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RIDOUT, GEORGE, lawyer and judge; b. Quebec, 1791, second son of Thomas Ridout*, surveyor general of Upper Canada, and of Mary Campbell; d. at Clinton, Ont., 24 Feb. 1871.

George Ridout attended John Strachan*’s school at Cornwall from 1805 to at least 1807, in company with the sons of many other families prominent in early York (Toronto). He subsequently studied law in the office of John Macdonell*, who was appointed attorney general in 1812, and was admitted to the bar 4 Jan. 1813. The next year he attended the court at Ancaster as acting solicitor general. In 1820 he became a bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada and continued to serve in this capacity for the next 50 years until his death. He succeeded Dr William Warren Baldwin* as treasurer of the law society in 1829 and served in this position until 1832, during this time presiding over the planning and construction of the original building of Osgoode Hall, perhaps the most important of the early buildings still surviving in Ontario. He also took a lead in establishing the library of the law society. Ridout was appointed judge of the Niagara District Court in April 1828, and reappointed to this office in April 1832.

Ridout served with the York volunteers during the War of 1812–14, and took part in the battle of Queenston Heights as 3rd lieutenant in the grenadier company of the York militia. He was taken prisoner of war on 27 April 1813 when the Americans occupied York. He maintained his interest in military matters in subsequent years and served as colonel of the East York militia.

Ridout took an active part in the social life of York. Dorset House, the substantial home he built about 1820, was long a landmark of the community. However, although the Ridouts were one of the oldest families in York, their frequently independent views were suspect to some of the other early established families. This rivalry and tension, in particular between the Ridouts and the families of William Dummer Powell* and William Jarvis*, found expression in the duel between John Ridout, George’s brother, and Samuel Peters Jarvis*, son of William, in 1817, in which John was killed, and it was a factor throughout the social and political career of George Ridout.

In politics Ridout was a moderate, in general supporting constitutional reform and the position of W. W. Baldwin and his son Robert*; his family was connected with the Baldwins by marriage. He was defeated in his own attempts at office: in the elections for the legislature in 1816 when he sought to succeed his father as the representative of Simcoe and the East Riding of York and was beaten by Peter Robinson* who had the support of Strachan; and in the elections for city council in Toronto in 1837 at the time of his dispute with the lieutenant governor. However, he often gave active and effective support to the candidacy of others: for example, to Robert Baldwin in his successful attempt to unseat Sheriff William Botsford Jarvis* in the elections for the House of Assembly in 1830, and to Robert Baldwin Sullivan* in 1835 in his successful campaign to replace William Lyon Mackenzie* as mayor in Toronto’s second municipal election.

Ridout was dismissed on 12 July 1836 from the offices of judge of the Niagara District Court, colonel of the East York militia, and justice of the peace by Sir Francis Bond Head, who “as Lieutenant-Governor, by the advice of my Council, deliberately selected him for punishment, as the most intemperate of my opponents.” The charges, which Ridout denied, were insult to the person and office of the lieutenant governor and disloyalty to the policies of the crown. The dismissal became a cause célèbre in the colony and at the Colonial Office, and it was one of the major political issues in Upper Canada during the subsequent 18 months leading up to the outbreak of rebellion in December 1837. Responding to a petition from Ridout, the colonial secretary, Lord Glenelg, ordered his reinstatement. Head declined and submitted his resignation rather than comply with this instruction, “it being utterly impossible for me to obey this order, and retain my authority in the province.” The resignation of the lieutenant governor, primarily on this issue, and on the related issue of his refusal to name Marshall Spring Bidwell a judge as Glenelg wished, was in fact accepted in a dispatch from London, dated 24 Nov. 1837, a week before the rebellion broke out in Upper Canada, where people were still unaware of this development. The dispute over Ridout’s appointments, rather than the rebellion, was thus the main cause of Head’s resignation, and, as such, a significant episode in Canadian history.

Ridout also played an active part in municipal affairs. He was a prominent member of the York Board of Health, proposing the establishment of a receiving house for cholera patients during the epidemic of 1832, and presenting a report in the same year which focussed public attention on the weakness of the board because of its lack of funds and insufficient legal authority. He was a strong advocate of the merits of retaining York as the capital of the province and helped to draft legislation to incorporate and enlarge York as a city under the name of Toronto. The choice of the name Toronto in 1834, in preference to the name of York, reflected the long-standing preference of the Ridouts for the original Indian name and was one of the bones of contention between them and some of the more Tory pioneer families.

Ridout’s varied business interests included participation in 1822 in the founding of the Bank of Upper Canada, of which he became a director. He was elected a member of the board of the City of Toronto and Lake Huron Railway in 1845.

George Ridout married twice: first, Dorothy McCuaig of Boston; secondly, Belle Nelson. He had one daughter by his first marriage and four daughters and four sons by his second. His older brother Samuel* was sheriff of the county of York and his younger brother Thomas Gibbs* was for many years cashier of the Bank of Upper Canada.

Thomas H. B. Symons

MTCL, Baldwin papers. PAO, Ridout papers; Sir John Beverley Robinson papers; John Strachan papers. Head, Narrative. Ten years in Upper Canada in peace and war,1805–1815; being the Ridout letters . . . , ed. Mathilda Edgar (Toronto, 1890). Town of York, 1793–1815 (Firth). Town of York, 1815–1834 (Firth). Chadwick, Ontarian families, I, 36–43. W. R. Riddell, The legal profession in Upper Canada in its early periods (Toronto, 1916), 68–85.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Thomas H. B. Symons, “RIDOUT, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 28, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ridout_george_10E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ridout_george_10E.html
Author of Article:   Thomas H. B. Symons
Title of Article:   RIDOUT, GEORGE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1972
Year of revision:   1972
Access Date:   February 28, 2024