Philip Howard Spohn was born in Ancaster, Ontario in 1842. He studied medicine at the University of Victoria and moved to Penetanguishene shortly after graduating. He married Editha Sarah Thompson in 1878, at age 36.
Dr. Spohn served on Simcoe County council as Penetanguishene reeve for ten years before trying his hand at federal politics. He ran in the 1891 federal election as a Liberal, defeating the 32-year-old Conservative candidate William Humphrey Bennett with double the number of votes received by former East Simcoe MP H. H. Cook in the previous election.
However, Spohn was only able to serve 300 days as an MP before the East Simcoe election was declared invalid. On March 26, 1891, only weeks after the election, the Northern Advance newspaper had published allegations he had violated election laws when members of his campaign attempted to woo potential voters by overpaying for their services, offering them employment and even by offering them sums of money. They also allegedly attempted to boost votes by encouraging citizens to impersonate registered voters with the same name and even paid the travel expenses of groups of voters shipped in to the polls from Parry Sound and Muskoka.
Over the following months, the controversy deepened until Spohn had accrued 35 formal charges, only three of which were actually investigated. But they were enough to cost him his newly acquired office. On Nov. 13, 1891, two judges ruled that Spohn had used corrupt practices during the 1891 election, voiding the election results for East Simcoe. During the subsequent byelection, in 1892, Spohn’s former rival, W. H. Bennett, was elected by acclaim and retained his seat for more than three additional terms.
Following the election controversy, Spohn returned to civic life in Penetanguishene, becoming a founding director of the Penetanguishene General Hospital in 1911.
Spohn died at his daughter’s home in Toronto on Nov. 14, 1918. That Saturday, his remains arrived in Penetanguishene by train and were carried to his former home, now occupied by the notable Dr. B. A. Blackwell. A funeral was held on the afternoon of Nov. 18 at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Penetanguishene, officiated by the Rev. N. A. F. Bourne and attended by a large number of friends and former neighbours from the Midland area.