Sir William Pierce Howland, the only American born Father of Confederation, was one of Waterdown’s most illustrious residents. Born in Kinderhook, Columbia County, New York State on 29 May 1811, he was educated in the United States and moved to Canada in 1830. He settled in the village of Cooksville in the Township of Toronto and took a job as a clerk in a general store and post office. By 1840 he had purchased the Lambton Mills Company, on the outskirts of Toronto, and soon after, with his brother Peleg, began a general commercial business.
In 1857 Howland obtained a mortgage from Waterdown resident Lockman Cummer and the next year Cummer sold him land in Smokey Hollow. Howland expanded an existing mill on his land to a four-storey stone structure with a large grain warehouse attached. In total costs, these upgrades were said to have been $13,000. Howland’s ‘Waterdown Flouring Mills’, also known as the ‘Torrid Zone Mills’, contained the most advanced machinery available and patented drying facilities which prevented his flour from spoiling. The mills sent flour to both the ‘Torrid Zone’ – the West Indies, Mexico and Brazil and the Maritimes.
For all his achievements commercially, Howland is however better known for his political prowess. After becoming a naturalized Canadian citizen soon after the union of the provinces in 1841, Howland saw his Toronto business develop successfully, and thus had more time to spend on Party politics. In the General Election of 1857 he was elected as a Reformer to represent West York in the Legislative Assembly of Canada.
When the Reform party came to power in 1862, William Pierce Howland was appointed Minister of Finance. During this one year term, he was selected to discuss construction of the transcontinental railway and was also a founding member of the committee formed to acquire the Northwest Territory for Canada.
The negotiations initiated by this committee allowed the McDonald-Cartier Government to complete the purchase of the Territory.
In 1864 Howland became Postmaster-General in the Ministry of Finance, holding this position for two years before returning to his original post as Minister of Finance.
In 1865 and 1866 he was appointed a commissioner, to visit Washington to discuss trade interest between the United States and Canada, and in 1866-1867 was one of three Canadian delegates sent to Westminster, London, to complete the terms of the British North America Act. As one of the members signing the Act, William Pierce Howland became a ‘Father of Confederation’.
On formation of the first Dominion Government of Canada on 1 July 1867, Howland was appointed a member of the Privy Council and the Minister of Inland Revenue. In July 1868, he retired from politics and was appointed the Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Ontario, a position he held until November 1872. Howland returned to his businesses but was asked to serve as a commissioner to report on the route of the proposed Baie Verte Canal to the Government.
William Pierce Howland was acknowledged for his adherence to the cause of Confederation with the Order of the Companion of the Bath, civil, in 1867, and was honoured as a Knight of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1879.
In the years following retirement from politics, Sir William and his family spent summers in Waterdown away from the heat of Toronto. Their home, at 265 Mill Street South, was high above his mill business in Smokey Hollow and allowed a fine perspective of the operation.
Sir William Pierce Howland, C.B., K.C.M.G. died in 1907 at the age of 96.
© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 2001, 2023.