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Oliver Mowat

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Title: Oliver Mowat  
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Subject: Arthur Sturgis Hardy, List of Ontario Legislative Assemblies, Edward Blake, Ontario general election, 1894, George William Ross
Collection: 1820 Births, 1903 Deaths, Attorneys General of Ontario, Canadian Knights, Canadian Presbyterians, Canadian Queen's Counsel, Canadian Religious Writers, Canadian Senators from Ontario, Fathers of Confederation, Knights Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George, Lawyers in Ontario, Leaders of the Ontario Liberal Party, Liberal Party of Canada Senators, Lieutenant Governors of Ontario, Members of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, Members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, People from Kingston, Ontario, Persons of National Historic Significance (Canada), Pre-Confederation Ontario People, Premiers of Ontario
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Oliver Mowat

The Honourable
Sir Oliver Mowat
The Hon. Sir Oliver Mowat
3rd Premier of Ontario
In office
October 25, 1872 – July 12, 1896
Monarch Victoria
Lieutenant Governor William Pearce Howland
John Willoughby Crawford
Donald A. Macdonald
John Beverley Robinson
Alexander Campbell
George Airey Kirkpatrick
Preceded by Edward Blake
Succeeded by Arthur Hardy
MPP for Oxford North
In office
November 29, 1872 – July 14, 1896
Preceded by George Perry
Succeeded by Andrew Pattulo
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
In office
July 13, 1896 – November 17, 1897
Preceded by Arthur Rupert Dickey
Succeeded by David Mills
Leader of the Government in the Senate
In office
August 19, 1896 – November 17, 1897
Preceded by Sir Mackenzie Bowell
Succeeded by David Mills
8th Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario
In office
November 18, 1897 – April 19, 1903
Monarch Victoria
Edward VII
Governor General The Earl of Aberdeen
The Earl of Minto
Premier Arthur Sturgis Hardy
George William Ross
Preceded by Casimir Gzowski
Succeeded by William Mortimer Clark
Personal details
Born (1820-07-22)July 22, 1820
Kingston, Upper Canada
Died April 19, 1903(1903-04-19) (aged 82)
Toronto, Ontario
Resting place Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto
Political party Ontario Liberal Party
Spouse(s) Jane Ewart
Religion Presbyterian

Sir Oliver Mowat, GCMG PC QC (July 22, 1820 – April 19, 1903) was a Canadian lawyer, politician and writer. He served as the third Premier of Ontario for nearly 24 years. He was the eighth Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and one of the Fathers of Confederation.


  • Early years 1
  • Marriage, family, legal success 2
  • Political career before Confederation 3
  • Premier and Attorney-General of Ontario 4
  • Federal level 5
  • Macdonald and Mowat in power 6
  • Family 7
  • Other achievements 8
  • Legacy 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12

Early years

Mowat was born in Conservative Party, and instead joined the Reformers.

Mowat trained as a lawyer. On January 27, 1836, Mowat, not yet sixteen years old, articled in the law office of John A. Macdonald, during a time when there was no formal legal education in the province. Macdonald had just turned 21. Early in their work relationship, Mowat and Macdonald were close friends, and worked successfully to build the legal practice. But they grew apart over time, as Mowat matured into a genuine rival of the older Macdonald. Mowat was mostly even-tempered and moderate in his behaviour, in sharp contrast to the firebrand Macdonald, who struggled with alcohol abuse for much of his life. As a young man, Mowat moved away from Kingston, eventually settling in Toronto, to develop his own career and life away from Macdonald's prominence.

Marriage, family, legal success

Mowat was called to the bar of Upper Canada on November 5, 1841. In 1846, he married Jane Ewart, a daughter of John Ewart of Toronto. Mowat and his wife had three sons and four daughters. In 1856 Mowat was appointed Queen's Counsel.

He was known to be a tenacious legal practitioner, with two of his cases being upheld by the Mayor of Toronto) was successfully sued for recovery of the share of the profit he was suspected to have made in collaboration with co-premier Francis Hincks out of a speculation in city debentures.[1] Afterwards, Mowat admitted that "I cannot speak with much force unless I have an opponent, and things are said by others which I do not altogether coincide with."

Political career before Confederation

He first entered politics as an alderman of the City of Toronto in 1857. From there, he became a member of the Legislative Assembly for South Ontario.

As a member of the Provincial Secretary (1858) and Postmaster-General (1863–1864) in pre-Confederation government (the John Sandfield Macdonald administration), and was also an avid supporter of representation by population. With Brown, he helped create what became the Ontario Liberal Party as well as the Liberal Party of Canada.

Mowat was a member of the Great Coalition government of 1864 and was a representative at that year's Quebec Conference, where he helped work out the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments. On November 14, 1864, he was appointed to the judiciary as Vice-Chancellor of the Court of Chancery of Upper Canada,[2] He held this position until he was appointed premier on October 25, 1872. One of the more notable cases during his time on the Court was Dickson v. Burnham in 1868,[3] whose underlying jurisprudence would be altered during his later time as Premier, with the passage of the Rivers and Streams Act, 1884.[4]

Premier and Attorney-General of Ontario

Mowat served as provincial member for the riding of Oxford North, about 150 km west of Toronto, for his entire term as premier.

