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Description found in Archives
1670-1874, predominant 1841-1867
Place of creation
Scope and content
Fonds consists of records created and/or maintained by the Executive Council Office of the Province of Canada. The majority of the records in this fonds date from the period between the first and last meetings of the Executive Council, 13 February 1841 and 29 June 1867. However, the fonds also includes a small quantity of records inherited from the pre-1841 period, and a similarly small quantity of records which post-date Confederation but which have been included within this fonds for reasons that have more to do with practicality than provenance. The records found in this fonds document, to varying extents, the executive and judicial functions of the Executive Council. The deliberations and decisions of the Governor and Council were recorded as minutes in books maintained by the Clerk of the Council. These minutes are found primarily in two series within this fonds: State Minute Books of the Executive Council; and Land Minute Books of the Executive Council. Rough and draft minutes are found in the Rough and Draft Minutes and Reports of the Executive Council series. Committee activities are reflected in this fonds both in those series devoted to minutes of the Executive Council (where committee reports are entered as minutes) and in the series; titled Submissions to the Executive Council relating to the audit of provincial public accounts. In his capacity as secretary and records-keeper for the Executive Council and its committees, the Clerk had custody of the various papers and reports presented before Council in support of business transacted. In addition to these records which he maintained on behalf of the Council, the Clerk also created and accumulated a variety of administrative records which he required to ensure the efficient operation of his office. These records are found in the Office Records of the Clerk of the Executive Council series. There are also records of the Board of Railway Commissioners, described in the appropriate series level description.
Note that the access restriction indicat
ed here does not apply to all records in the fonds. Physical restrictions (e.g., a requirement to consult microfilm rather than the originals, or a restriction on types of copying) do apply in some cases, however. Further information is provided in the relevant series' descriptions.
from 1 to 15
from 8 to 9
from 21 to 28
Copyright belongs to the Crown. Please credit the Library and Archives of Canada. In order to protect the fragile originals, many records in this fonds have been microfilmed and the originals withdrawn from circulation. The microfilm must be used for consultation and copying rather than the originals. Further details are provided in the relevant series descriptions. In those cases where microfilm is not available, but where attachments, tight binding or size make copying from the originals hazardous, only photography is permitted.
Textual records This is the primary finding aid for the majority of the records in this fonds. It does not have a finding aid number and is found in a binder which combines both a typed narrative description of the holdings and a typed listing of the records at the volume and title level of description. The CAB RG 1 Shelf List is organized internally according to the former arrangement structure of the fonds in that it groups the record lists under series numbers, e.g., E1, E2, L1, etc., and series titles which have now been superseded in the the most recent intellectual arrangement of the fonds. CAB RG 1 Shelf List 90 (Paper)
Textual records Until such time as the CAB RG 1 Shelf List can be automated, however, it must continue to serve as the principal finding aid for the majority of the records. In order to facilitate continued use of the CAB RG 1 Shelf List, a finding aid note appears in lower level descriptive entries directing the user to the appropriate section of the CAB RG 1 Shelf List. For example, the records now described as the State Minute Books of the Executive Council were formerly part of a series known as RG 1, series E 1. A finding aid note in the descriptive entry directs the user to the E 1 section of the CAB RG 1 Shelf List for a volume list. CAB RG 1 Shelf List 90 (Paper)
Textual records The inter-relationships amongst the series in this fonds are such that a finding aid describing one series may also provide a degree of access to other series. Thus, for example, the index and registers known as the Analytical Index to the State Minutes for 1841-1867 (vols. 97-104 of the State Minute Books of the Executive Council series) not only provide access by personal names and subjects to the state minutes but also can be used to gain access to the records in the State Submissions to the Executive Council series and the Orders-in-Council of the Executive Council series (as both are arranged chronologically by date of decision in Council). CAB RG 1 Shelf List 90 (Paper)
Textual records Similarly, the annual indexes and registers of submissions in the State Submissions to the Executive Council series must be consulted year by year but offer access by date as well as names and subjects to not only the state submissions but also the State Minute Books of the Executive Council series, the Despatches Referred to the Executive Council series, and the Orders in Council of the Executive Council series. They also provide a degree of access to the 'Put By' Submissions to the Executive Council series. Details of the inter-relationships among finding aids are provided in the relevant series descriptions. CAB RG 1 Shelf List 90 (Paper)
Biography / Administrative history
The Executive Council was among the first institutions established in each colony of British North America. Designed to advise and assist the governor in his executive, legislative and judicial functions, the Executive Council was formed pursuant to the Royal Instructions which partnered the governor's commission. A list of the members of the Executive Council of the Province of Canada, with dates upon which they took the oath of office and dates of termination of appointment, is provided in Appendix I of the publication Public Archives of Canada - Manuscript Division - Preliminary Inventory - Record Group 1, Executive Council, Canada, 1764-1867 (Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1953).
