WEEKES, WILLIAM, lawyer and politician; b. in Ireland; d. 11 Oct. 1806, probably in Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake), Upper Canada.
In 1798 William Weekes settled at York (Toronto), Upper Canada, where, having been admitted to the bar, he soon became embroiled in factional politics. Because he was Irish, because he had lived for a time in the United States, and because he became a fierce critic of the provincial government, it has sometimes been suggested that he sympathized with the cause of Irish independence, admired the republican and democratic institutions of the United States, and was predisposed to the pursuit of radical politics in Upper Canada. This was not the case. The “blessings” of the United States, he wrote privately in 1801, were “evinced in the broil of faction, the spirit of enmity, and the practices of fraud”; its independence was “a savage licentiousness, uncontrolled by authority and undignified by Sovereignty.” Were the “inflammatory Innovators in Ireland” but to travel in that country, he declared, they would lose “all rage for democracy, all furor for reform.”
For a time Weekes supported the administration of Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter, whom he initially discovered to be “rigorous in his mandates, and deliberate and judicious in his measures,” and from whom he had hopes of advancement. It is possible that he hoped to win official favour when he attempted to secure the election of judge Henry Allcock to the House of Assembly in 1800. As the agent of Allcock, but apparently upon his own initiative, Weekes contrived to have the poll closed, by reason of riot, when his candidate was in the lead. This election was voided, however, upon appeal to the assembly [see Samuel Heron].
In 1804 Weekes himself stood for election at Durham, Simcoe, and the East Riding of York. Defeated by the incumbent, Angus Macdonell (Collachie), Weekes blamed government influence. The following year, having campaigned against the Sedition Act passed during the previous session, and against the removal of moneys from the treasury by the executive without approval of the assembly, he was returned in a by-election for the same riding. Immediately upon taking his seat, he gave notice of motion to consider “the disquietude which prevails in the Province by reason of the administration of Public Offices.” The money issue was settled when the administration restored the amount to the treasury; Weekes’s motion was defeated by a vote of ten to four.
In 1806, when arguing at the Niagara assizes before judge Robert Thorpe*, Weekes referred to the late Lieutenant Governor Hunter as a “Gothic Barbarian whom the providence of God . . . removed from this world for his tyranny and Iniquity.” His fellow counsel, William Dickson*, took issue with the propriety of the remark. Two days later Weekes challenged him to a duel that was fought on 10 October in the vicinity of Fort Niagara (near Youngstown), N.Y. Weekes was mortally wounded and died the following day. The funeral was held at the home of the Niagara merchant John MacKay; Ralfe Clench*, Robert Nelles*, and Isaac Swayze* were among the special mourners, most probably because they were fellow assemblymen.
Weekes’s career was distinguished by the extravagance of his rhetoric, which perhaps truly reflected an unbalanced political judgement. He is chiefly important by reason of his influence upon Thorpe, a fellow Irishman who, having arrived in the province only in 1805, knew little of local politics and came to entertain the views of his friend Weekes. He was apparently stunned by Weekes’s death, writing that “this sudden and shocking catastrophe has shaken me much . . . my heart is wrung.” He moved into Weekes’s house and succeeded him as the focus for opposition in the assembly to the administration now headed by Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore*. At the opening of the poll that resulted in his election to the assembly, Thorpe invoked the image of Weekes “looking down from Heaven with pleasure on . . . [the electors’] exertions in the cause of liberty.”
MTL, William Weekes, letter to George Alps, 16 Jan. 1801 (transcript). York County Surrogate Court (Toronto), will of William Weekes, 10 Oct. 1806 (photocopy at MTL). “Political state of U.C.,” PAC Report, 1892: 32–135. Town of York, 1793–1815 (Firth). Upper Canada Gazette, 2 March 1805. S. D. Clark, Movements of political protest in Canada, 1640–1840 (Toronto, 1959). J. E. Middleton and Fred Landon, The province of Ontario: a history, 1615-1927 (5v., Toronto, [1927–28]). H. H. Guest, “Upper Canada’s first political party,” OH, 54 (1962): 275–96. G. [H.] Patterson, “Whiggery, nationality, and the Upper Canadian reform tradition,” CHR, 56 (1975): 25–44.
Revisions based on:
Alexander Fraser, Eighth report of the Bureau of Archives, 1911 (Toronto), 1912.