Good evening everyone, tonight I thought I’d provide you with a more in-depth account of one of the subjects of our Confederation Era Canada tour, Thomas Scatcherd and his family.
Thomas Scatcherd’s father, John, emigrated to Canada in 1820 and acquired a large tract of land in West Nissouri, to the northeast of London. A native of Yorkshire, England, John Scatcherd named his estate after his former community in England, Wyton. After marrying a neighbour and beginning a family, the Scatcherd’s began to develop significant industries in the region, including a woolen mill, tanner, and a lumber mill. In an act of kindness, Scatcherd hired mostly Irish workers in an era that often saw business owners write “No Irish need apply” on their “help wanted” signs. In addition to this, the Scatcherd family provided their Irish families with land on which to build homes. As the village continued to grow, other industries appeared in the area. Wagon makers, woodworkers, shoe makers, tailors, and even a hotel were opened in Wyton as the village swelled to a population of 200. Later on, a Methodist church was erected as well. In 1855, the Scatcherd’s refused to allow a railway station to be constructed in Wyton, a fatal decision for the village. Instead, a train station was constructed in Thorndale, three miles to the north, and that village began to grow at the expense of Wyton, which diminished until almost nothing of it remains today.
(Photo: Wyton on a Confederation Era map of London and the surrounding regions. To the northeast is the town of Thorndale, which today has a population of 13,000. A closer look at the picture reveals the numerous plots of land owned by several members of the Scatcherd family, demonstrating their influence in the area. Courtesy of Western Archives, Western University)
Thomas Scatcherd was born in Wyton in 1823, the eldest of twelve children. Educated in London and Toronto, he began to practice law in 1848, becoming the solicitor of London in 1849. In 1861, he was elected to represent the riding of Middlesex West, his fathers old seat, as a member of the Reform coalition, and was re-elected in 1863. His time with the Reform movement came to an end in 1864, when he broke ranks with the party over the issue of confederation. Scatcherd argued that the terms of the Quebec Resolutions, which laid out the framework for the Canadian constitution, were not in line with what had been agreed upon at the Reform convention in 1859. Instead, he believed that Canadian confederation was a ploy to construct the intercolonial railway, and to benefit Lower Canada at the at the expense of Upper Canada. Canada’s interests were better served, he believed, by the continued development of the Northwest Territories. Scatcherd died in office in 1876.
The story of Thomas Scatcherd and his family is revealing in several ways to us. The story of the doomed village of Wyton is an indicator of just how important the development of the railway was at the time across Ontario. Also, Thomas’ opposition to Canadian confederation teaches us that although the unification of Canada is something we celebrate in the modern era, it did not come without its struggles, controversies, and opposition. I would like to extend a note of thank you to Jennifer Grainger, whose work in Vanished Villages of Middlesex on the early beginnings of Wyton, used extensively in this blog post, allowed us to better understand the Scatcherd family’s early beginnings in Canada.