Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

ARCHIVED - Canadian Confederation

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.


Sir William Pearce Howland

Photograph of William P. Howland, Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, circa 1873


William P. Howland, Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, circa 1873

(May 29, 1811 - January 1, 1907)

Sir William Pearce Howland is distinguished as the only Father of Confederation born in the United States. His dedication to his adopted nation is evident in the success of his commercial ventures and in his commitment to political reform.

William Pearce Howland's Quaker ancestors settled in New England in the early 17th century. Howland was educated in Kinderhook, New York, and he moved to Upper Canada in 1830 after living for a time on Carleton Island in the St. Lawrence River. He began his business apprenticeship as a clerk in a general store, and developed his commercial interests throughout the 1840s. By the end of the 1850s, Howland was one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Canada West, with business assets throughout Toronto and the surrounding region. He had several children over the course of three marriages -- first to Marianne Blyth, who died in 1860; next to Susanna Julia Shrewsbury, who died in 1886; and finally to Elizabeth Mary Rattray.

Howland submitted citizenship papers in 1841, around the same time that he began to take an active role in public affairs. He was a prominent spokesperson for the Reform movement, and worked with George Brown to advance the cause of Clear Grit reformers. His administrative role within the party and his contribution to the Reform Convention held in Toronto in 1857 established his political credentials. That same year, he was elected to the Canadian Legislative Assembly as the representative of York West, and he was involved in the government that lasted only two days under Brown and Antoine-Aimé Dorion.

After his re-election in 1861, Howland found himself back in government under John Sandfield Macdonald and Louis-Victor Sicotte. He served as minister of finance from 1862 to 1863, and was serving as the receiver general when the government resigned in 1864.

Before the end of the year Howland was asked to join Brown in John A. Macdonald's coalition government. He served as postmaster general until 1866, when he became finance minister. In 1865 and 1866 he accompanied Alexander Tilloch Galt, William Alexander Henry and Albert James Smith on unsuccessful missions to Washington to renew the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. In 1867 he participated in the London Conference, and as the representative of York West in the Canadian House of Commons he served as the minister of Inland Revenue. Howland soon added imperial honours to this list of achievements, as he was appointed to the Privy Council and made a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.

In 1868 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Ontario. In that position he participated in the foundation of many provincial institutions, and also helped to raise a volunteer militia in 1870 in response to the actions of Louis Riel's provisional government at Red River. After Howland retired from politics in 1873, he remained an influential public figure as a board member for provincial commissions and financial institutions.


Fleming, R. B. -- "Howland, Sir William Pierce". -- Dictionary of Canadian biography online [online]. -- [Cited December 13, 2004]. -- Access: