by Dan McCaffery for the Sarnia Observer
He was the Mayor who through the biggest party in Sarnia’s history.
Frederick Davis, who served as the community’s seventh Mayor, was largely responsible for the huge hash held to mark the first ever Canada Day, or Dominion Day, as it was called in the 19th century.
Davis, who was elected Mayor in 1866 and again in 1867, convinced Council to spend $200.00 to stage an elaborate celebration when the Country was born on July 1, 1867. At his urging, Lambton County Council agreed to chip in another $300.00.
The money doesn’t sound like much today, but it was enough to stage quite a show 128 years ago. In fact, the festival turned out to be one of Sarnia’s first major tourist attractions.
The Observer noted throngs of people flooded into Town. “There was a larger influx of strangers than was ever before except on the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales,” the newspaper reported,
There was a spectacular parade down Front, Christina and George Streets, complete with colourful hands, marching Veterans from the War of 1812, fire engines from both Sarnia and Port Huron and a carriage carrying four young virgins dressed in white (one to represent each of the founding Canadian Provinces).
Many had been critical of Confederation but Mayor Davis predicted the new Country would prosper. In a speech to the crowd, he said Canada’s “boundless minerals, agricultural wealth and rapidly increasing population” would soon make it the envy of the world.
During his two years as Mayor, Council was heavily involved in road work, including the widening of Cromwell, Lochiel, George and Davis Streets.
It also purchased a steam fire engine and worked out a mutual aid deal in which firefighters from Sarnia and Port Huron would help one another in the event of major fires.
But there was concern that his administration was spending too much money. At one point, the Town’s debt had swelled to $2680.00.
Davis, who was born in Ireland in 1828, came to Canada as a seven-year-old. He practiced law in Sarnia, serving as local Crown Attorney in 1858 and later as Lambton County Solicitor.
After leaving politics he became a Judge in Middlesex County.
He died in London on August 5, 1893, at age 65. His body was returned to Sarnia for burial in Lakeview Cemetery.