On Looking into Gourlay’s Statistical Account of Upper Canada (1822)

The 2022 Anniversaries in the History of Canadian Science and Technology.

First posted Friday, February 25, 2022 / Yom shishi, 24 Adar I, 5782.

By David Orenstein

Last April, when I was on my way to get my first anti-CoViD 19 Pfizer vaccination, at the downtown Toronto St. Michael’s Hospital, I was running a bit early. So, I decided to get off the 504 King streetcar a couple of blocks before my stop, at Jarvis Street, opposite the historic St. Lawrence Hall but, more importantly, adjacent to St. James Park.

St. James Park is named for the St. James Anglican Cathedral, at the west edge of the park, and at the northeast corner of King and (what else?) Church Streets. The Park takes up most of a small city block: King to the south, Church to the west, Adelaide to the north, and Jarvis to the east.

It features many pleasant amenities: a Victorian style formal garden, a bandstand, an up-to-date playground, and a larger-than-life bronze bust of Robert Fleming Gourlay (1778 -1863). The plaque reads:

“Robert Gourlay championed reform ahead of his time:

In Scotland – a vote for every man who could read and write;

In England – a living wage for workers;

In Canada – fair land distribution.”

Last month (January 28) we looked at Robert Gourlay the polemicist, and not Robert Goulet (1933-2007) the singer.  Today we’ll now have a closer look at Gourlay’s magnum opus, his Statistical Account of Upper Canada, published two hundred years ago, in 1822.

When he was in Upper Canada, the most effective way he had to advance his very reasonable political agenda was to call together township meetings, in order to report on their current demographic, social, and economic state. A we now know, only too well, actual facts are important weapons in political struggle.

From compiling and contextualising these township reports, Gourlay was able to prepare his massive Statistical Account of Upper Canada. It was published in 1822 in two volumes by Simpkin & Marshall in London, England. The first was entitled General Introduction to Statistical Account of Upper Canada. There were two volumes of the Statistical Account proper, but only the first was published.

Let’s look a couple of sample reports. Because of the total absence of township reports from the Home District, which included the Town of York within York Township, now the City of Toronto (incorporated in 1834, with William Lyon Mackenzie as our first Mayor), we can’t look at my home township.

We can look at Kingston Township, one of six townships reporting in the Midland District. Barton Township in the Gore District also reported, one of twelve to do so. A total of seventy townships met and reported, from Malden in the west to Charlottenburg in the east.

Kingston Township is now home to the City of Kingston, and also to Queen’s University. Queen’s is noteworthy for hosting CSTHA Meetings in our early years and for me earning a teaching degree there in 1977-1978.

Barton was already nurturing the Town of Hamilton and McMaster University would move there from Toronto in 1932. The McMaster library has Special Colections that, pre-pandemic, I would regularly visit, especially for its Bertrand Russell Archives.

Kingston Township held two township meetings in order to fully answer Gourlay’s

questionnaire, with its 31 questions. The first on November 28. 1817, and then the following year on February 2, 1818, in the Village of Waterloo in Kingston Township. At the first the more numerical answers were compiled, the more discursive at the second.

The first report was signed by:

“Yours most obedient Servants,

Chas. Short,                            Antony Marshall,

  1. C. Thomson, John M. Balfour,

Robt. Stanton,                         Thomas Graham.”

From the second, came a report written by John Vincent who “was requested to act as secretary” after “Major John Everett was unanimously called to the chair”.

From the first report:

“2d.   The first English settlement was made in the year 1783, though the French had a small garrison here…. The number of inhabited houses now is 550: population about 2,850. This enumeration includes the Town of Kingston, which contains 450 houses and 2,250 souls.

“3d.   There are four churches or meeting houses viz. 1 Episcopalian [i.e Anglican, just like St. James Cathedral], 1 Roman Catholic and 2 Methodists: there are 4 professional preachers viz. 1 Episcopalian, 1 Roman Catholic and 2 Methodists.  This enumeration does not include a chaplain to the army and one to the royal navy [presumably, both Anglican].”

And so on for many more answers of various length.

From the second report:

“In answer to… what… would most contribute to the improvement of the province… the following answers were … unanimously approved….

“… [T]o be a good labourer it requires a year or two’s practice to get expert in the method of farming in this country.

“… [M]en with a suitable capital.. [should] form[…] small companies for the purpose of settling… and Upper Canada would answer any reasonable expectation to farmers, and nearly every useful artisan….

“For want of capital the greatest object remains neglected[:] …removing the obstacle to the navigation of the river St. Lawrence….”

In Barton Township, “respectable Free-holders, convened at the House of Samuel Price, Innkeeper, in the Town of Hamilton, District of Gore, on Wednesday the 17th day of December, 1817… Richard Beasley, Esq. was chosen chairman and William B. Peters, Esq. secretary….”

Beasley and Peters both signed Barton’s more laconic report. But that’s another story.


A) Saint James Park, Toronto

1) History of St. James Anglican Cathedral


2) Victorian Garden.


3) Google search for Bandstand, selecting “Images”.


4) New Playground.


5) Image of Bust of Robert Gourlay in Saint James Park, Toronto.



B) Robert Goulet

1) He sings “C’est moi!” from  Camelot.


2) Il chante « Les Feuilles mortes ».


3) In the Canadian Encyclopedia / dans l’Encyclopédie canadienne




C) Gourlay’s Statistical Account

1) Gourlay’s General Introduction to the Statistical Account of Upper Canada (1822).


 2) Gourlay’s Statistical Account of Upper Canada (1822).



D) Kingston Township

1) Local History at Kingston Public Library


2) Collections at Queen’s Rare Books Library.


3) Queen’s Encyclopedia from the University Archives.



E) Barton Township

1) Local History and Archives at the Hamilton Public Library.


2) McMaster University Library Special Collections and Archives.


3) Online Catalogue (BRACERS) of Bertrand Russell Correspondence at McMaster.