1841 and the 4th Riding of York

In Sharon, a small town in Ontario located not far from Toronto, there exists a historical site housing a building of historic, religious, and political significance called the Sharon Temple.

The history and significance of the building can be told through many different lenses but perhaps the most important is the political as the Sharon Temple played a significant role in the creation of our country.

I have previously written of LaFontaine and Baldwin and their contributions to Canada. I have also written of how these two men, despite the enormous debt Canadians owe to them, have largely been forgotten in our modern society. Even at the Sharon Temple, where Baldwin stepped aside to allow LaFontaine, a Montrealer, to run in the 4th Riding of York and be elected as a reformer to Parliament, there is no marker recognizing either man. LaFontaine’s election paved the way for he and Baldwin to reform Parliament and our country, ultimately resulting in the creation of Responsible Government.

LaFontaine’s election in York was not easy as he was from out-of-province, he was French and of a different religion than the local Quakers who would elect him. Political opponents in the area threatened violence but LaFontaine was invited to the riding anyway and after hours on the muddy roads arrived in the riding for the first time at night on September 3rd, 1841. He stepped into the Sharon Temple, lit up with candles for a biannual feast, and was welcomed by locals he was introduced to. This was followed by his attendance at a service the following day which led to further appearances throughout the riding as support for LaFontaine began to spread. When he was eventually victorious in the election on September 21st, he had dinner with Baldwin in Sharon before being led to neighboring Newmarket along Yonge Street by a throng of supporters.

In 1843 Baldwin completed the switch by getting elected in Rimourski, Quebec as an English-speaking Torontonian. Baldwin and LaFontaine would eventually form a reformist government that LaFontaine would lead as Prime Minister in 1848. The road from 1841 to 1848 was not easy, nor was life for either man after the introduction of Responsible Government. Many attempts were made on LaFontaine’s life and Parliament itself was burnt to the ground during his leadership but he and Baldwin responded the same way to each threat: with peaceful defiance.

Baldwin would die in 1858, nine years before Confederation. LaFontaine would eventually follow him in 1864, just three years shy of the realization of a new country they had an enormous hand in building. While their story did not begin in Sharon at the Temple, it certainly made an irreversible turn for the historic that rainy September 3rd in 1841 where LaFontaine first met the constituents that he and later Baldwin would represent. The election of LaFontaine in York marked a turning point for the entire country where lines of unity were no longer drawn on the basis of language or religion but instead the shared vision people had for their society.

Despite how important the Sharon Temple was to the election of LaFontaine and with it, the founding of this country, there exists no marker on the grounds to celebrate the event or the man. The provincial marker mentions the role of locals in the 1837 Rebellions but leaves out LaFontaine and Baldwin.

The federal marker speaks of the religious importance of the site but offers no hint at its political and national importance.

Why does it matter? It matters because LaFontaine’s election and the subsequent events that followed are some of the most important moments in our young history. Pre-Confederation history is often forgotten in Canada (along with most post-Confederation history, admittedly) and political leadership before John A. Macdonald is rarely acknowledged as if Macdonald alone ushered in Canada as a united nation. While Macdonald played an extremely important role, it is important to remember that while he was a freshman MP attempting to start a duel with another MP in Parliament, LaFontaine was Prime Minister of the United Canadas. Even Macdonald had to learn the ropes and he did so in a system shaped by LaFontaine and Baldwin. Macdonald has a plaque, LaFontaine and Baldwin do not.

There is always a reason for not raising a plaque. In good times funds are allocated for important programs. In tough times, they are taken away from important programs and no hope exists for any further funding for heritage recognition. There is simply never a convenient time for heritage projects and so they must be fought for despite this because our history really is priceless and the cost of forgetting it is too high.

I believe LaFontaine and Baldwin should be recognized in Sharon and across Canada for the contributions they made to this country. It is not wrong to point out that if a gazebo costing $100,000 can be built ‘for’ a G8 summit and $800-$7000 can be spent per sign on creation and installation of Economic Action Plan signs (that do nothing for the economy and act as partisan campaigning with public funds) then surely money can be allocated to honor these two men and the importance of Responsible Government. Though such a concept may be lost on those funding gazebos and advertising campaigns instead of actually governing.

No government in Canadian history has taken up this effort and it is a shame. Yes, there is a statue on Parliament Hill for LaFontaine and Baldwin and yes a Heritage Minute was crafted. But a statue in the back corner of the grounds does not create an intimate connection between Canadians and their political founders as much as a plaque commemorating those men in the very places they walked would do.

As of today there is no plaque for LaFontaine and Baldwin at the Sharon Temple. However, there does stand three Economic Action Plan signs directly next to one another at the very front of the property facing the road, several feet away from the existing plaques for the Temple. I suggest the people of Sharon, Newmarket and surrounding areas as well as all Canadians across the country demand Responsible Government be returned to its rightful home. It’s time to scrap political advertisements on such important grounds. It’s time to celebrate politics at its best. It’s time to recognize LaFontaine, Baldwin and the sorely missing concept of Responsible Government.

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