Angus MacDonnell, Part 1

The recent intensive development on the two lots west of the Parkside-Centre Road intersection, including the new subdivision and addition to the WDHS, merited a look at the first owner of the property – Angus MacDonnell.

Little is known of MacDonnell’s early life in North America and, unlike his brother Alexander, he did not serve with any distinction during the American Revolutionary War, if he indeed did serve. He spent time in Quebec City and Montreal at the end of the war and learned to speak French. He also began experimenting with a new method of manufacturing potash. In November 1788, he applied for a patent; in 1791 he gained exclusive patent privileges in the province with his brothers and partners. Like his soldier brother, he was granted  property in the area: 1,200 acres in East Flamborough Township that included the two lots east and west of the Parkside-Centre Road intersection, and between June 1796 and March 1802, more than 1,500 acres in Ancaster and West Flamborough Townships.

MacDonnell’s skills as a chemist came to the attention of Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe and he was commissioned to explore areas in the Bay of Quinte and the Niagara Peninsula for salt springs. The discovery of a major site on the Fifteen Mile Creek resulted in his appointment as superintendent of the works. He immediately set to work to produce salt for general consumption. By 1796, poor production, over-spending and lack of planning resulted in his removal.

The setback did not hinder MacDonnell’s growing involvement in the government affairs of Upper Canada.  On December 12, 1792, he was appointed first Clerk of the House of Assembly. He administered oaths to members, recorded the business of the house and provided for the printing of journals and statutes. In 1799, Administrator Peter Russell made him his French Secretary in charge of the French emigrés led by Comte de Puisaye, instructing him to act as agent for their settlement in  East Flamborough and north of York.

Controversy occurred again, possibly because MacDonnell exceeded his authority; charges were laid against him by Puisaye. Found guilty of engaging in unauthorized transactions in First Nations lands, he was dismissed on May 30, 1801. Undaunted, he embarked upon his third career. In July 1801, he was elected for the first time as a member of the Assembly, representing Durham, Simcoe and the East Riding of York.

Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 11 October 2012.


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