When the first national election was held in 1867, Thomas N. Gibbs was elected as the Member of Parliament for South Ontario, consisting of the Townships of Whitby and East Whitby, Pickering, the Town of Whitby and the Village of Oshawa. Gibbs was well known in the area, serving as Oshawa’s first reeve.
Born in Terrebonne, Quebec in 1821, the family moved to East Whitby Township in 1832. Thomas and his brother William helped run the South Oshawa Milling Company, and through the years, they would be involved with the Oshawa Cabinet Company, the Oshawa Harbour Company, the Ontario Loan and Savings Company, and even operate their own business, Gibbs and Brother, produce dealers and proprietors of the Oshawa Mills.
By 1867, Gibbs was not a novice politician, and he won the Ontario South riding by a majority, beating Father of Confederation (and college namesake) George Brown for the seat. There were strong suspicions the vote had been fixed or that voters had been bribed, but it could not be proven.
An early donation to the Oshawa Museum contained papers related to Thomas Gibbs, including a telegram sent by Sir John A Macdonald to Gibbs during the controversial election in 1867. Interestingly, this election took place on different dates between Aug. 7 and Sept. 20 instead of the single day election process we know today. The telegram is dated Aug. 26, 1867 and reads: Do not be beaten, depend upon his answer. John A Macdonald
The election was a time of excitement, as described by Robert Alexander Harrison, a political figure at the time, in his diaries:
Tuesday August 27
To Central committee room. Great excitement in the town about George Brown’s election in South Ontario. Gibbs gradually gaining on him – all became satisfied that Gibbs would be the conqueror. When Brown’s defeat became really known there was the wildest excitement in the City.
Gibbs would sit as a Member of Parliament until 1874, serving for a time in Macdonald’s cabinet. Representing the area east of Toronto, he would become a confidant and fixer for our first prime minister. He was appointed to the Senate in 1880, only three years before his quiet passing in Oshawa in 1883.