Farmer, businessman and politician, William Oscar Sealey was one of Wentworth County’s most prominent citizens during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
He was born in Waterdown on January 26, 1859, the second son of Charles Henry Sealey and Mary Ann Eaton. His father served as the first reeve of Waterdown between 1879 and 1884, and as a school trustee from 1867 to 1894. His mother was the daughter of John Eaton, founder of the village of Carlisle.
W. O., as he became known in later life, was educated at the public and high schools of Waterdown and then worked briefly on the family’s farm, known as Chestnut Grove. In 1881, he wed Agnes Annie Little Forbes, daughter of James Forbes of East Flamborough. They began their married life over the store at the corner of Main and Dundas Streets, (previously owned by William Crooker) and it was while there that they witnessed and were involved with a shooting and robbery at the bank owned by Sealey that was housed on the floor below.
In 1896, W. O. Sealey began his career in politics as Reeve of East Flamborough and a member of the Wentworth County Council. Within a few days of being elected, he proposed that the council members’ fees for attending meetings be decreased from $3 to $2 and that the salaries of staff members be reduced also. Sealey had not researched his proposals adequately, leading The Hamilton Spectator to comment that he was “meeting with difficulties that most young reformers do who start to revolutionize affairs too quickly without first getting thoroughly posted as to the means to be employed.”
Often a controversial politician, Sealey was a tireless worker who purportedly slept just three hours a night. During his term as a member of the Wentworth County Council, he was involved with the elimination of tolls on four major county roads, the construction of a high level bridge over the Desjardins Canal, the petitioning of legislation for a reduction of market fees and the protest against the unfair use of the grain tester.
In June 1900, Sealey was unanimously nominated as the provincial Liberal candidate for Wentworth County South, but lost the election to his Conservative opponent. In 1904 he ran again and at first appeared to have won by a very small margin, but he was unseated because of a mistake in the tallying of votes. He was defeated again in the 1905 by-election by just five votes, but in 1908 was finally elected to the Dominion Parliament.
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 23 May, 2008.