Oliver Mowat

Last updated

The attacks made on Provincial Rights he has succeeded in repelling. Not a single case remains unfinished; not a single case did he lose. [14]

These court battles resulted in a weakening of the power of the federal government in provincial matters. Although Macdonald had dismissed him as "Blake's jackal", Mowat's battles with the federal government greatly decentralized Canada, giving the provinces far more power than Macdonald had intended.

He also served as his own Attorney-General concurrently with his service as Premier, and introduced reforms such as the secret ballot in elections, [15] and the extension of suffrage beyond property owners. [16] He also extended laws regulating liquor [17] and consolidated the laws relating to the municipal level of government. [18] His policies, particularly regarding liquor regulation and separate schools, routinely drew criticism from political conservatives, including the Orange Lodge and its associated newspaper, The Sentinel. [19]

With the Ontario Cabinet in 1891. Clockwise starting at centre foreground: O. Mowat, A. S. Hardy, J. M. Gibson, R. Harcourt, E.H. Bronson, J. Dryden, G. W. Ross and C. F. Fraser. Ontario Cabinet 1891.jpg
With the Ontario Cabinet in 1891. Clockwise starting at centre foreground: O. Mowat, A. S. Hardy, J. M. Gibson, R. Harcourt, E.H. Bronson, J. Dryden, G. W. Ross and C. F. Fraser.

The boundary between Ontario and Manitoba became a hotly contested matter, with the federal government attempting to extend Manitoba's jurisdiction eastward to the Great Lakes, into the areas that Ontario claimed. In 1882, Premier Mowat threatened to pull Ontario from Confederation over the issue. Mowat sent police into the disputed territory to assert Ontario's claims, while Manitoba (at the behest of the national government) did the same. [20] The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain, serving as Canada's highest appeal court, repeatedly issued rulings taking the side of provincial rights. These decisions would to some extent neutralize the power of the central government, creating a more decentralized federation. John Ibbitson writes that by 1914:

Confederation had evolved into a creation beyond John A. Macdonald's worst nightmare. Powerful, independent provinces, sovereign within their own spheres, manipulated the rights of property, levied their own taxes—even income taxes, in a few cases—exploited their natural resources, and managed schools, hospitals, and relief for the poor, while a weak and ineffectual central government presided over not much of anything in the drab little capital on the banks of the Ottawa. [21]

George William Ross praised Mowat's ability to read the public mind, and John Stephen Willison remarked that his political genius rose from "the fact that for so long he had a generous support from the liquor interest and a still more generous support from Prohibitionists".

His government was moderate and attempted to cut across divisions in the province between Roman Catholics and Protestants as well as between country and city. He also oversaw the northward expansion of Ontario's boundaries and the development of its natural resources, as well as the emergence of the province into the economic powerhouse of Canada. [22]

Mowat's nearly 24 years as premier of Ontario remains the longest consecutive service by any premier in Ontario history, and is the third longest by any premier in Canada, behind only George Henry Murray of Nova Scotia and Ernest Manning of Alberta.

Federal level

As Lieutenant-Governor in 1902 Lieutenant Governor the Honourable Sir Oliver Mowat Photo B (HS85-10-13453).jpg
As Lieutenant-Governor in 1902

In 1896, the leader of the opposition, Wilfrid Laurier, convinced Mowat to enter federal politics. It was thought that the combination of a French Canadian (Laurier) and the prestige of Oliver Mowat in Ontario would be a winning ticket for the Liberal party. The slogan was "Laurier, Mowat and Victory". Victory was won, and Mowat became Minister of Justice and Senator.

In 1897, he was appointed the eighth Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and served until his death in office in 1903. He is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto.

Macdonald and Mowat in power

The two former Kingston law partners, Macdonald as prime minister in Ottawa and Mowat as premier in Toronto, led their respective governments during the same era for a total of 14 years. Mowat was premier for just under 24 years.


