Canadian Notabilities, Volume 1
John Charles Dent

Part 3 out of 3

take in a few pupils. In several successive numbers of the _Gazette and
Oracle_--the one newspaper published in the Province at that time--we
find in the months of December, 1802, and January, 1803, the following
advertisement:--"Dr. Baldwin, understanding that some of the gentlemen of
this town have expressed some anxiety for the establishment of a Classical
School, begs leave to inform them and the public that he intends, on
Monday, the first day of January next, to open a School, in which he will
instruct Twelve Boys in Writing, Reading, Classics and Arithmetic. The
terms are, for each boy, eight guineas per annum, to be paid quarterly or
half-yearly; one guinea entrance and one cord of wood to be supplied by
each of the boys on opening the School. N.B.--Mr. Baldwin will meet his
pupils at. Mr. Willcocks' house on Duke street. York, December 18th, 1802."
This advertisement produced the desired effect. The Doctor got all the
pupils he wanted, and several youths, who, in after life; rose to high
eminence in the colony, received their earliest classical teaching from

It was not necessary at that early day that a youth should spend a fixed
term in an office under articles as a preliminary for practice, either at
the Bar or as an attorney. On the 9th of July, 1794, during the regime
of Governor Simcoe, an act had been passed authorizing the Governor,
Lieutenant-Governor, or person administering the Government of the
Province, to issue licenses to practise as advocates and attorneys to such
persons, not exceeding sixteen in number, as he might deem fit. We have no
means of ascertaining how many persons availed themselves of this statute,
as no complete record of their names or number is in existence. The
original record is presumed to have been burned when the Houses of
Parliament were destroyed during the American invasion in 1813. It is
sufficient for our present purpose to know that Dr. Baldwin was one of the
persons so licensed. By reference to the Journals of the Law Society at
Osgoode Hall, we find that this license was granted on the 6th of April,
1803, by Lieutenant-Governor Peter Hunter. We further find that on the same
day similar licenses were granted to four other gentlemen, all of whom were
destined to become well-known citizens of Canada, viz., William Dickson,
D'Arcy Boulton, John Powell, and William Elliott. Dr. Baldwin, having
undergone an examination before Chief Justice Henry Alcock, and having
received his license, authorizing him to practise in all branches of the
legal profession, married Miss Phoebe Willcocks, the daughter of his
friend and patron, and settled down to active practice as a barrister and
attorney. He took up his abode in a house which had just been erected
by his father-in-law, on what is now the north-west corner of Front and
Frederick streets. [It may here be noted that Front Street was then known
as Palace Street, from the circumstance that it led down to the Parliament
buildings at the east end of the town, and because it was believed that the
official residence or "palace" of the Governor would be built there.] Here,
on the, 12th of May, 1804, was born Dr. Baldwin's eldest son, known to
Canadian history as Robert Baldwin.

The plain, unpretending structure in which Robert-Baldwin first saw light
has a history of its own. Dr. Baldwin resided in it only about three years,
when he removed to a small house, long since demolished, on the corner of
Bay and Front streets. Thenceforward the house at the foot of Frederick
Street was occupied by several tenants whose names are famous in local
annals. About 1825 it was first occupied by Mr. William Lyon Mackenzie, who
continued to reside in it for several years. It was here that the _Colonial
Advocate_ was published by that gentleman, at the time when his office was
wrecked and the type thrown into the bay by a "genteel mob," a farther
account of which lawless transaction will be found in the sketch of the
life of W. L. Mackenzie, included in the present series. The building
subsequently came into the possession of the Cawthra family--called by
Dr. Scadding "the Astors of Upper Canada"--who carried on a large and
marvellously successful mercantile business within its walls. It was
finally burned down in the winter of 1854-5.

Dr. Baldwin applied himself to the practice of his several professions
with an energy and assiduity which deserved and secured a full measure of
success. His legal business was the most profitable of his pursuits, but in
the early years of his residence at York he seems to have also had a fair
share of medical practice. It might not unreasonably have been supposed
that the labour arising from these two sources of employment would have
been sufficient for the energies and ambition of any man; but we find that
for at least two years subsequent to his marriage he continued to take in
pupils. Half a century later than the period at which we have arrived, Sir
John Beverley Robinson, then a baronet, and Chief Justice of the Province,
was wont to pleasantly remind the subject of this sketch that their mutual
acquaintance dated from a very early period in the latter's career. At the
time of Robert Baldwin's birth, John Robinson, then a boy in his thirteenth
year, was one of a class of seven pupils who attended daily at Dr.
Baldwin's house for classical instruction. Two or three days after the
Doctor's first-born came into the world, Master Robinson was taken into the
nursery to see "the new baby." Differences of political opinion in after
years separated them far as the poles asunder on most public questions,
but they never ceased to regard each other with personal respect. The late
Chief Justice Maclean was another pupil of Dr. Baldwin's, and distinctly
remembered that a holiday was granted to himself and his fellow students on
the day of the embryo statesman's birth. Doctor Baldwin seems to have
been fully equal to the multifarious calls upon his energies, and to
have exercised his various callings with satisfaction alike to clients,
patients, and pupils. It was no uncommon occurrence in those early days,
when surgeons were scarce in our young capital, for him to be compelled to
leave court in the middle of a trial, and to hurry away to splice a broken
arm or bind up a fractured limb. Years afterwards, when he had retired from
the active practice of all his professions, he used to cite a somewhat
ludicrous instance of his professional versatility. It occurred soon after
his marriage. He was engaged in arguing a case of some importance before
his father-in-law, Judge Willcocks, in the Home District Court, when a
messenger hurriedly arrived to summon him to attend at the advent of a
little stranger into the world. The circumstances were, explained to the
Judge, and--it appearing that no other surgical aid was to be had at
the moment--that functionary readily consented to adjourn the further
consideration of the argument until Dr. Baldwin's return. The latter
hurriedly left the court-room with the messenger, and after the lapse of
somewhat more than an hour, again presented himself and prepared to resume
his interrupted argument. The Judge ventured to express a hope that matters
had gone well with the patient; whereupon the Doctor replied, "Quite well.
I have much pleasure in informing your Honour that a man-child has been
born into the world during my absence, and that both he and his mother are
doing well." The worthy Doctor received the congratulations of the Court,
and was permitted to conclude his argument without any further demands upon
his surgical skill.

Almost from the outset of his professional career, Dr. Baldwin took a
strong interest in political matters. The fact that he was compelled to
earn his living by honest labour, excluded him from a certain narrow
section of the society of Little York. The society from which he was
excluded, however, was by no means of an intellectual cast, and it is
not likely that he sustained much loss by his exclusion. By intellectual
society in Toronto, he was regarded as a decided acquisition. He could well
afford to despise the petty littleness of the would-be aristocrats of the
Provincial capital. Still, it is probable that his political convictions
were intensified by observing that, among the members of the clique above
referred to; mere merit was regarded as a commodity of little account. He
became known for a man of advanced ideas, and was not slow in expressing
his disapprobation of the way in which government was carried on whenever a
more than ordinarily flagrant instance of injustice occurred. In 1812, he
became treasurer of the law Society of Upper Canada, and while filling that
position, he projected a scheme for constructing a suitable building for
the Society's occupation. The times, however, were impropitious for such
a scheme, which fell through in consequence of the impending war with the
United States.


Back to Full Books