In earlier regimes, Executive Councillors had been, effectively, permanent appointments, but this situation had changed with the 1839 despatch from Lord John Russell which set out the new Imperial policy that Councillors could be called upon to retire if expedient to public policy. The Instructions to Sydenham, dated 30 August 1840, commanded him to provide the names of such persons as were in his opinion fit and proper to be appointed to the Executive Council. His Instructions authorized him further to appoint, from time to time, such and so many persons as may appear to him to be requisite for the Council, subject to Royal approval. A number of the clauses in the Instructions dealt specifically with aspects of the Executive Council's activities, including such things as the quorum required for the transaction of business; the situations in which the Governor was required to seek the advice and/or consent of Council; and the requirement for minutes to be kept and their transcripts to be provided to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London.
As the first governor of the new united Province of Canada, Lord Sydenham is credited with introducing many changes in the manner in which the executive arm of government did business, administrative reforms that laid the essential groundwork for the constitutional reforms to follow later in the decade. At a practical level, and following a recommendation of the 1839 Commission of Inquiry into the public departments in Upper Canada, Sydenham appointed a "President of the Committees of Council" (with Councillor Robert Sullivan as the first incumbent) to act, effectively, as a chief executive officer for the Council through chairmanship of the various
committees. Other fundamental administrative reforms introduced by Lord Sydenham wrought a great transformation in the character of the Executive Council. For the first time a systematic effort was made to organize the public service into appropriate departments, the heads of which were made members of the Executive Council, responsible individually to the governor for the workings of their own departments. When Sydenham insisted that the members of his Executive Council should also find seats in the Assembly, the first major change in the relationship between the Legislature and the Executive resulted. With Lord Elgin's acceptance of the principle of responsible government the stage was set for the transformation of the Executive Council into the Committee of the Privy Council, a transformation which was not completed until after Confederation.
Business was brought before the Governor in Council by means of submissions. The Governor gave effect to his decisions, made with the advice of Council, through orders-in-council (see the Orders-in-Council of the Executive Council series). The deliberations and decisions of the Governor and Council were recorded as minutes in books maintained by the Clerk of the Council. Subjects referred to the Executive Council were classified either as "state" or "land" business and the records relating to each category were kept separately. Committees and sub-committees of the Executive Council were formed to deal with various questions. Some committees were of a temporary nature and were appointed to deal with specific business as it arose. Others took on a more long-term status such as, for example, the committee variously titled "Committee of Council on sundry land petitions" or "Committee of Council on sundry land matters." Given the volume of business presented to the Executive Council, committees were nominated from among the Council members to investigate individual issues, and their findings were presented to Council and entered as reports into the minutes.The committee structure evolved over the period 1841-1867, with the system including both temporary and permanent bodies according to the circumstances of the business under consideration. The appellate duties of Executive Councillors which had existed in earlier regimes were continued after the union, but the arrangement was unsatisfactory. In 1844 Sir Charles Metcalfe reported: "The Courts of Appeals as at present constituted ...is composed of the Governor, who never sits, the Chief Justices of the Lower Province and two or more Executive Councillors for whom it is generally necessary to provide substitutes by appointing Judges or others to be Executive Councillors for this special and sole purpose." In 1843 a provincial statute created a new Court of Appeals for Canada East in which members of the Executive Council were not liable for service. A similar arrangement was made for Canada West in 1849 with the establishment by statute of the Court of Error and Appeal, presided over by the combined justices of the three superior courts. Appendix II of the publication Public Archives of Canada, Manuscript Division, Preliminary Inventory, Record Group 1, Executive Council, Canada, 1764-1867 (Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1953) provides a list of Executive Council members of the Provincial Court of Appeals, 1841- 1849, with date of commission.
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