Mowat's daughter, Jane Helen Mowat, married Charles Robert Webster Biggar, who wrote a two-volume biography of Mowat in 1905. Their son Oliver Mowat Biggar became Canada's first Chief Electoral Officer. Sir Oliver Mowat's son Frederick Mowat was the grandfather of the diabetologist Andrew Almon Fletcher. [23]

Sir Oliver Mowat was also the great-granduncle of the Canadian author, Farley Mowat. [24]

Other achievements

Walter Seymour Allward's statue of Oliver Mowat on the lawn of Queen's Park in Toronto, Ontario Canada Places toronto queens park mowat.jpg
Walter Seymour Allward's statue of Oliver Mowat on the lawn of Queen's Park in Toronto, Ontario Canada

Mowat was knighted in 1892, increasing his importance in Canada.

Mowat was himself the author of two small books in the field of Christian apologetics:

  • Mowat, Oliver (1890). Christianity and Some of Its Evidences: An Address. Toronto: Williamson & Co. ISBN   9780665112959.
  • Mowat, Oliver (1898). Christianity and Its Influence. Toronto: Hunter Rose. ISBN   9780665112942.

Mowat also documented his government's first 18 years of Ontario government (from 1872 to 1890) in an 1890 book.


After his death, Wilfrid Laurier placed Mowat's policy of sectarian tolerance second in historical importance only to his role in giving Confederation its character as a federal compact. He credited Mowat with giving Ontario "a Government which can be cited as a model for all Governments: a Government which was honest, progressive, courageous, and tolerant". [26]

By nature a secretive individual, he left instructions in his will that resulted in the destruction of nearly all his papers.

Mowat is honoured by a statue in Queen's Park. Mowat Avenue in Kingston is named in his honour.

Mowat is the inspiration for the naming of The Mowat Centre, an independent Canadian public policy think tank associated with the School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Toronto.

The Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate Institute in Toronto was named in his honour.

Queen's University organized a two-day historical colloquium in 1970 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mowat's birth.

Mowat was portrayed by David Onley (the 28th Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario) in the Canadian TV series Murdoch Mysteries in 2013 in the episode "The Ghost of Queen's Park." [27]

Mowat was portrayed by Kingston actor Patrick Downes, in 2015, in Kingston-based Salon Theatre's stage productions featuring the life of John A. Macdonald, staged during the Bicentennial celebrations of Macdonald's birth. [28]

The building where Mowat and Macdonald practiced law together in the 1830s, on the east side of Wellington Street between Princess and Brock Streets in Kingston, was renovated, restored, and expanded, from 2014–18, but has had its heritage elements preserved, insofar as possible, under direction from Kingston City Council. The building re-opened as the 'Kensington' in 2018, and now features, on its street level, an alley portraying historical and heritage aspects of its past, along with the Macdonald-Mowat relationship.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John A. Macdonald</span> Prime minister of Canada from 1867 to 1873 and 1878 to 1891

Sir John Alexander Macdonald was the first prime minister of Canada, serving from 1867 to 1873 and from 1878 to 1891. The dominant figure of Canadian Confederation, he had a political career that spanned almost half a century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wilfrid Laurier</span> Prime minister of Canada from 1896 to 1911

Sir Henri Charles Wilfrid Laurier, was a Canadian lawyer, statesman, and politician who served as the seventh prime minister of Canada from 1896 to 1911. The first French Canadian prime minister, his 15-year tenure remains the longest unbroken term of office among Canadian prime ministers and his nearly 45 years of service in the House of Commons is a record for the House. Laurier is best known for his compromises between English and French Canada.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Casimir Gzowski</span>

Sir Kazimierz Stanisław Gzowski,, was an engineer known for his work on a wide variety of Canadian railways as well as work on the Welland Canal. He also served as acting Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1896 to 1897.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1887 in Canada</span> Canada-related events during the year of 1887

Events from the year 1887 in Canada.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1889 in Canada</span> Canada-related events during the year of 1889

Events from the year 1889 in Canada.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1896 in Canada</span> Canada-related events during the year of 1896

Events from the year 1896 in Canada.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1886 in Canada</span> Canada-related events during the year of 1886

Events from the year 1886 in Canada.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1896 Canadian federal election</span> 8th Canadian federal election

