Grand River Branch

United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada





Selected Reprints from the

Grand River Branch Newsletter, Branches

"Commemorating Historical Events in 1992"

Angela E.M. Files, August 1992, Vol.4 No.2, Page 7


  For many Canadians, the year 1992 is the year to commemorate four outstanding historical events: the 500th anniversary of the arrival in the new world of the Italian-Spanish explorer, Christopher Columbus (October, 1492); the bicentennial of the meeting of the first legislative assembly and government in Upper Canada (September 17 - October 15, 1792); the 125th anniversary of Confederation (July 1, 1867); and the fortieth year of the reign of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II (February, 1952).  The political ideas of the United Empire Loyalists were crucial in the formation of parliamentary government in Upper Canada and also in the pre-1867 confederation debates.

 As early as 1784, Sir John Johnson petitioned the British government on behalf of the Loyalists, who wanted land of their own, a system of English law, the establishment of local courts and the creation of separate governments for Canada East (Québec or Lower Canada) and Canada West (Upper Canada, now Ontario).  Four years later, local judiciaries were established in the Districts of Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nassau and Hesse.

 The Constitutional Act of 1791 divided the British colony into two colonies:  Upper Canada, west of the Ottawa River, and Lower Canada (Québec), east of the Ottawa.  The same form of government was provided for both the Canadas, a Governor-General over all British North America, Lieutenant-Governors for each colony, an executive council, a legislative council and a legislative assembly - the lower house, chosen by the people.  Without the consent of the legislative council, no laws could be passed.  The legislative and executive council consisted of some early loyalist leaders who had received large grants of land.

  When the Constitutional Act was passed, Upper Canada was sparsely populated.  There were few villages or towns.  The most important being Cataraqui (Kingston) and Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake).  Newark was chosen as the place of meeting for the first parliament of Upper Canada.  In 1797, parliament was moved to the village of York (Toronto), because Newark was situated at the mouth of the Niagara River, opposite an American fort and potential enemy.

  On September 17, 1792, twenty-three men came from farm and store to Newark to form a Legislative Council and sixteen to the Legislative Assembly.  Native allies from the Grand River area and pioneer Loyalists also attended this important event.  The Assembly elected a Speaker and chose a Sergeant-at-Arms.  English law, trial by jury, provision for the establishment of gaols and court-houses in the districts, were introduced.  Legislation was enacted, laying the foundations for the political and legal structures of the new loyalists province.  The first session of the legislature lasted for one month.

  The first parliament of Upper Canada was opened with as much pomp and circumstance as Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe could manage in a wilderness setting.  The Freemason's Hall at Newark was decorated with British flags.  The Queen's Rangers, Simcoe's regiment, made a splendid salute as Colonel Simcoe, attired in his scarlet uniform of the period, arrived on horse-back, followed by Mrs. Simcoe, who was dressed in a long, white brocaded gown.

  Navy Hall, a group of log cabins in Newark which sheltered the British navy, became the first Government House and parliament buildings in Upper Canada.  Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe followed British custom.  He entered Navy Hall and read the Speech from the Throne, in which he spoke about the great trusts and duties placed in the hands of the two houses.  They and their constituency had shown loyalty to the British constitution and would be rewarded accordingly.

  On July 1, 1867, seventy-five years after the first legislature met in Upper Canada, church bells rang out from the Maritimes to Upper Canada.  Four million people celebrated the creation of the Dominion of Canada.

  The British North America Act embodied the new federal constitution.  Although adopted to Canadian conditions, British parliamentary and legal traditions were preserved.  The new constitution found favour with the people, many of whom were descendants of the Loyalists.  The name "Dominion of Canada" was selected for the British North America union because the Hon. S.L. Tilley of New Brunswick found the key word "dominion" in Psalm 72:8 "...he shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth...".  The well-chosen motto of the new country, 'from sea to sea" was given added meaning when, in 1871, British Columbia entered Confederation.

  Those people of Loyalist lineage should be proud of their ancestors, who created many of our early provinces and helped shape the Dominion of Canada.



Open air gathering of the Upper Canada Legislative Assembly, Navy Hall, Niagara, 1792. Initially, there were sixteen member elected at least every four years. Oil on canvas by Charles Walter Simpson (1878-1942).

ID #20291 Credit: Charles Walter Simpson, National Archives of Canada, C13941

Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe in Navy Hall, Newark (Niagara), Upper Canada, his residence after 1792.

ID #20080 Credit: Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, J. Ross Robertson Collection, T16767

Navy Hall, 1893. In 1765 it was used as naval barracks, was enlarged during the Revolutionary War, and also became Upper Canada's first Parliament building. Pencil drawing by F.H. Granger, 1893.

ID #20277 Credit: Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, T13485

Governor John Graves Simcoe, with the Queen's Rangers as honour guard, staging a military ceremony at Newark on September 17, 1792 to open Upper Canada's first legislative assembly at Navy Hall. Painting by J.D. Kelly (Confederation Life Collection) In 1792 King George III’s fourth son, Prince Edward, visited Governor Simcoe at Newark, the capital of Upper Canada, where he reviewed the Queen’s Rangers on the grounds of Navy Hall

By 1900 Navy Hall was in desperate need of restoration.

Today it has been restored.

Governor John Graves Simcoe and The First Legislature of Upper Canada
Navy Hall, Newark, 1792