Sydenham Township's First Council

Sydenham Township's First Council undertook the often difficult task of creating a new municipal infrastructure.

One hundred and fifty-one years ago on January 21, 1851 an historic meeting took place east of the village of Sydenham (Owen Sound) at the home of William McKenzie. On that date the first council of the newly organized Township of Sydenham met for its inaugural session. 

The members attending that historic meeting included Robert Hoath, John Telfer, Thomas Lun, John Frost, and Caleb Morden. The first item on the agenda was the election of Sydenham's first reeve. That honour was bestowed upon Robert Hoath. The host for the meeting, William McKenzie, was the first clerk of the township. 

Almost a month after the first session of Sydenham Township council a second meeting was held on February 18 at William McKenzie's home. It was at this meeting that the infrastructure to manage the affairs of the municipality was developed. James Douglas was appointed to the position of township assessor. William Wilson became the treasurer. William Stephenson was selected as the superintendent of the common schools in the municipality. 

At the same meeting 38 road overseers were selected to manage the maintenance of the roads that traversed the township. These overseers were an important part of the process to ensure safe and expedient transportation links throughout the municipality. Their duties included ensuring that residents performed the road maintenance and snow clearing on the roads around their property. 

This labour was a responsibility that most governments required from their residents throughout much of Ontario. 

Although there were many roads along the concessions of the township there were also three important transportation routes through the area. The first, and foremost, was the Garafraxa Road (now Highway #6). It was along this route that many of the settlers to this region travelled to start their new life in the last wilderness region in what is now southern Ontario. A road connecting Meaford and Owen Sound (now Highway #26) also served as passage way for newcomers to the region. The third major route, the Lakeshore Road, ran north from Owen Sound along the east shoreline to Leith. The settlers who first arrived in the region via these routes were generally from either Scotland or Ireland. It was the lowland Scots who settled around the Leith area and along the shoreline towards Owen Sound. Their highland compatriots found land in the southern reaches of the township. Irish settlers cleared land in the northern parts of Sydenham in an area which was appropriately called the Irish Block. 

As well, at the February meeting, eight pound keepers and 13 fence viewers were named to the Township's bureaucracy. To keep track of the operations of the municipality, Paul Lun and John Goodall were appointed as auditors. 

The land which would become the Township of Sydenham was surveyed in 1842-43 after the plots had been laid out on the Sydenham town site. The Township of Sydenham stretched from the Holland-Sydenham town line, near Chatsworth, north to Georgian Bay and included the town of Sydenham (later Owen Sound). On August 4, 1857, the Township of Sydenham underwent dramatic surgery! On that date, Reeve Robert Innis Campbell signed the final agreement paving the way for the new town of Owen Sound to separate from the Township of Sydenham. Despite the loss of the town of Owen Sound from its jurisdiction, the Township of Sydenham continued to grow and prosper until January 1, 2001 when it amalgamated with St. Vincent Township and the Town of Meaford to create the new municipality-of the Township of Meaford. 

The information used in this article came from documents at the Grey County Archives.

A version of this article first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on March 9, 2001.

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