We think of the Family Compact of old Upper Canada as just a homogenous group of WASP-y British men, but there were exceptions.
Take Jacques (James) Baby. Nobody could put Baby in a corner.
Our man was born in the French Canadian city of Detroit, which later became a British Canadian city and, of course, eventually, an American city.
After a European tour at his father’s expense, Baby met and married an actress. When he brought her home, dad wasn’t impressed and paid her to go away.
After the Seven Years War pushed France out of much of its North American holdings, the Baby family remained loyal citizens of the British crown. So after the American Revolution, the Babys left their land in Detroit and moved across the river to Sandwich (now Windsor) Ontario.
In 1793, Baby was appointed by John Graves Simcoe to the executive and legislative councils, representing Kent in Upper Canada (in Southwestern Ontario). It was the first of many appointments.
The influence of the Baby family in what was becoming the Upper Canadian ruling elite (also known as the Family Compact) was deep. And the fact that they were loyal and French Canadian meant that in an odd way they carried even more weight in English Upper Canada.
In addition to performing the duties required by his appointments, and Baby would eventually have well over 100 of these, he opened a store in his new hometown and also acquired land. Lots of land. As in, thousands of acres.
He amassed, through entitlements due to his service and through plain old purchase: lots in Sandwich and Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), 200 acres in Toronto, 3,000 acres in his father’s name, 1,200 acres in his mother’s name, and 1,200 acres for each brother in Yarmouth Township, 4,600 acres in North and South Dorchester townships and 246 acres in Harwich Township.
I know what you’re thinking — hey, what about Malden Township? Well, he had 180 acres there. He also acquired 5,300 acres in the rest of the province due his work on the executive council. He had a series of lots in Aldborough and Sandwich townships and another 1,500 acres in Dunwich Township. He later sought out 1,200 acres in Vespra Township, north of Barrie, due him for his militia service.
During the War of 1812, he stood at the head of the local militia in Sandwich and sent his family east, away from the American forces. When the Yanks crossed the river, they sacked his home. At the battle of Moraviantown, Baby was captured but held for only a short time.
In 1815 when he was appointed inspector general, he moved his family to York and created an estate on 1,500 acres. Baby Point Estate is now a wealthy neighbourhood.
Baby was an oddity. A French Canadian Catholic, leading British troops into battle, running a series of government departments and services, a judge, a property owner and developer, a real estate mogul and a merchant, all in a province that was for the most part a staunch British and primarily English-led bulwark against the giant young nation to the south.
He was eulogized by friend and admirer Anglican Bishop John Strachan as "affable and polished in his manners, courteous in his conversation, dignified in his deportment, warm in his affections, steady in his friendships and unshaken in his principles."
He was buried in the cemetery of York’s first Catholic church, St. Paul’s, which he helped build. He was later moved to Sandwich.
— Tom Villemaire is a writer based in Toronto and the Bruce Peninsula. Tom@historylab.ca