The Changing Boundaries within Southern Ontario 1777-1983

During the past two centuries, there have been enormous changes in the boundaries for municipal and judicial affairs in the province of Ontario. This Heritage Paper examines the various changes that have occurred since 1777, especially with regards to Wentworth County.

During the last two hundred and five years, several types of administration have existed in southern Ontario, each of which was based on a different system of local divisions. The boundaries of these divisions reflected the changing conditions within the province and often underwent several alterations over their life span.

Before 1850, most municipal and judicial affairs were the sole responsibility of the district. Although counties had been established as early as 1792, these units operated primarily as electoral divisions until after districts were abolished in 1850.

From 1777 until 1788, when Ontario was included within the old Province of Québec, the entire province fell within the jurisdiction of the District of Montréal. In 1788, the Governor of Québec, Lord Dorchester, divided what was eventually to become Ontario into four districts for judicial and other purposes. These four Districts, originally called Hesse, Nassau, Mecklenburg and Lunenburg were proclaimed 24 July 1788. By 1792, these names were changed to Western, Home, Midland and Eastern — and Ontario became Upper Canada by the Constitutional Act of 1791.

Changes occurred again in 1798 and 1802, when the Districts were further divided. The present-day area of Wentworth County still remained divided, although Flamborough Township was placed entirely within the Home District.

In 1816, land around the head of the lake was formed into a new unit — the District of Gore — the entire area of Wentworth County was now within a single district.

Further changes to district boundaries took place between 1816 and 1850, and the total number of districts increased, but Wentworth County remained within the Gore District.

From the date of their creation until 1841, these districts were responsible for the management of local affairs. After 1841, some responsibilities were transferred to local municipal councils, although the districts still retained complete control over judicial matters. In 1849, the districts were abolished and their remaining responsibilities reorganized. By the end of the period of district jurisdiction, southern Ontario had been divided and sub-divided into twenty separate districts from the original four. The constant creation of new districts and the changing nature of their boundaries is a great challenge to anyone engaged in research.

When districts were abolished, most of the counties in southern Ontario had already been created and their present boundaries established. However, over the next three decades, the boundaries of some counties were redefined, as occurred with Wentworth County and the East Flamborough Township boundary.

In recent years, the Ontario government has introduced a system of regional municipalities to replace the county system. Designed to consolidate municipal functions more centrally, these new municipalities possess wider powers and responsibilities than the counties they have replaced. Since 1968, ten municipalities have been created to replace fourteen counties of portions of counties. 1973-74 saw the abolition of Wentworth County and its replacement by the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth.

References:

“A New Geography of Canada” – Scarfe, Tomkins & Tomkins Gage, Toronto 1963
“Canada and the United States: A Modern Study” McNaught & Cook, Clarke, Irwin & Co. Ltd. Toronto

Originally published in Heritage Happenings, May 1983.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1983, 2020

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