Know Your Neighbours – John Charles Rykert, K.C.

Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum, N-2206

John Charles Rykert was born in St. Catharines on March 10, 1831 to parents George R. Rykert (b.1797 in Rhinebeck, N.Y.) and Anna Maria of Montreal (1807-1886) daughter of John Mittleberger. John Charles had an older brother; George Z., and a younger sister; Nannie.

John Rykert was educated at Grantham Academy and then at the Upper Canada College. Having chosen to study law, he was called to the bar in 1854. On October 19th, 1859, J.C. Rykert married Anna Hawley, daughter of Col. Sheldon Hawley of Trenton, with whom he had 9 children. They had a farm in Grantham Township that was a 1/2 mile from St. Catharines, but were later noted as having a residence at 59 Church Street. He lived at the Church Street residence until his death.

Rykert served as reeve for Grantham and St. Catharines for 20 years, from 1857-1876 and as Warden of Lincoln County in 1859-60, 1867-68. He had the honour of being Warden in 1860 when King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) visited St. Catharines. Rykert read an address to the Prince but was then thrown from his horse. Against the protests of the Duke of Newcastle due to his concern for the Princes safety, the Prince helped Rykert to his feet.
In 1866 Rykert served in the Fenian Raid as a Cavalry Captain and escorted prisoners to the Brantford jail.
In 1881 he was appointed a Queen’s Counsel. In his law profession, Rykert had his office on St. Paul Street over McCalla’s grocery store (located next to Paul Shipman’s Tavern.) Later, Rykert became associated with Mr. Burns and their firm was known as “Rykert and Burns.” Seven years before his death, he ceased being a practicing attorney due to ill health.
Rykert was a highly active member of the St. Catharines community and other surrounding areas. He was a trustee of the General and Marine hospital and chairman of the Public Library Board. In 1865 he was elected President of the Agriculture and Arts Association of Toronto. He was re-elected in 1880 and 1890 and was a continuous member for 40 years. In 1893 he was a judge of fruit at the Chicago World’s Exposition. He was also a member of the Collegiate Institute Board of Trustees. He was a volunteer fireman for 40 years. A book of cartoons was created which featured some of Rykert’s political activities. (An example can be seen in the Museum’s photo file N3906).

Rykert was influential in having town hall moved from Niagara-on-the-Lake to downtown St. Catharines. At the time, Rykert represented the Town of Lincoln in Parliament. Rykert obtained an act enabling ratepayers of the county to change the county town from Niagara-on-the-Lake to St. Catharines, which was considered a more convenient place in the county. The courthouse/town hall was then built in St. Catharines in 1848-49 at the cost of $1400.00

Rykert passed away on December 27th, 1913 in his home at 59 Church Street at the age of 82. His obituary notes that: “a nervous breakdown several years ago practically confined him to his arm chair for the rest of his life.” It also states that: “no man was ever better known to the people of this city and county…he knew personally every man in the rural constituencies and their faith in him appeared to be unbounded. It was said of him that he never forgot a friend; nor turned from him when it was in his power to do him a good turn.”

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