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Windsor’s First Mayor
Samuel Smith Macdonell (1823-1907)

Windsor’s first Mayor Samuel Smith Macdonell
Photo courtesy Windsor’s Community Museum

by D.M. Tupling

Some people think that Windsor’s first mayor was James Dougall. After all, there is a street named for him. The reality is Samuel Smith Macdonell holds that claim. While there is no street named in his honour, Brodhead Street is named for his wife, Ellen (Brodhead) Macdonell. Brodhead is just two blocks long and runs east west between Mercer Street and Howard Avenue in the city centre.

Samuel Macdonell was born in York, Upper Canada (now Toronto) on February 21st, 1823. He was the youngest child of Alexander Macdonell (1762-1842) and Anne Smith and was named for his father’s brother-in-law Samuel Smith (1756-1826).

S.S. Macdonnell was educated at Upper Canada College and graduated from King’s College (now University of Toronto) with a B.A. in 1845. He graduated from law school and was called to the bar in 1847. Later, he received the degrees M.A. and L.L.D.

By 1849 he was practicing law in Amherstburg. A year later he was made clerk and solicitor for the Western District, and moved to Sandwich. In 1853 he resigned as county clerk and moved to Windsor. He took an active part in the movement to have Windsor incorporated as a village on January 1st, 1854.

He ran for, and was elected to the village council in 1854. He was chosen Reeve by the council, and held that position until 1857.
Windsor was incorporated as a town on January 1st, 1858. Once again, S.S. Macdonell was elected Mayor of the town in 1858. He had also held the office of Warden of Essex County in 1855 and 1856. While Warden of the county, Macdonell had led the campaign to build a new county court house in Sandwich. This building, completed in 1855, is today known as Mackenzie Hall. S.S. Macdonell served as mayor of the town of Windsor from 1864 to 1867. He later served as a school trustee for twenty years.

In 1856 he married Ellen Guillot Brodhead of Boston. The couple had four children: Henrietta, Cornelia, Gertrude B., and Archibald Cameron.

In addition to his legal and political careers, S.S. Macdonell was a very active land developer. When the Great Western Railway opened in January 1854, Macdonell and some associates bought the Cuthbertson farm and subdivided it into building lots. Glengarry and Aylmer Avenues were laid out on this farm and were merged into one road (Howard Avenue) where they headed south out of town. This gravel road connected to the Talbot Road (Highway 3) in 1860. The opening of this road created a shorter route into Windsor from the east and further spurred growth in the town, already stimulated by the railway.

Macdonell also opened Goyeau Street, which he intended to become Windsor’s main street. In the municipal assessment rolls for Windsor in 1855 and 1857, S.S. Macdonell was by far the largest landowner in the town, requiring two full pages to list all the properties he owned. The family also employed three servants.

During the threatened Fenian invasions of the late 1860s, S.S. Macdonell commanded a company of the First Regiment of Essex Militia, and was later made Lieutenant Colonel of that Regiment.

He was appointed crown attorney for the county in 1858 and clerk of the peace in 1871. Ten years later he was appointed Queen’s Counsel. In addition, he held numerous legal positions. His law partners were John O’Connor (1824-1887) and Albert Prince (1825-1875).

In 1891 Mr. Macdonell left Windsor and returned to Toronto, due to ill health and died there on March 25th, 1907.

Today, despite his many accomplishments and positions he held

during his years in this area as well as his considerable landholdings in this city, Samuel Macdonell is all but forgotten.

Windsor’s original town hall at 255 Riverside Drive East was built in 1856 and served the community until 1904. Orginally intended to provide space for the municipal council, a public meeting hall and a market, this utilitarian structure expanded its functions to include police, court and jail services. It ended its days as a furniture warehouse and was demolished in 1968.

Photo courtesy Windsor 1892-1992 by Trevor Price & Larry Kulisek

This story is sponsored by avid TIMES reader and contributor Frank Pengelly, who was born in Walkerville in 1914 and now lives in Bracebridge, Ontario. Frank, a retired teacher, has vivid memories of his years growing up here,though he left almost 50 years ago.Today, he’s an active 90-year-old with his own web site:

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