PARKE, THOMAS, builder, architect, politician, journalist, and public servant; b. 1793 in County Wicklow (Republic of Ireland); d. 29 Jan. 1864 at St Catharines, Canada West.
An emigrant from Ireland, Thomas Parke came to York (Toronto), Upper Canada, in 1820. There he worked as a master carpenter in association with John Ewart* on the construction of the new parliament buildings at York (completed in 1829). In 1832 he moved to London where he had worked with Ewart in the late 1820s as foreman of all the carpentry work in the erection of the London District court house and gaol. Like many early London residents, such as George Jervis Goodhue, Parke invested in land: with Robert Parke, possibly a brother, he purchased a block north of the London town plot in 1832. Although much of this land was sold as town lots, Thomas Parke completed a grist mill in 1833 on a portion fronting the north branch of the Thames River, and in 1835 the mill and the surrounding land were sold to Dennis O’Brien. Thomas Parke was also interested in promoting a railway from London to the head of Lake Ontario; his name appears after that of Edward Allen Talbot* among the incorporators of the London and Gore Railroad in 1834. During the mid 1830s he played a leading role in the attempt to improve the navigability of the Thames River downstream from London.
In 1834 Parke, a Wesleyan Methodist, and the Quaker Elias Moore from Yarmouth Township won the two seats in Middlesex riding for the Reformers. After a stormy election in 1836, both retained their seats in Upper Canada’s last parliament. Following the rebellion Parke joined Reformers Peter Perry*, James Lesslie*, and Francis Hincks* in 1838 in organizing the short-lived Mississippi Emigration Society for the settlement in the territory of Iowa of Canadians dissatisfied with political conditions in Upper Canada. That summer he accompanied Perry and Lesslie on a trip to Iowa to choose a site.
In order to further reform, particularly constitutional reform, Parke frequently contributed to various journals, and in 1839 founded the Canada (later London) Inquirer with George Heyworth Hackstaff. Special attention was given in it to “the introduction of responsible government, municipal institutions, public schools, free grants of land to actual settlers and the secularization of the clergy reserves.” By January 1842 Hackstaff was sole publisher of the newspaper. An earnest supporter of Governor General Charles Poulett Thomson*’s efforts to unite the Canadas, Parke was said to have been “largely instrumental in securing the consent of the Upper Canada Legislature to the [union bill].” In June 1841, shortly after being elected representative from Middlesex to the first parliament of the Province of Canada, he was commissioned surveyor general. He did not contest Middlesex in 1844 but continued as surveyor general until the abolition of that office in March 1845. His political career was perhaps best summed up by Clarence T. Campbell who asserted that Parke was “not a very brilliant man, and not an extremist; a Reformer, and yet not very objectionable to the ruling clique.”
After 1845 “unobtrusiveness” would be as much a part of him as “integrity, and upright character.” He had been first commissioned a magistrate in July 1840, and in July 1845 he assumed the offices of collector of customs and collector of canal tolls at Port Colborne. In July 1860 Parke became collector of customs at Port Dalhousie (now in St Catharines) and collector of canal tolls at the port of St Catharines; these positions he held until his death.
He married twice. His first wife, Sarah, by whom he had at least three sons and possibly a daughter, died on 29 March 1841. He appears to have had at least a son and two daughters by his second wife, Harriet Rose Wilkes. All four of Parke’s sons became lawyers.
City of London Registry Office (London, Ont.), Abstract index, book 2; instruments 2769 (1835), 2771 (1835). Niagara North Land Registration Office (St Catharines, Ont.), instrument 5643 (1893). PAC, RG 31, 1861 census, St Catharines, district 7; RG 68, 1, General index, 1651–1841; 1841–67. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1846, I, app.C; Sessional papers, 1861, II, no.3. U.C., Statutes, 1834, c.29; 1837, c.113. Canadian Emigrant (Sandwich [Windsor, Ont.]), 9 Aug. 1834. Colonial Advocate, 10 May 1832. Daily Advertiser (London), 1 Oct. 1874. Evening Journal (St Catherines, [Ont.]), 30 Jan. 1864. London Free Press, 4 Feb. 1864. London Inquirer (London, [Ont.]), 8 Dec. 1840, 16 June 1841, 21 Jan. 1842. Montreal Gazette, 14 Nov. 1833. St. Catharines Constitutional (St Catharines, [Ont.]), 4 Feb. 1864. St. Catharines Journal (St Catharines, [Ont.]), 22 Aug. 1839. St. Thomas Standard (St Thomas, [Ont.]), 23 May 1844. Upper Canada Times and London District Gazette (London, [Ont.]), 5 March 1836. C. T. Campbell, Pioneer days in London; some account of men and things in London before it became a city (London, Ont., 1921), 64. History of the county of Middlesex (Brock), 220–21, 957–58. London and its men of affairs (London, Ont., n.d.), 132, 137, 183. R. S. Longley, “Emigration and the crisis of 1837 in Upper Canada,” CHR, XVII (1936), 29–40. H. O. Miller, “The history of the newspaper press in London, 1830–1875,” OH, XXXII (1937), 127–28.