Inducted: October 30, 1991
Charles A. Williams' dogged determination to fight a 22-year court battle through to the Privy Council in England influenced changes in the Drainage Act that have benefited generations of Kent County farmers.
Mr. Williams was born in Saginaw, but moved as a young man to Raleigh Township, where he started to farm on the Dillon Sideroad. In time, his business talents made him the owner of the Garner House business block in Chatham as well as a large acreage of farmland.
It was in 1892 that he took his dissatisfaction over drainage to Raleigh Township Council, with negative results. Mr. Williams shared the problem of other Raleigh owners of low-lying land; when the higher land was improved, their properties were swamped with the resultant drainage water. It was Mr. Williams' conviction that the owners of higher land should be assessed damages to compensate.
Under English common law, the owners of lower-lying land could build dikes or banks to protect their properties from this flooding, but the Ontario Drainage Act of 1873 made no provision for damages.
When Raleigh Township decided that it lacked the jurisdiction, Mr. Williams took the case to the Drainage Referee, and County Judge Archibald Bell decided in his favour. That was the beginning of a landmark case that went through Divisional Court, the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada, and finally to England and to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Sadly, Mr. Williams did not live to see his victory and the ultimate vindication of his position. He died in January, 1911, too early to see the Privy Council uphold Judge Bell's ruling that the township had been negligent in not maintaining the drains properly, to the detriment of the Williams lands.
An award of $850 was made to his widow, Sarah Anne Battelle, who lived until 1930. In addition, there was a writ of mandamus, ordering Raleigh Township to repair the drain and to provide an adequate outlet.
There is little doubt that the prolonged legal battle influenced the new Municipal Drainage Act, passed in 1894, and subsequent amendments that made provision for damages to landowners when drains were not provided with sufficient outlets.
Mr. and Mrs. Williams had eight children. A grandson, Oliver Williams, has served as Reeve of Raleigh Township.
A contemporary said of him: "When Charlie Williams felt he was in the right, absolutely nothing would stop him. He fought for the principle of the thing."