Another of the purists gone: Dr. Philip H. Spohn dies, Nov. 14, 1918

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.

2 thoughts on “Another of the purists gone: Dr. Philip H. Spohn dies, Nov. 14, 1918

  • January 8, 2019 at 9:43 am
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    I am Dr PH Spohn’s greatgrandaughter. Few people realize that prior to the introduction of healthcare in Canada many physicians relied on other things to supplement their income – Business ventures and political connections paid the bills that the barter system did not. A dozen eggs chickens and a cradle might be useful but that did not pay the coal bill ,or the taxes.This I learned from observation since there were many doctors in the family including my grandfather and great uncles and cousins.
    I have no doubt that voting procedures were loose in earlier times, and that hasn’t changed across the border .The party in power determined whether he remained in a government job or not. My great grandfather was removed from his position as head of the Insane Asylum because the Conservatives gained political power and that is why he returned to civilian life. He was always a great supporter of the local and regional community ,the Anglican and Catholic Church, the hospital and his local patients, many of whom lived a distance from town.
    My cousin and I have contributed to a book about Dr.A E Spohn , a brother who practiced in Texas along with another brother Dr. Henry Spohn. These three brothers as well as many family members have contributed to healthcare for many generations giving selflessly before socialized medicine. I hope that’s what you meant by “Purist”.

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  • January 12, 2019 at 12:55 pm
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    In addition to the above article, in 1896, when Laurier became Prime Minister, W.H. Bennett was also removed from office for “election irregularities”. Politics makes strange bedfellows!

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