Memorable Manitobans: Francis Evans “Frank” Cornish (1831-1878)
Born at London, Ontario on 1 February 1831, the son of William King Cornish, MD. He was educated at the London Grammar School and subsequently trained as a lawyer, being called to the Bar in the 1855 Hilary Term. He married Victorine Clench at London on 31 October 1853. He was an Alderman of the City of London from 1858 to 1861.
In 1861 he was elected Mayor of London and retained office until 1865. In 1860 he unsuccessfully contested the East Middlesex seat in the Canadian Assembly and in the general election of 1871 he unsuccessfully contested the London seat in the Ontario Legislature.
Following this defeat Cornish moved west, arriving in Winnipeg on 12 June 1872. That same year he was one of the first lawyers to be called to the Manitoba Bar. In August 1872 he entered partnership with W. B. Thibadeau. He quickly rose to prominence in the public life of the young province. In the summer of 1872 he acted as defence council in the case of “Smith and Galbraith,” with Attorney-General Clarke prosecuting. He won, and his victory signalled the beginning of a long run of political popularity. He was deeply involved in the trial of Ambroise Lepine for the murder of Thomas Scott and also in the case of Lord Gordon Gordon. In the federal general election of 1872 he played a prominent role in the September riots during which the offices of three newspapers, the Manitoban, the Gazette and Le Métis were ransacked.
In 1873 he was one of the active petitioners for the incorporation of Winnipeg and in December of that year he was elected first Mayor of the city, assuming office in January 1874. In the provincial general election of December 1874 he was elected to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly for the constituency of Poplar Point, describing himself as a “National” in politics. He continued to hold this seat until his death. In 1876 he was elected to fill an unexpired term as Alderman of Winnipeg’s West Ward. In 1877 he declined to stand for re-election, but in 1878 he was again elected Alderman for West Ward. He served as a Bencher for the Law Society of Manitoba from 1877 to 1879.
He died at Winnipeg on 28 November 1878, and was buried on 1 December in Brookside Cemetery. His portrait by Victor Long is owned by the Winnipeg City Council. He is commemorated by Cornish Avenue in Winnipeg.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 22 December 2015
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