Summer Student Musings – The County of Ontario

By Adam A., Summer Student

Hello once more! I’m Adam, the summer museum assistant, and you may recall my recent podcast where I discussed the County of Ontario. So I’m here to offer some additional facts pertaining to this county which existed from 1854 to 1974.

For starters, Upper Canada was originally only divided into four administrative divisions by Governor Simcoe. From east to west these were named Lunenburg (later called Eastern District), Mecklenburg (later called Midland District), Nassau (later called Home District), and Hesse (later called Western District), and each was managed by the appointed Justices of the Peace who met four times a year. I’m not really sure why Governor Simcoe opted for these German names, and seeing as how they were quickly replaced I assume most others also believed these names were rather un-intuitive. Over the following years these districts were further divided until there were 20 districts in all. One consistency in this period was that Oshawa would have fallen just west of the extreme eastern edge of Home District.

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A map of the province of Upper Canada describing all the settlements and townships with the countries adjacent from Quebec to Lake Huron, 1818; from the Toronto Public Library

Counties did exist at this time but had no function outside of electing a member to parliament and maintaining a militia. Prior to 1852, Oshawa would have been a part of York County. In 1849, in accordance with Lord Durham‘s suggestions, it was decided that counties and their elected bodies would take over the local administrative role from the districts. It was swiftly realized that many of the eastern townships of York County were inadequately serviced by a local government based in York (now Toronto). These townships were separated from the County of York in 1852 and officially organized into the County of Ontario in 1854. This mirrored the developments in the western townships of York County, which broke off to form Peel County in 1851.

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The County of Ontario, as appeared in the 1862 Tackabury Map

In 1852, when the county still only existed on a provisional basis, it sported a population of over 29,000, 1,142 of whom lived in the Village of Oshawa. By the year 1907 the population had grown to over 38,000, with the Town of Oshawa accounting for 5,113. Oshawa had grown from being about 3-4% of the county’s population to being about 13%. This change demonstrates the trend towards urbanization, which in this period was driven by the adoption of improved agricultural techniques.


These facts come from County of Ontario by J. E. Farewell and History of the County of Ontario 1615-1875 by Leo A. Johnson.

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