Local politics is an ongoing task. No matter whether it is today or early in the history of Grey and Bruce, the trials of local politics seems never to change.
The tasks faced by municipal politicians today are often difficult and time consuming.
Our local politicians must sometimes wonder why they accepted their positions. Often their hands are tied by seemingly uncaring provincial politicians whose only ambition is to get re-elected.
Community political leaders are now preparing for the operation of municipal governments in the coming year. In the past months the Sun Times has reported on the uncertainty of funding for municipal programs and there has been much speculation and concern about what the future holds, not only for Owen Sound, but for the entire Grey-Bruce region.
The relationship between the municipalities of this region and the provincial government over the past few months is, to quote the storied baseball philosopher Yogi Berra, "Deja vu all over again."
One hundred and fifty-six years ago, on the first Monday of January 1842, the first meeting concerning the governing of a municipality in this area was held. At that time in Upper Canada, all settlements in the southern parts of the colony were required to hold a town meeting at which municipal leaders were selected and the citizens voted on the issues of the day. Although such a meeting was not required in Owen Sound, the land agent called a meeting of the community’s citizens.
Unfortunately, no records survived the meetings, only the memories of the man who was elected town clerk, A. M. Stephens. He remembered that "some of the business transacted was the appointing of pound keepers and dividing the settlement into sections and appointing road masters. But with the exception of affording us a day's amusement the meeting produced no results; the whole affair being soon forgotten."
After such a quiet meeting, it would seem that all was well with the world of local politics in the pioneering community. However, this calm would last long. Shortly after the inaugural town meeting potentially disastrous news arrived and the source of the pain was none other than the colonial government.
It was learned that the government had directed the land agents in Owen Sound and Arthur to demand immediate payment in full, from each settler for his land holdings.
The community was in an uproar over this news. In 1840, the region had been opened up to settlers. According to Stephens' memoirs, land grants were extended for 50 free acres of land and an adjoining 50 acres could be purchased for eight shillings an acre, for a total of $50.
To entice settlers to the area the government promised to build the Garafraxa Road connecting the region to Guelph. The road, or lack of road, was what raised the ire of the settlers.
By 1841 only 15 miles at the southern end and 12 miles at the northern end had been opened. The middle was passable at best as long as travellers avoided the swamps and rivers which threatened to engulf passersby.
It appeared that the government had run out of money and the demand for payment was its solution. Stephens reported on the sentiments of his neighbours:
"The money may have run short and the government thereby been unable to complete the road, which would form an excuse for the nonfulfillment of this promise; but to deprive the original settlers of their reserves merely to hand them over to newcomers was regarded as a flagrant act of spoliation."
A mass meeting was held, and Nathaniel Herriman was appointed to take a deposition to the government asking that action not be taken against the land holders. The government promised to allow the settlers more time to pay for their land, but the original orders to the land agents were never rescinded.
The history of this region contains many instances of such bitter interactions with colonial and later, provincial governments.
A version of my article, "Local Politics: An Ongoing Task," originally appeared in my Local History column in the December 27, 1997 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.