Gathering up the taxes - Glimpses of the Past with Karen Webster
All throughout history, governments have sought to raise funds by imposing taxes upon their citizens. Some items that have been targeted over the years may seem rather unusual, such in 1698 when Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, taxed men with beards. There was such an uproar about this that the following year, this tax was lifted. At one time, bachelors were taxed in Switzerland.
In 1600s England, the government taxed people according to the number of chimneys on a dwelling and, in the mid-1950s, the municipality of Ridgewood, New Jersey added to its coffers by imposing a levy on televisions by counting the number of aerials on a house.
What is now considered southwestern Ontario, was once the London District, and when the population grew, the district was split in 1841 and the Huron District was created. As well as present day Huron County, parts of Perth and Lambton Counties were also included. The Huron Signal in February of 1850 reported that, in the first quarter of 1849, the taxes collected in the Huron District amounted to 86 pounds, 16 shillings and four pence. Interestingly, folks, whether their taxes were paid or were in arrears, were all named in the newspaper.
Of course, it follows if there are taxes, there must be some way of collecting them, hence the creation of the tax collector.
In June of 1866, an act of parliament split the large township of Wawanosh into two entities. From The Watson Family, Then and Now, we learn that young Hugh McCrostie, from Concession 11 of the newly-created West Wawanosh Township, was appointed as the municipality’s first assessor and collector. While carrying out his duties, he travelled through the wild wilderness of the township. To be kept safe from animal attacks and the odd vagrant with criminal intentions, he was issued a rifle. While McCrostie travelled the 12-mile-by-six-mile breadth of the municipality, taxes were not the only things that he collected on his rounds. While on Concession One, on the southern boundary of the township, at Lot 19, he met Martha, the daughter of William and Mary Ann Watson and in 1880, Hugh and Martha were married.
Not all monies for taxes were given to the collector while on their rounds. The Huron News-Record of Dec. 16, 1879, reported that J. Taylor, collector for West Wawanosh, was at the hotel in Auburn and “got all the taxes”. J. H. McClinton, collector for East Wawanosh spent a day at D.F. Munroe’s store in the same village receiving taxes there.
In Morris Township, John Mooney farmed on Concession 6 and also began to work as the tax collector for the municipality in 1885, continuing in the position until 1902. He retired after 17 years because of a hearing problem and also to better attend to his own farm. It was noted that in his tenure, no unpleasantness had occurred and that he often had a clear roll with every cent of taxes being paid. The amount he collected annually ranged from $9,000 to $11,000. He had traversed the whole township, each October, on foot, delivering the tax notices over a period of three weeks.
The Wingham Times reported in 1913 that Gavin Wilson had collected a record amount of taxes by Dec. 23 with all available taxes on the roll. Local residents were told that “for a new official, Mr. Wilson has made a record of which the ratepayers of Turnberry have just reason to feel proud.”
Another very loyal collector was Wilbur “Wib” Turnbull who farmed on the 15th Concession of Grey Township. When he retired, in 1970, after serving in that capacity for 40 years, he was commended for his diligence in collecting taxes and was gifted with a pair of carved bookends. Goderich Township also had a dedicated employee in the person of Howard Sturdy. Over the 40 years of his tenure, he had collected $1,731,122.99 and had “managed to do it in such a pleasant way that few had much cause for complaint.” In Hullett Township, Thomas Neilans was congratulated by council in 1946 for 17 years of service.
Not all municipalities had such harmonious relations with their tax collectors. In 1936, the former tax collector for Goderich was taken to court in the light of incomplete bookwork and missing funds. He was unable to explain the discrepancies. At the conclusion of the trial, he could not be found guilty of theft “beyond a reasonable doubt”, however, the judge, in an aside, stated that the former collector was “incompetent”. Repayment of the missing funds was covered by a bond held by the municipality.
The methodology of collecting taxes has changed over the years. In consideration of the amount of work involved, the early collectors were not well paid, receiving only between $60 and $90 a year for their efforts. In 1887, a report came out of Clinton urging that the property owners who paid their taxes ahead of the deadline be given a discount. By 1948, when the Township of Howick advertised for a new tax collector, it was stated that mailing out tax notices was an option. Fast forward to the present day and we find computerized forms arriving in the mailbox or the in box and property owners having the option to mail in or drop payment at the local office or even transfer the funds electronically to the coffers of their municipality. John Mooney stated in 1902 that, because of his travels, he knew nearly every adult in the township. How times have changed!
Appreciation to the Huron County Museum Digitized Newspapers and to Cheryl Cronin.