Alpheus Todd was born on July 30, 1821, in London, England. Son of author and artist Henry Cooke Todd, Alpheus moved with his family to York, Ontario, at the age of twelve. When York was incorporated as Toronto in the next year, Todd produced an engraved plan of the city by walking the streets and converting his paces to a workable scale. The final map impressed prominent lawyer Robert Baldwin Sullivan and he obtained Todd a position in the House of Assembly for Upper Canada. In the following year, at the age of 15, Todd was appointed Assistant Librarian.
In 1841, five years into his tenure at the Assembly, Todd published The Practice and Privileges of the two Houses of Parliament. The work was proclaimed as “the first law book published in Canada.” 1 and soon adopted by the legislature of the newly united Province of Canada. In the same year, with a growing reputation as the Canadian expert on parliamentary procedure, Todd was appointed Assistant Librarian to the legislative library. Todd was soon authoring parliamentary briefs for the Speakers, the Speech from the Throne, or briefs for points of attack on bills in debate. Todd was a wealth of knowledge and support to many parliamentarians. Hamlyn Todd, Alpheus’ son, attested “it sometimes happened that the leader of the opposition would be sitting beside him for consultation, while the premier was waiting his turn.” 2
During the 1849 riots in Montreal, 13,800 volumes of the 14,000 piece Library collection were burnt along with the legislature. Five years later, over fifty percent of the new collection was lost when the legislative buildings were again plagued by fire in Quebec City. As Assistant Librarian, Alpheus Todd was entrusted with $50,000 to purchase the foundation of a new collection. He was appointed Chief Librarian of the Assembly when returning from England and France with 17,000 new volumes and money to spare. By 1865, the collection had grown to 55,000 volumes, and was soon transported from Quebec City to Ottawa in preparation for Confederation.
In the early years of the new Dominion, Todd published a two volume series On Parliamentary Government in England, an overview of British parliamentary constitutionalism. The work received glowing reviews- the Westminster Review characterized the volumes as ‘the most complete treatise’ on parliamentary privilege and royal prerogative yet written- while it was soon being used as a reference tool for states drafting new constitutions.
The dedications that preface many of his writings provide a window into his friendships with the figures of early Canadian history: volumes are addressed to ‘friends’ Sir John A. Macdonald, the late Thomas D’Arcy McGee, or Governor General Lord Dufferin, among others. In 1889, veteran lawyer and politician William McDougall characterized Todd as an industrious man of a “gentle, unassuming, patient, manner towards those who approached him. French or English, Grit or Tory, Government or Opposition were alike to him when in the quest of information.” He was said to have only missed one day in his final fifteen years of work at the Library of Parliament, and had a reputation as a trusted, reliable constitutional expert across the British Empire.
Alpheus Todd was the first Parliamentary Librarian to the new Dominion of Canada, and held the post until his death in 1884. He was survived by three sons, and wife Sarah.