VanKOUGHNET (Vankoughnet), PHILIP MICHAEL MATTHEW SCOTT, politician and judge; b. 21 Jan. 1822 at Cornwall, Upper Canada, son of Philip VanKoughnet* and Harriet Sophia Scott; m. Elizabeth, daughter of Colonel Charles Barker Turner, and they had two sons; d. 7 Nov. 1869 at Toronto, Ont.
Philip Michael VanKoughnet studied under Hugh Urquhart at the Eastern District Grammar School, and was destined for the priesthood of the Church of England. In the rebellion of 1837–38 he served in his father’s battalion of militia which saw action at the battle of the Windmill. Perhaps influenced by that experience and by a strongly loyalist and anti-rebellion speech of Christopher Alexander Hagerman*, attorney general of Upper Canada from 1837 to 1840, he chose to study law. In the fall of 1838 he entered the office of George Stephen Benjamin Jarvis* of Cornwall. A hard worker and a brilliant student, he moved to Toronto and the firm of John Shuter Smith and Robert P. Crooks, and in 1843 was admitted to the bar of Upper Canada. He then joined the firm of Robert Easton Burns and Oliver Mowat*. VanKoughnet specialized in equity law, although he also took cases at common law, one of the few lawyers in Upper Canada to practise in both branches. So outstanding a reputation did he win that in 1850 the government of Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine and Robert Baldwin* recommended him to be queen’s counsel, despite the difference in political conviction between VanKoughnet and the ministry. He served on the council of the University of Trinity College and lectured there on equity jurisprudence.
In 1856, at the urging of his friend John A. Macdonald*, whom he had known at least since the meeting of the British American League in 1849, VanKoughnet accepted the posts of president of the Executive Council and minister of agriculture in the Étienne-Paschal Taché-Macdonald government. He successfully contested Rideau District, the first elective seat to be opened in the Legislative Council, in the same year. As minister of agriculture he turned what had been considered a sinecure into an active department. For instance, he offered $500 for the best essay on the control of the weevil, Hessian fly, and other crop-damaging insects. Henry Youle Hind* won the prize and his paper provided useful knowledge to farmers.
After passing through the “double shuffle” in 1858, VanKoughnet was appointed commissioner of crown lands and became chief superintendent of Indian affairs in 1860 when the department was transferred from imperial control [see R. T. Pennefather]. He had some. success in settling long-standing land claims. He initiated a system of selling townships en bloc and established a price of 50¢ per acre paid in a combination of cash and credit. These actions led to a rapid opening of some of the colonization roads. He warned lumbermen of the wastage caused by fire and suggested the possibility of legislation to prevent it. VanKoughnet also tried, unsuccessfully, to have parliament adopt a contributory pension fund for civil servants.
In his 1856 election campaign VanKoughnet had suggested that the charter of the Hudson’s Bay Company was invalid and that Canada should claim the northwest. It also fell to him as commissioner of crown lands to arrange the western exploring expeditions of Simon James Dawson* and Henry Youle Hind. He joined other expansionists such as William McMaster*, William P. Howland*, John McMurrich*, and Sandford Fleming* to petition in 1858 for the incorporation of the North-West Transportation, Navigation, and Railway Company. In a related attempt at expansion, he represented the Canadian government in London in 1861 seeking imperial financial support for the building of the Intercolonial Railway by Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada.
In March 1862 VanKoughnet was appointed chancellor of the Court of Chancery of Upper Canada, and distinguished himself in this office by the clarity, terseness, and humanity of his judgements. He became chancellor of Ontario in 1867. On 7 Nov. 1869 he died after a short illness, survived by his widow and two sons.
Chadwick, Ontarian families, I, 60–62. Dent, Canadian portrait gallery, IV, 127–29. DNB. Morgan, Sketches of celebrated Canadians. Read, Lives of judges. Hodgetts, Pioneer public service. R. S. Lambert, Renewing nature’s wealth; a centennial history of the public management of lands, forests & wildlife in Ontario, 1763–1967 ([Toronto], 1967). W. L. Morton, Critical years.