By Stan Nowak, Special to the News
The Village of Dundas was finally elevated to the status of town when the Act of Incorporation received Royal Assent on July 28, 1847. This was successfully achieved after four previous attempts to do so failed due to a variety of untimely circumstances between 1793 and 1847.
Even the first municipal election held in October 1847 was fraught with ill luck, and declared null and void due to discrepancies with the Act of Incorporation. On March 23, 1848, an amendment to the act was passed and the subsequent election saw James Coleman, Robert Holt, Hugh McMahon and Robert Spence elected as councillors. At the first meeting of the Dundas Town Council in downtown Dundas on April 23, 1848, a fifth councillor, John Paterson, was appointed by the others and elected president of the council, effectively, the first mayor. The business of being a town was finally underway after the long efforts of becoming one.
Our first European settlers were Anne Morden and her family, in 1787. Another settler, Captain Coote of the 8th King’s Own Regiment, relished the legions of waterfowl in the marshlands of the valley. He spent all of his spare time hunting the multitudes of waterfowl that stopped to rest and feed during their annual migrations. It was because of Captain Coote’s passion for the marshlands that the marsh, and later the abutting settlement, gained the name of Coote’s Paradise.
The initial attempts at incorporation took place in 1793-96. Coote’s Paradise was part of the province of Upper Canada, formed in 1791. In 1793, Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe ordered the construction of Dundas Street (now Governors Road) to run between Coote’s Paradise and Oxford (present-day Woodstock). Simcoe, wary of potential expansionist desires of the United States, planned to strengthen Upper Canada’s defenses against any possible American invasion. Coote’s Paradise was to become a garrison town that would guard the Lake Ontario node of his military road. The Governor’s Road was completed in 1794, but by late 1796, Simcoe had left Upper Canada before his plans for Coote’s Paradise could be realized.
Between 1796 and 1808, Coote’s Paradise began to grow as a community. Industrialist Richard Hatt built his Dundas Mills and started establishing his enterprises. Between 1808 -11, attempts were made to establish the village as County Town of the proposed Gore District. As luck would have it, these submitted petitions by Richard Hatt and others were shelved due to the outbreak of the War of 1812.
After the war, the village post office was opened, and the name Dundas’ was chosen for it, in keeping with Simcoe’s Dundas Street and Hatt’s Dundas Mills. In 1816, Upper Canada was divided into four districts, one of which was Gore. These districts were divided into counties; Gore included Wentworth and Halton County, which formed one municipality. Petitions for incorporation and a campaign to establish Dundas as a county town was renewed, but were again unsuccessful, as Barton Township (Hamilton) was chosen as the county town for the new Gore County.
Between 1816 and 1837, as the village matured, three noteworthy events affected Dundas critically in its efforts at incorporation. Two of these events were major setbacks - the sudden deaths of Richard Hatt in 1819 and businessman Peter Desjardins in 1827. With the untimely deaths of these prominent entrepreneurs, their visions for an incorporated town died along with them - or at least, delayed it substantially.
The third event, a positive one, was the construction of the Desjardins Canal, starting from 1827 to its completion in 1837. The new canal allowed for convenient import of goods from Lake Ontario into the village and, subsequently, to the rest of Upper Canada. For inland communities, the canal became the obvious outlet for the export of their products to other markets. The Desjardins Canal, located at the head of navigation on Lake Ontario, became a major focal point of trade and shipping, and Dundas was on the threshold of an era of commercial and industrial prosperity.
By 1837, public interest for the incorporation of the Town of Dundas was renewed. An incorporation committee was established, and petitions were again submitted to the government. But by late 1837, with the unstable political situation occupying the attention of the government, the incorporation petition was once again forgotten. The situation culminated with the unsuccessful Mackenzie Rebellion in December of the same year resulting, in part, with the cessation of the publication of many newspapers, including the Dundas Weekly Post. There would be no local newspaper in Dundas for almost 10 years.
In the decade following Mackenzie’s Rebellion, a United Canada Parliament ushered in the rudimentary beginnings of responsible government, and Dundas was enjoying a period of solid economic prosperity.
In 1846, a new local newspaper, the Dundas Warder, was established and immediately waged a renewed campaign for incorporation.
“Dundas has lost its village appearance, but it still has that patriarchal mode of government which prevails in small settlements, and in which former days kept little boys in order. We have the prosperity and the population, but we need the means of keeping good order. Our Town is a family without a head. We need a corporate body. Now is the time.” cried editor (and future councillor) Robert Spence.
In October of that year, another petition was submitted to legislature for an act to incorporate the village. A bill of incorporation was drafted by a town committee. Town limits were defined, four wards and a municipal council system were established and a tax structure was agreed upon. The final draft was submitted to Parliament in May 1847. Editor Spence’s words proved prophetic, as the petition was successful. The Act of Incorporation was legislated by Parliament, received Royal Assent and after more than half a century, the Village of Cootes’ Paradise became the incorporation of the Town of Dundas on Wednesday, July 28, 1847, 167 years ago.