Walter Seymour Allward's statue of Oliver Mowat on the lawn of Queen's Park in Toronto, Ontario Canada

As premier in the 1880s a series of disputes with the Dominion arose over Provincial boundaries,[5] jurisdiction over liquor licenses,[6] trade and commerce,[7] rivers and streams,[8] timber,[9] mineral rights[10] and other matters. In 1890, it was said:

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,[12] and the extension of suffrage beyond property owners.[13] He also extended laws regulating liquor[14] and consolidated the laws relating to the municipal level of government.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

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 Nova Scotia and Ernest Manning of Alberta.

Federal level

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 Sir 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 -- with Macdonald as prime minister in Ottawa and Mowat as Ontario premier in Toronto -- led their respective governments during the same era for a total of 14 years: for 1873, and from 1878 to 1891. Macdonald was prime minister for a total of 19 years, with a five-year break as leader of the Opposition from 1873 to 1878; this is the second longest total service by a Canadian prime minister, trailing only William Lyon Mackenzie King. Mowat was premier for just less than 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.

Mowat was also the great-great-uncle of the Canadian author Farley Mowat.

Other achievements

Mowat was knighted in 1892.

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

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."

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

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

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

David Onley (the 8th Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario) in the Canadian TV series Murdoch Mysteries in 2013 in the episode "The Ghost of Queen's Park."[18]

Mowat is currently being portrayed by Kingston actor Patrick Downes, in Kingston-based Salon Theatre's stage productions featuring the life of Sir John A. Macdonald, which will be touring Canada during 2015, the bicentennial anniversary of Macdonald's birth.

The building where Mowat and Macdonald practiced law together in the 1830s, on Wellington Street between King and Brock Streets in Kingston, is being renovated during 2014–15, but has had its heritage elements preserved, insofar as possible, under direction from Kingston City Council.


  1. ^ John George Bowes v The City of Toronto (1858) XI Moo PC 463; [1858] UKPC 10, 14 ER 770, P.C. (UK)
  2. ^ which became part of the Supreme Court of Ontario in 1881.
  3. ^
  4. ^ An Act for protecting the Public interest in Rivers, Streams and Creeks, S.O. 1884, c. 17
  5. ^
  6. ^ Hodge v The Queen (Canada) [1883] UKPC 59, 9 App Cas 117 (15 December), P.C. (on appeal from Ontario)
  7. ^ The Citizens Insurance Company of Canada and The Queen Insurance Company v Parsons [1881] UKPC 49, (1881) 7 A.C. 96 (26 November), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  8. ^ Caldwell and another v McLaren [1884] UKPC 21, (1884) 9 A.C. 392 (7 April), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  9. ^ St. Catherines Milling and Lumber Company v The Queen [1888] UKPC 70, [1888] 14 AC 46 (12 December), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  10. ^ The Attorney General of Ontario v Mercer [1883] UKPC 42, [1883] 8 AC 767 (18 July), P.C. (on appeal from Canada)
  11. ^ Mowat 1890, p. 29.
  12. ^ An Act to provide for voting by Ballot at Elections to the Legislative Assembly, S.O. 1874, c. 5
  13. ^ An Act to extend the Elective Franchise, S.O. 1874, c. 3
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ An Act respecting Municipal Institutions in the Province of Ontario, S.O. 1873, c. 48
  16. ^
  17. ^ Canadian Encyclopedia
  18. ^

Further reading


External links

  • Oliver Mowat – Parliament of Canada biography
  • Ontario Legislative Assembly Parliamentarian History
  • Ontario Plaques – The Macdonald-Mowat House 1872
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
William Henry Draper
President of the Royal Canadian Institute
Succeeded by
Henry Holmes Croft
Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada
Preceded by
John McVeagh Lumsden
MLA for South Ontario
Succeeded by
Thomas Nicholson Gibbs
Legislative Assembly of Ontario
Preceded by
George Perry
MLA for Oxford North
Succeeded by
Andrew Pattulo
Parliament of Canada
Preceded by
John Ferguson
Senator for Ontario
Succeeded by
William Kerr
Court offices
Preceded by
James Christie Palmer Esten
Vice-Chancellor of the Court of Chancery of Upper Canada
Served alongside: John Godfrey Spragge (1850–1869)
Samuel Henry Strong (1869–1874)
Succeeded by
Samuel Hume Blake
Party political offices
Preceded by
Edward Blake
Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Arthur Hardy
Political offices
Preceded by
Michael Hamilton Foley
Postmaster General for the Province of Canada
May 1863 – March 1864
Succeeded by
Michael Hamilton Foley
Preceded by
Michael Hamilton Foley
Postmaster General for the Province of Canada
June 1864 – November 1864
Succeeded by
William Pearce Howland
Preceded by
Edward Blake
Premier of Ontario
Succeeded by
Arthur Hardy
Preceded by
Adam Crooks
Attorney General of Ontario
Preceded by
Mackenzie Bowell
Leader of the Government in the Senate of Canada
Succeeded by
David Mills
Preceded by
Arthur Rupert Dickey
Minister of Justice
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Casimir Gzowski
Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
Succeeded by
William Mortimer Clark
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