This year marks the 175th anniversary of the incorporation of the County of Simcoe.
While Simcoe was recognized as a distinct county within Upper Canada as early as 1798, it primarily existed, on paper, for military purposes. More definite boundaries were laid down in 1821, by which time most of the townships had been surveyed. By 1826, the fledgling county had become entitled to its own representative in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada and a county registrar had been appointed. The first Simcoe County representative was elected to the Assembly in 1828.
Between 1837 and 1841, several acts were passed by the provincial legislature that moved Simcoe County even closer to obtaining formal status as a distinct district. Those acts named the townships that Simcoe District would encompass (Adjala, Essa, Flos, West Gwillimbury, Innisfil, Matchedash, Medonte, Nottawasaga, North and South Orillia, Oro, Sunnidale, Tay, Tecumseth, Tiny, Tosorontio and Vespra) and authorized the levying of taxes for the purpose of constructing a jail and courthouse.
On Jan. 11, 1843, the jail and courthouse having been duly erected, Governor General Sir Charles Bagot proclaimed Simcoe to be a separate and distinct district. Upon the incorporation, the province appointed a district judge, sheriff, jailer, clerk of the court and clerk of the peace. Governor General Bagot appointed the new district’s first warden and a district council was elected.
At that time, the district council met only three times a year. The first meeting was held at the new district court house at Barrie on Feb. 14, 1843, at which time council adopted the rules and regulations necessary for it to function. They also nominated three candidates for district clerk, to be selected by the Governor General, and struck standing committees on roads and bridges, finances and tax assessments, education, and contingencies.
In 1849, the Baldwin Act abolished the districts that had formerly administered large parts of the province and replaced them with counties that, in turn, consisted of various towns, villages and townships. The new law abolished Simcoe District and replaced it with a county with the same name and territory.
Over the following years, the composition of Simcoe County changed as various townships were added and later taken away. Between 1845 and 1851, the Townships of Artemesia, Collingwood, Osprey, Saint Vincent and Euphrasia were incorporated into Simcoe District before being transferred to Grey County, as were the Townships of Mono and Mulmur between 1863 and 1880, when they were incorporated into the newly established County of Dufferin.
By far, the biggest change to the geographical size of the county occurred in 1851 when all of the extensive territory between the Severn and French Rivers recently acquired from the Ojibway in the Robinson Treaty was added to Simcoe County. By 1869, this vast territory, which eventually consisted of 70 individual townships, had been reorganized into the present-day Districts of Muskoka and Parry Sound, but the administration of justice in both districts (and in Simcoe County as well) remained the responsibility of the county judge at Barrie. It wasn’t until 1888, after several petitions from the county council, that the province agreed to completely separate Muskoka and Parry Sound from Simcoe County, allowing the county judge to, once again, focus on matters closer to home.
The present-day composition of the county took shape within the last 60 years as some municipalities left the district, others were added and still others were reorganized. Barrie incorporated as a city in 1959, meaning that it left the jurisdiction of the county council and took on the management of its own affairs. Orillia followed suit in 1969. The Townships of Rama and Mara were added to Simcoe in 1974 following the dissolution of the County of Ontario.
The county’s various municipalities were restructured in 1991 and 1994, creating the towns and townships we live in today: Bradford West Gwillimbury, Innisfil, New Tecumseth, Adjala-Tosorontio, Essa, Oro-Medonte, Ramara, Tay, Tiny, Collingwood, Midland, Penetanguishene and Wasaga Beach. The restructuring also created three new townships by amalgamating several older municipalities. The Town of Stayner, the Village of Creemore and the Townships of Nottawasaga and Sunnidale were merged to form the new Township of Clearview; the Village of Coldwater and the Townships of Matchedash and North and South Orillia were combined to form the Township of Severn; and the Village of Elmvale and the Townships of Flos and Vespra were joined together to form the Township of Springwater.
The history of our county, of course, continues to unfold as the population, towns and townships continue to grow and develop.
This article is based on a blog post by the Simcoe County Archives. Visit simcoe.ca/dpt/arc for the original and many other county history stories. Simcoe County Archives is located at 1149 Hwy 26, Minesing. Contact them at [email protected] or 705-726-9331.
Photo: The original county courthouse at Barrie, built in 1843. Image courtesy of the Simcoe County Archives.