Bust on plinth, northwest corner of King and Jarvis Sts., Toronto
Banished from Upper Canada by the Family Compact, Robert Gourlay (1778-1863) is now commemorated in the park east of St. James Cathedral. His writings had an impact on events leading to the 1837 Rebellion.
Born in Fifeshire, Scotland, Gourlay unleashed firebrand exposés of corruption in high places in Britain and promoted a national organization of tenant farmers against the great landlords. In his own words he saw governments as “conspiracies of the powerful to shackle mankind by mysterious ceremony and subtle machinery, as great engines defended by the forms and quibbles of lawyers, and by those whitewashers of iniquity, the kept clergy”.
Gourlay came to Upper Canada in 1817, three years before William Lyon Mackenzie. His disarmingly titled book, A Statistical Account of Upper Canada, published in 1822, was a muckraking exposé that recorded scandal as well as statistics and exposed to the world the deep corruption and nepotism of the infrastructure in the Niagara area and documented the plight of the farmers. Gourlay was accused of sedition and ordered banished from the province; he spent almost eight months in jail awaiting a trial. The Banished Briton, a semi-autobiographical story, recalls some of his life. He returned to Canada late in life, standing unsuccessfuly for election in Oxford County in 1860 before returning to Scotland.
An Ontario provincial plaque also tells his story. It is in Mount Elgin, in the County of Oxford, on the southwest corner of Highway 19 and County Road 18.