The first by-laws in early Egremont Township established the rules by which the first settlers used to instill a sense order in their new community.
When the first settlers arrived in this region their ambition must have been to establish a new life and hopefully, achieve prosperity for themselves and their families.
Living in the remote wilderness region of Upper Canada there were few rules to obey. But as more pioneers arrived, and the area became more populated new municipalities were created and sets of rules were required.
One of the first items on the agenda of the new municipality was to create a set of laws to govern the region. Today, we tend to take for granted the system of government that exists, and seldom do we consider the process that took place to establish the rules and regulations which govern us.
Last week I was researching some of the documents which had come into the Grey County Archives and I discovered an interesting book which had arrived from the former Township of Egremont. This book contained the first by-laws which had been established when that municipality had been formed in 1850. It provided a thorough description of what a new government had to consider when it was formed.
The first bylaws established by the first leaders of Egremont were passed on March 4, 1350, and established the groundwork for creating a civil service to take care of the day-to-day operations of the municipality. Bylaw Number 1 was created "for remunerating certain township officers and defining the duties of township officers."
The bylaw established that the township clerk was to be paid six pounds and five shillings per year. The money to pay township officials and to run the municipality had to come from somewhere and the first bylaw also established an assessment rate on property holders.
The third clause of the first by-laws contained an interesting irony. It restricted owners from letting cattle, horses and other large animals run at large. However, the last part of this clause stated that "all hogs over 30 pounds weight shall be allowed to run at large." Why large hogs were allowed this freedom is not evident in the document.
Another clause in these inaugural by-laws established the rules by which duties were to be performed under the Statute of Labour. Citizens were required to perform "eight hours faithful working exclusive of the time of going and coming."
It was also stated that if a person could not perform his duties then he had "to send sufficient substitute, or to furnish such carriage team or implements as he may be possessed of, shall forfeit five shillings for every day, to be recovered on the complaint of the overseer of highways before any magistrate acting for the said division and sale of the goods and chattels of the offender after deducting all reasonable expenses."
If necessary, the by-law stated that the constables could be sent to carry out the eviction and they would be paid according to the extent that they were required to exact the law.
The second by-law enacted in Egremont established the sanctity of the Lord's day. Bylaw Number 4 established the municipality's right for "altering and diverting certain roads in the Township of Egremont."
The fifth by-law passed set out the regulations which had to be observed by the keepers of houses of public entertainment and defined the duties of the Inspectors who were hired to monitor these establishments.
These are only four of the first by-laws of the 119, passed during the first 16 years of the Township of Egremont. But they certainly give us an indication of what was important to the citizens of Grey County in the mid-19th century and what life was like in this era of our history.
A version of "The First By-laws in early Egremont Township," first appeared in my Local History column in the June 16, 2000 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.