Honourable Robert Baldwin 1804 - 1858
Politician, First to Establish a Responsible Government
Born in Toronto and educated by Bishop John Strachan, Robert Baldwin was destined to become a member of the conservative elite that controlled Upper Canada and that some called the Family Compact. But William Baldwin, his father, succeeded in raising a son with a brilliant sceptic and independent mind that would bring him to support reformist ideas. These ideas would change the course of Canadian history.
Baldwin followed in his father’s footsteps and became a lawyer and politician. He was one of the great opponents of the Family Compact, and a tireless campaigner for responsible government. As Attorney General, he completely reformed of the Upper Canadian judicial system. He was instrumental in the establishment of the University of Toronto. He also fought for property rights for women and, in 1848, forced Britain to grant a general amnesty to the participants in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.
In 1841, Upper Canada and Lower Canada were united into the Province of Canada, setting the scene to his major concern: the establishment of responsible government. Baldwin managed to bring together the reformers of French and English Canada for the first time. In 1848, Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine finally led a government that was to bring about the first responsible government. Some of their other accomplishments were: the establishment of a public school system, the organization of municipal government, etc.
Baldwin’s contribution to French-English cooperation was one of his most important legacies to Canadian politics. It was characteristic that he sent all his children to francophone schools in Lower Canada.
On a more personal level, Baldwin believed in perfect love. In 1825, he met and fell in love with his first cousin, Augusta Elizabeth Sullivan. He was in his twenties and she was still a teenager. To cool down the relationship, she was sent away to relatives in New York. Thus started a voluminous correspondence between lovers that reveals a lot about one of Canada’s most important forefathers. She returned a year later and they married. However, the love story was not to last as she died in 1836 from complications following a c-section. Heartbroken, Baldwin was to live for another 22 years, carrying her love letters in his pocket and changing the history of this country.
Robert Baldwin died in 1858 and was first buried on the grounds of the property he inherited from his father: Spadina House, just beside Casa Loma. The family remains were brought to St. James Cemetery when Spadina House changed hands.
* The Baldwin-Lafontaine Monument on Parliament Hill in Ottawa was designed by important Canadian artist Walter Allward, a former Cabbagetowner.