The Impact of Cholera on the Design and Implementation of Toronto's First Municipal By-Laws, 1834

Article excerpt


The City of Toronto was incorporated in 1834 amid much political animosity and turmoil. The tension between the executive administration and its tory sympathizers on the one hand, and the promoters of reform on the other, had moved political matters to a critical juncture. Perhaps inconsistent with this struggle between central and municipal authority in Upper Canada was the statute by which the City was created, a statute that settled virtually complete legislative authority on the local government. But the first municipal election returned a reform majority to Toronto's council, with the intransigent William Lyon Mackenzie as first mayor, further heightening the difficulties between the central authority and the local administration.

It might be anticipated that, when the City turned its attention to passing its first set of by-laws in the late spring of 1834, the contest over the right organization of government would dominate the thinking of City councillors. However, a review of those by-laws and the issues that gave rise to them reveals that environmental concerns, including the threat of a repeat of the dangerous cholera epidemic of 1832, had as much to do with the ultimate design of those by-laws as did political orientation. In fact, the environmental pressures felt at the time allowed for the transcendence of political differences for the sake of the defence of public health, a result quite inconsistent with dominant interpretations of the role of law and legal institutions in the Upper Canadian experience.


La ville de Toronto s'est incorporee en 1834 au milieu de beaucoup d'animosite et d'agitation politique. La tension entre les promoteurs de reforme et la direction municipale, epaulee par les membres du parti conservateur, a pousse les questions politiques vers ten carrefour crucial. Ce debat entre l'autorite centrale et la direction municipale dans le Haut Canada etait incompatible avec la loi par laquelle la ville a creee, une loi qui a donne pour ainsi dire lapleine autorite legislative au gouvernement local. Mais la premiere electoin municipale a remis en place une majorite de reformistes au conseil de la ville de Toronto. Et l'intransigeant William Lyon Mackenzie est devenu le premier maire de la ville et il a contribue a accroitre les dif ficultes entre l'autorite centrale et la direction locale.

Lorsque la ville de Toronto s'est efforcee de passer ses premieres lois a lafin du printemps de l'an 1834, il est fort probable que le debat au sujet de l'organisation propice du gouvernement a domine l'esprit des conseilles municipaux. Cependant, une revision de ces lois et les problemes qui leur ont donne naissance revele que les soucis environnmementaux incluant la menace du retour de l'epidemie die cholera de l'an 1832 ont eu autant d'effet stir la conception ultime de ces lois que l'orientation politique. De fait, les pressions environnementales ont permis le depassement des differences politiques pour defendre la sante publique, un resultat qui difere de l'interpretation dominante du role de la loi et des institutions legales du Haut Canada.

A. Introduction

The City of Toronto was created by Act of the Legislature of Upper Canada passed on 6 March 1834. (1) The first municipal elections were held on 27 March, and the citizens of the new city returned a council dominated by politicians sympathetic to the cause of political reform. Included in this number were the notorious William Lyon Mackenzie and the moderate reformer, Dr John Rolph. At the council's first meeting, Mackenzie was elected mayor from among the successful candidates, and Rolph, unhappy that he had been passed over by council, refused to be sworn in as alderman for St. Patrick's Ward. His position on council was ultimately filled in a by-election on 24 April. (2)

The political dissension (even among apparent allies) that affected the deliberations of Toronto's first council was not uncommon for the time. …