The 1896 Canadian federal election was held on June 23, 1896, to elect members of the House of Commons of Canada of the 8th Parliament of Canada. Though the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Charles Tupper, won a plurality of the popular vote, the Liberal Party, led by Wilfrid Laurier, won the majority of seats to form the next government. The election ended 18 years of Conservative rule.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Sandfield Macdonald</span> Canadian politician and 1st Premier of Ontario

John Sandfield Macdonald, was the joint premier of the Province of Canada from 1862 to 1864. He was also the first premier of Ontario from 1867 to 1871, one of the four founding provinces created at Confederation in 1867. He served as both premier and attorney general of Ontario from July 16, 1867, to December 20, 1871.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arthur Sturgis Hardy</span> Canadian lawyer and politician

Arthur Sturgis Hardy, was a Canadian lawyer and Liberal politician who served as the fourth premier of Ontario from 1896 to 1899.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexander Morris (politician)</span> Canadian politician

Alexander Morris was a Canadian politician. He served in the cabinet of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald (1869–1872), and was the second Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba (1872–1877). He also served as the founder and first Lieutenant Governor of the District of Keewatin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard John Cartwright</span> Canadian politician

Sir Richard John Cartwright was a Canadian businessman and politician.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of Ontario</span>

The history of Ontario covers the period from the arrival of Paleo-Indians thousands of years ago to the present day. The lands that make up present-day Ontario, the most populous province of Canada as of the early 21st century have been inhabited for millennia by groups of Aboriginal people, with French and British exploration and colonization commencing in the 17th century. Before the arrival of Europeans, the region was inhabited both by Algonquian and Iroquoian tribes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Politics of Ontario</span> Westminster system of government

The Province of Ontario is governed by a unicameral legislature, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, which operates in the Westminster system of government. The political party that wins the largest number of seats in the legislature normally forms the government, and the party's leader becomes premier of the province, i.e., the head of the government.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Great Coalition</span> Political party in Canada

The Great Coalition was a grand coalition of political parties that brought an end to political deadlock in the Province of Canada. It existed from May 1864 until Confederation in 1867.

<i>Citizens Insurance Co of Canada v Parsons</i> Canadian constitutional law case – 1881

Citizens Insurance Co of Canada v Parsons is a major Canadian constitutional case decided by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, at that time the highest court of appeal for the British Empire. The case decided a significant issue of the division of powers between the federal Parliament and the provincial legislatures. The approach taken to provincial power, as advocated by Premier Oliver Mowat of Ontario, began to set the constitutional framework for broad provincial powers and a reduction in the centralist vision of Confederation espoused by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Post-Confederation Canada (1867–1914)</span>

Post-Confederation Canada (1867–1914) is history of Canada from the formation of the Dominion to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Canada had a population of 3.5 million, residing in the large expanse from Cape Breton to just beyond the Great Lakes, usually within a hundred miles or so of the Canada–United States border. One in three Canadians was French, and about 100,000 were aboriginal. It was a rural country composed of small farms. With a population of 115,000, Montreal was the largest city, followed by Toronto and Quebec at about 60,000. Pigs roamed the muddy streets of Ottawa, the small new national capital.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peter McLaren (politician)</span> Canadian politician

Peter McLaren was a Canadian politician and Senator from Ontario. McLaren was the Plaintiff in McLaren v Caldwell, that resulted in the landmark decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that upheld provincial jurisdiction in matters of a local or private nature, as well as over property and civil rights.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oliver Mowat Biggar</span> Canadian lawyer and civil servant

Oliver Mowat Biggar, was a Canadian lawyer and civil servant. He was the second judge advocate general for the Canadian Militia and the first chief electoral officer of Canada. He also served as the first Canadian co-chair of the Canada–United States Permanent Joint Board on Defense. Biggar was well known as a leading Canadian lawyer with expertise in public law and patent law.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Section 58 of the Constitution Act, 1867</span> Provision of the Constitution of Canada

Section 58 of the Constitution Act, 1867 is a provision of the Constitution of Canada creating the office of provincial lieutenant governors, and providing for appointment by the Governor General of Canada.


