governor, and the intent of Simcoe's suggestion was to
"fritter down his direct power" and portion it out to the corporations. Once they were created these corporations might very well use their new power to obstruct government measures. In order to prevent this from happening, they would have to be carefully courted and counselled so as to ensure they used properly the power they should not have been given in the first place.
Portland then proceeded to give Simcoe a lesson on colonies and their constitutions. He said Simcoe's passion to make the government of the colony similar in all respects to those of England was neither possible nor prudent. The Mother Country and the colony were very different, and what worked in one might not operate in the other. Britain had many institutions wholly inapplicable to the colony. In fact, said Portland, it might even have institutions it would like to get rid of if it could. He warned that the adoption of proposals regarding the corporations could very well be the means and methods that would eventually lead to independence for the colony. He concluded his harangue by stating emphatically there was to be no further discussion of this proposal by His Majesty's government.
Dismayed by yet another of his dashed endeavours, Simcoe put a good face on Portland's reproof, and in his most obsequious and subservient fashion, responded meeklyIn His Own Words
"I shall most cheerfully acquiesce in this decision without hesitation or inquiry."
Copyright © 2013 Website Administrator