All traditions, no matter how long they last, must begin with a single moment. John Scott, the first mayor of Bytown, began a tradition which has lasted for the succeeding 170 years, in an unbroken chain down to the present. Scott, born in 1824, moved to Bytown from Toronto at the age of 18. He had attended Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto prior to his voyage east, and when he arrived in 1842 had just become a practicing lawyer. Upon his arrival, he opened a law clinic near the modern St. Andrew’s Church, just off of Wellington Street, and quickly began integrating himself into the local political and social establishment. Over the succeeding half-decade, he became one of the founders of the Bytown Reform Party (at the time, the Reform Party stood against the Tory establishment). He nominated the Reform candidate for Bytown in the 1844 election, and by the succeeding election, in 1847, there was talk that he himself would be the Reform candidate for the Legislative Assembly (for the united Province of Canada).
Before Scott could be nominated for this position, however (and eventually win, making him the first Reform MLA for Bytown), he achieved another first. Bytown chose to incorporate in 1847, and set the first election of the town council for that September. Scott easily won one of two nominations for the South Ward, where he lived at the time (having moved his law office close to the modern Byward Market in the intervening period), making his election to the Council a foregone conclusion. Lower Town, which included the South Ward, was a primarily Irish and French-Catholic area of Bytown, and therefore could be depended upon to support the Reform Party (in direct contrast to the primarily Protestant Upper Town, which reliably voted Tory). Once Scott was on the Council, his fellow Lower Town councillors chose him as their candidate for Mayor. As Lower Town possessed 4 seats on the Council versus 3 for Upper Town, Scott was easily elected as the first mayor of Bytown, at the age of 23. He would also be elected as the Reform MLA for Bytown before completing his first mayoral term, ensuring his rise in Canadian politics continued. Indeed, although Scott is today nearly forgotten, he ranks as one of the most influential political figures in Bytown for the period of 1844-1853. He would die young in 1857, of unknown causes, during a trip to New York City.
Scott is today buried in St. James’ Anglican Cemetery in Hull, Quebec. One of his children, Dr. William Francis Scott, would serve two brief terms as Mayor of Hull, in 1890 and 1897. Despite his influence on the growth of the city, no marker exists today signifying that his grave is that of Ottawa’s first mayor. Perhaps it is time that this be changed. For more information on Scott, please see http://hsottawa.ncf.ca/pamphlets.html. Pamphlet #99, A Mayor’s Life, elaborates the life of Scott in more detail, and was written and researched by the author of this site.
1 “John Scott.” Bytown Gazette. May 26, 1842.
2 Osgoode Hall Archives. Accessed June 27, 2016.
3 “John Scott.” Bytown Gazette. May 26, 1842.
4 “Representation of Bytown.” Bytown Packet, 8 May 1842.
5 Hirsch, Forbes R. The Provincial Election of 1848 in Bytown, Canada West, Bytown Pamphlet no. 29 (Ottawa: The Historical Society of Ottawa, 1939,) 3.
7 “The Corporation Elections.” Bytown Packet. 18 September 1847.
8 John Johnston. “Scott Buried.” 8 May 1857, Christchurch Cathedral Archives. Accessed June 7, 2016.
9 Mullington, Dave. Chain of Office: Biographical Sketches of the Early Mayors of Ottawa (1847-1948). Ottawa: General Store Publishing House, 2005. 8.
Featured Image: Judge John Scott (1824-1857), C. 1855. Source: Historical Society of the Gatineau (GVHS), ref.: CD-011/01477.