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Robinson, John Beverley

The shadow of Sir John Beverley Robinson on our landscape takes us to Erindale, once called Springfield, where for a short time he had a home. That home, The Grange, is on the northside of Dundas Street, west of Mississauga Road and is currently the home of the Heritage Mississauga (Mississauga Heritage Foundation) at Erindale. It is part of the area knowntoday as the Sir John’s Homestead.

John Beverley Robinson was born in 1791 in Berthier, Lower Canada and moved with his parents to Kingston, Upper Canada in 1792. He was educated at Kingston and Cornwall and studied law at York. At the outbreak of the 1812 war, he served as Lieutenant in the militia until 1813 and “he along with his brother Peter, after whom Peterborough is named, was one of the 13 captains listed to be surrendered as prisoners of war.” While still a law student, JBR was made acting Attorney General, when John McDonell was killed in the Battle of Queenston Heights. After the war he completed his legal studies in England, returned to Upper Canada and was both called to the bar, and appointed Solicitor General in the year 1815. Following this, he became Attorney General three years later and in 1821 was elected to the House of Assembly representing the Town of York until 1830. Shortly after his election he became an agent for the legislature and went to England to resolve the Upper Canada government’s complaint that Lower Canada was retaining more than its share of duties under the Quebec Revenue Act of 1774.

The British Government at this time was preparing an Act of Union to unite Upper and Lower Canada and John Beverley Robinson advised against this. Instead, he successfully persuaded the Colonial Department to incorporate clauses into the bill safeguarding Upper Canada’s right to a fair share of customs duties. While the Opposition in the Commons forced the withdrawal of the Act of Union Bill, the financial clauses were incorporated into the Canada Trade Act and was passed by the government. His correspondence on the issue was officially published in Letters from Mr. Commissioner Robinson on the Canada Trade and Canada Union Bill. He collaborated with Chief Justice Jonathan Sewell in a counter proposal: Plan for a general legislative union of the British provinces of North America (London 1824), which ensured English speaking members of the assembly would be in a majority. By now, questions of union had been shelved.

Between 1825 and 1828 as a director, JBR was one of the elite and influential people to support the Welland Canal Company, and in his honour the canal town of Port Beverley, was renamed Port Robinson. In 1829, JBR was appointed Chief Justice, president of the Executive Council and speaker of the Legislative Council. He withdrew from the former when the British government implemented British parliamentary committee recommendations in 1828. These recommendations stated that judges could not hold political appointments, although the Chief Justice was allowed to sit in the Legislative Council.

In 1838 during trials of Upper Canada rebels, he banished 25 men and ordered Samuel Lount and Peter Mathews executed. He prosecuted reformers and opponents, such as Robert Gourlay, understandably angering them. The union questions were revived when Lord Durham’s Report was published. JBR dissented, expressing his views in Canada and the Canada Bill (London 1839). Union never went ahead however in 1840 despite his argument, and the Province of Canada was created. The government changed its mind, and JBR was not invited to sit in the Legislative Council. After 1841 he had little political influence.

He was knighted, and then was created a baronet in 1854. On his retirement as Chief Justice in 1862, JBR became the first judge of the Court of Error and Appeal, and held this appointment until ill health forced him to retire from the bench. He died in Toronto on January 31, 1863. His was an outstanding judicial career and noted as promoting economic development for Upper Canada.

© Mississauga Heritage 2009