In 1965, the large ornate chair, pictured here, was donated to the museum as part of the Sinclair Estate. According to the Museum’s register, it was the Speaker’s Chair from the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Within the donation file a photocopy of a newspaper article describing the donation of the chair to the museum and purporting it to be the one used by Donald Sinclair while he served as Speaker of the House during his time representing North Bruce. A wonderful addition to any museum. As such, the chair was chosen to be part of an exhibit and wanting to fill information gaps, staff began researching Sinclair and his time in parliament.
Sinclair was elected M.P.P. for Bruce North from 1867 to 1883. During that time, he served on many committees however, according to Parliament records, Sinclair never served as Speaker, though the Bruce South representative, Rupert Mearse Wells did. If the chair was the Speaker’s, did it originally belong to Wells? If so, how did Sinclair come to have it? What was the source stating the chair was not only Sinclair’s, but the Speaker’s?
Thanks to the Bruce County Genealogical Society Surname Collection, an answer was found. An article from the Walkerton Herald Times gives an account of the Sinclair family after the passing of his daughter Mary (May) in 1965, the last of the family. The article states a letter was received from a distant relative of Sinclair’s from British Columbia. Her letter, parts of which were printed verbatim include the following: “Donald Sinclair was Speaker of the Ontario House of Parliament for several years and was presented with the Speaker’s Chair upon his retirement. This chair has occupied an honoured place in the parlour of the Sinclair home on Jackson Street for three-quarters of a century, a museum piece.”
An excellent piece of family lore to say the least, but is any of it true? We know Sinclair did not serve as Speaker. Also looking through images of the early legislatures, the Speaker’s Chair is more elaborate; the Museum chair resembles more closely that of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, even in modern times. This raises more questions. Is the chair not even the Speaker’s, but that of the Clerk? And if so, why was this chair awarded to Sinclair upon his retirement? That is the next mystery staff will be undertaking.