By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement
Happy Canada Day from the Oshawa Museum! July 1 is celebrated as the day that the British North America Act came into effect, creating the Dominion of Canada. In fact, until 1982, our national holiday was known as Dominion Day when it was renamed to Canada Day.
As a member of the British Commonwealth, our head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, represented by the Governor General, and that position is currently held by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston; in 1867, when we celebrated our confederation, that position was held by The Right Honourable the Viscount Charles Monck, and Monck Street in Oshawa has been named for him. Who was our first Governor General?
Charles Stanley Monck, 4th Viscount Monck was born in Ireland in 1819. When he agreed to take the position of Governor to the Province of Canada (Ontario was then known as Canada West and Quebec as Canada East) and Governor General to British North America, Monck did so out of financial motivations as he faced a number of debts when he inherited his estates. Little did Monck know that he was going to be Governor General during a pivotal time in Canadian history.
It was during the early 1860s that the colonies of British North America began the conversations that led up to Confederation in 1867. External factors, such as the United States’ Civil War and later the Fenian Raids, played a role in the push for unifying, strengthening the colonies who also sought a degree of independence. Monck supported this idea and supported many noted politicians, including John A. Macdonald, George Brown, and George-Étienne Cartier, in forming the ‘Great Coalition.’ Between 1864 and 1866, three conferences were held, Charlottetown, Quebec, and London, at which the framework was established for creating the Dominion of Canada. Monck attended all of these conferences, offering support where possible, and he even participated when the British House of Lords debated the British North America Act in February of 1867.
Despite anxieties to return to the United Kingdom and return to his estates, Monck agreed to stay on as the first Governor General of the newly formed Dominion of Canada. One of his lasting legacies was choosing Rideau Hall for the official residence of Canada’s Governor Generals. He chose the site in 1864, moved in with his family in August 1866, and supervised the construction, renovations, and furnishings, transforming this 1838 villa into “a dignified and homelike residence.”¹
It was also Monck who issued a royal proclamation in June 1868 asking Canadians to celebrate the anniversary of Confederation on July 1. The proclamation stated,
“Now Know Ye, that I, Charles Stanley Viscount Monck, Governor General of Canada, do hereby proclaim and appoint WEDNESDAY, the FIRST day of JULY next, as the day on which the Anniversary of the formation of the Dominion a Canada be duly celebrated. And I do hereby enjoin and call upon all Her Majesty’s loving subjects throughout Canada to join in the due and proper celebration of the said Anniversary on the said FIRST day of JULY next.”
Monck returned home to Ireland in 1869 where he remained until his death in 1894.
Monck Street is found in an older area of our City, a well established street. It can be found on the Town of Oshawa Map in the 1877 Ontario County Atlas, although note, the street is spelled as ‘Monk.’ In fact, the spelling of this street was consistently ‘Monk’ on a handful of resources until the mid 1980s. It was around this time that the Durham Region began rolling out the 911 emergency services, and the City of Oshawa undertook a study of its street names. With the imperative of clearly communicating locations to emergency services, streets like Maine Street and Main Street, or Taylor and Tayler became problematic. This study also found potential issues and sought to clearly standardize streets. Monck was one such identified street.
While a number of organizations, the post office being one of them, used Monk, the legal registered name of the street was Monck, as per the McGrigor Plan, and that was also how the name was spelt on the street sign. It was recommended that Monck be used as the standard for the spelling, accurately reflecting the individual after whom the street was named.
¹Want a thorough overview of the life of Charles Monck? Visit the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, where Jacques Monet authored a wonderful article about his life and his contributions to the formation of Canada.