  1. Romney, Paul (1994). "Mowat, Sir Oliver". In Cook, Ramsay; Hamelin, Jean (eds.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography . Vol. XIII (1901–1910) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  2. "Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate Institute > About Us > History".
  3. "Quebec History".
  4. John George Bowes v The City of Toronto(1858)XI Moo PC 463; [1858] UKPC 10, 14 ER 770 , P.C. (UK)
  5. which became part of the Supreme Court of Ontario in 1881.
  6. Dickson v Burnham, 14Grant's Ch594 (1868).
  7. An Act for protecting the Public interest in Rivers, Streams and Creeks , S.O. 1884, c. 17
  8. "Ontario-Manitoba Boundary Case". 1884. Archived from the original on October 4, 2012.
  9. Hodge v The Queen (Canada) [1883] UKPC 59 , 9 App Cas 117(15 December 1883), P.C. (on appeal from Ontario)
  10. The Citizens Insurance Company of Canada and The Queen Insurance Company v Parsons [1881] UKPC 49 , (1881) 7 A.C. 96(26 November 1881), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  11. Caldwell and another v McLaren [1884] UKPC 21 , (1884) 9 A.C. 392(7 April 1884), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  12. St. Catherines Milling and Lumber Company v The Queen [1888] UKPC 70 , [1888] 14 AC 46(12 December 1888), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  13. The Attorney General of Ontario v Mercer [1883] UKPC 42 , [1883] 8 AC 767(18 July 1883), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  14. Mowat 1890, p. 29.
  15. An Act to provide for voting by Ballot at Elections to the Legislative Assembly , S.O. 1874, c. 5
  16. An Act to extend the Elective Franchise , S.O. 1874, c. 3
  17. An Act to amend the Acts respecting Tavern and Shop Licenses , S.O. 1873, c. 34 , An Act to Amend and Consolidate the Law for the Sale of Fermented and Spirituous Liquors , S.O. 1874, c. 32 , An Act to amend the Law respecting the Sale of Fermented and Spirituous Liquors , S.O. 1875-76, c. 26
  18. An Act respecting Municipal Institutions in the Province of Ontario , S.O. 1873, c. 48
  19. Thomson, Andrew (1983). The Sentinel and Orange and Protestant Advocate, 1877–1896: An Orange view of Canada (M.A.). Wilfrid Laurier University.
  20. Ibbitson 2001, p. 46.
  21. Ibbitson 2001, p. 49.
  22. Canadian Encyclopedia
  23. Sir Oliver Mowat at Find a Grave
  24. Rubio, Gerald J. "Farley Mowat". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 19, 2021.
  25. "Queen's Park Grounds | Legislative Assembly of Ontario". Archived from the original on October 17, 2018.
  26. Ramsay Cook, ed. (1994). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Springer. p. 741. ISBN   9780802039989.
  27. "Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley films cameo for CBC drama 'Murdoch Mysteries'". WinnipegFreePress.com. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  28. See "Songs of Salon" 2016

Further reading


Books (historical)

Books (general)

Oliver Mowat
Oliver Mowat.jpg
Portrait as premier in 1873
8th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
In office
November 18, 1897 April 19, 1903
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by President of the Royal Canadian Institute
Succeeded by
Government offices
Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada
Preceded by MLA for South Ontario
Succeeded by
Legislative Assembly of Ontario
Preceded by MLA for Oxford North
Succeeded by
Parliament of Canada
Preceded by Senator for Ontario
Succeeded by
Court offices
Preceded by Vice-Chancellor of the Court of Chancery of Upper Canada
Served alongside: John Godfrey Spragge (1850–1869)
Samuel Henry Strong (1869–1874)
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Postmaster General for the Province of Canada
May 1863 – March 1864
Succeeded by
Preceded by Postmaster General for the Province of Canada
June 1864 – November 1864
Succeeded by
Preceded by Premier of Ontario
Succeeded by
Preceded by Attorney General of Ontario
Preceded by Leader of the Government in the Senate of Canada
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Justice