Dividing The Land

Historic Maps of Halton from the Halton Region Museum Collections
Historic Maps of Halton from the Halton Region Museum Collections

The province of Upper Canada, created in 1791, was divided into districts for judicial and administrative purposes. In 1841, elected councils replaced district courts and appointed magistrates. District council responsibilities included roads, appointing municipal officers, taxes, justice, education, and welfare. District boundaries, which coincided with settlement concentrations, were continually reorganized as population grew. By 1840, the original four districts of Upper Canada had become twenty.

Districts were divided into counties, which served as electoral ridings for the elected legislative assembly. They were also associated with militia organization and the registration of land titles. Counties were subdivided into townships, regarded primarily as survey units until 1850. As with districts, the creation of new counties and townships accompanied the growth of population

Halton County Begins

The Halton area was part of the Home District until 1816 when the Gore District was formed from the amalgamation of parts of the Niagara and Home Districts. Hamilton was the Gore District Town and the centre of legal and legislative activity. Between 1816 and 1852, as part of the constant reorganization of Upper Canada, Halton County changed its size, township composition, and district affiliation several times.

Halton Gets It’s Name

Halton County was named in 1816 for Major William Mathew Halton, secretary to Francis Gore who served as Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada (1806-1811, 1815-1816). In 1799 Halton, the son of Sir William and Lady Halton of England, was gazetted as a Major in the Fencible Cavalry. He may have sold his commission in 1801 but continued to be unofficially called Major. In 1805, while he was in England, Halton was named secretary to Upper Canada’s Lieutenant Governor and arrived in Upper Canada in 1806. He went back to England in 1811 but returned to Canada in 1815.

In 1816, Gore named Halton to the position of Provincial Agent in England which had been newly created. Halton was keen to return to "the old country". From 1816 to 1821 Halton held the position of Provincial Agent and never returned to Upper Canada. During his tenure Halton pressed for some form of compensation or land grants for the loyal citizens of Upper Canada that had defended the province during the War of 1812 against the Americans. In a letter, dated August 25, 1818, Halton stated that Americans had long ago received remuneration from their government for losses during the war and that they were in full view of the loyalists of Upper Canada across the Niagara River. Some members of the establishment of Upper Canada felt that Halton’s view, as he was in England, was out of touch with the conditions in the province. The controversial position of Provincial Agent in England position was abolished in 1822.

Not long after his return to England in 1816, Halton’s health began to deteriorate. Records show that even though his health had completely broken down by 1821, he did attempt to continue his duties. On September 22, 1821, Halton died in London England.

Districts Abolished: 1849

In 1849 the Baldwin Act abolished the district system and established counties as the upper tier of municipal government. It gave them responsibilities formerly held by districts and transferred judicial and government functions. From 1850 to 1852, due to their low population density, the United Counties of Halton and Wentworth were administered as one unit from the Town of Hamilton.

Judges Chair from the Halton Region Museum Collections
Judge's Chair
Halton County Court House c. 1856

Halton County Separates: 1853

In 1853, population levels in Halton County had grown sufficiently to allow it to separate from its neighbour, Wentworth County. Halton formed a separate municipality comprising of Nelson, Trafalgar, Esquesing, and Nassagaweya Townships. The Village of Milton was named as Halton’s County Seat, a controversial decision unpopular with south Halton residents. For Milton, however, the decision was cause for celebration as it conferred a new status on the town as the headquarters of County government.

Halton’s County Seat

Halton County Court House -  Prison's Ball & C
Ball and Chain
Halton County Court House c. 1856

The 1853 Act which decreed the separation of Halton and Wentworth Counties also named Milton as the County Seat. This decision was objected to by many south Halton residents. They considered Milton to be too far inland from the busy Lake Ontario transportation route. Despite these objections, construction on a new court house, which would serve as headquarters of County administration, began. In 1877, a jail and exercise yard were added.

The Court House in Milton was used for County administration until 1974 when the Regional Municipality of Halton was formed. In 1982, after extensive renovations, it became Milton’s new Town Hall.

Halton County Dissolves: 1973

Towards the end of the 1960s, local government reforms, designed to produce streamlined, efficient administrative structures, were introduced in Ontario. Heavily urbanized areas, such as those in the Toronto area, adopted regional forms of government. In 1974, Halton County, its seven historic municipalities, and the County Council headed by a Warden, ceased to exist. The newly formed Region of Halton, consisting of four municipalities, was now governed by a Regional Council headed by a Chairman.

Halton Region Forms: 1974

The post-World War II "baby boom" created serious urban servicing problems . As population grew, existing water and sewer facilities, roads, public transportation systems, schools, and hospitals proved to be inadequate. A search for a radical solution to ensure orderly future growth led to a period of municipal reform. This included the creation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1953, and the establishment of regional governments in heavily urbanized areas, especially those considered to lie within the Toronto-Centred Region.

The creation of regional governments was an attempt to provide efficient delivery of services and effective voter representation. In 1974, Halton County was reorganized into the Regional Municipality of Halton with four restructured municipalities (Halton Hills, Milton, Oakville, and Burlington), and a new Regional Government.

The Halton Region Coat of Arms

In 1975, a year after its formation, the Region of Halton adopted its official Coat of Arms symbolizing Halton's dramatic landforms and its rich history. Halton Region Crest

The Coronet, showing four wheat sheaves, is customarily granted to counties by The Lord Lyon King of Arms in Scotland.

Lake Ontario
The wavy bands in the base stand for the waters of Lake Ontario whose harbours were so vital to the settlement of Halton

The green field represents the agricultural heritage of the Region.

The Escarpment
The diagonal represents the rugged contours of the Niagara Escarpment.

Four Municipal Corporations
The four circular loops stand for the four corporations (Town of Halton Hills, Town of Milton, Town of Oakville, Town of Burlington) that make up the Region - joined by roads and highways.

The Motto
The motto, Absque Labore Nihil means Without Effort (Work) Nothing. This old Halton County motto is the Region's link with the past.

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