Mowat Street

Little tyrant

Sir Oliver Mowat Stratford-Perth Archives

Mowat Street was part of the survey laid out by Judge Daniel Home Lizars (see Hamilton Street). It first appeared on the 1879 map of Stratford. Judge Lizars was a well-known Liberal and he could not resist the temptation to honour the well-known Liberals to his streets. He named the street for Hon. Sir Oliver Mowat, Premier of Ontario. By Stanford Dingman

Sir Oliver Mowat played an instrumental role in Confederation, participating in the Québec Conference of 1864 and setting the stage for the decentralization of federal power. Though not a chief architect of Confederation, Mowat mounted a campaign that spanned a quarter-century to help define Canada's constitution.

Oliver Mowat’s father was a military veteran of Scottish descent who came to the Canadas as part of the British army in 1814. Upon discharge, he settled near Kingston, and became a partner in a general store.

Mowat was raised in a Presbyterian family and privately educated in Kingston before becoming John A. Macdonald’s first articled law student. He was called to the bar in 1841, and quickly became a successful equity lawyer in Toronto.

He was Canada’s first influential advocate for provincial rights. From the start of his premiership, he was confident that the British North America Act guaranteed provincial sovereignty. Mowat and his government eventually decentralized Canada’s political structure, and gave the provinces more power through a series of legal and political battles with Macdonald and the federal Conservatives. Macdonald’s conception of Canada was of a highly centralized state, and Mowat’s move to decentralize caused Macdonald to label him the little tyrant.

His efforts also helped establish Ontario as the most dominant and richest province within Confederation. He spent 24 years as a Liberal premier, elected six times as the provincial representative for Oxford North, and attorney general until 1896, when he was appointed to the Senate. There, at age 76, he served as government leader and became the federal minister of justice. He was knighted in 1892.

He left Ottawa in 1897 to become the lieutenant-governor of Ontario. He died at Government House in April 1903 at age 82. Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia