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History of the County of Perth, 1825-1902 William Johnston, 1903
Andrew Monteith was born in August, 1823, at Karn-Dreen, Tyrone, Ireland, and with his father's family came to Canada, arriving on July 12, 1834. Mr Samuel Monteith had preceded this family into the wilderness, and was ready to welcome them on their arrival at "Little Thames."
Mr Monteith was an ideal pioneer. Rather over than under middle size, he was muscular in appearance, quick in his movements, decisive in action, and inexhaustable in vitality and endurance. His countenance could not be called fine according to the rules of art, but, as a mirror to the thoughts and feelings of a great man, was impressive, indicating the presence of a strong character. He was easily approached, and had no affectation. He was conservative in politics and democratic in principle, having not one spark of official pomposity by which some surround themselves. He was a good chopper, an expert logger, and a public speaker above the average. His language was plain but strong - always convincing, because always truthful and sincere. Intolerant of sham, he made a good friend and a most enterprising opponent. Such a character does not need birth and influence to bear him onward. He never waited for something to turn up; he went straightway, as all great men do, and turned something up for himself. As might be expected from such a man, he soon attained prominence and great influence in Perth County, playing a distinguished part in its early history and development.
In 1838 his father opened a general store in Stratford, which was managed by his brother till 1840. This youth died at 21 years, when Mr Monteith and his brother Samuel carried on the business till 1850. His partner having withdrawn, he continued the business for several years longer, until, his health failing from close confinement, he retired to his farm in Downie, where he resided till his death.
It was not in mercantile affairs, however, that nature designed this man should play his part. The eternal gin-horse sameness that characterizes business in a country town must have been irksome to him. Nature did not design him for a vendor of knitting needles and red herrings; he was to be a leading man. In municipal and political life he was prominent from an early period of his career. This inclination for public business he may have inherited from his father, who was one of the six old veterans (all the voters in the easter part of the county) who trudged from Stratford to Goderich in 1841 to record their votes in the Dunlop-Strachan election. In 1842 when school sections were organized by Mr Daly, Mr Monteith was one of the first trustees in union school No. 1, Downie, Ellice and North and South Easthope. From this period, onward to the day of his death in 1896, his name - during those 54 long years - was constantly before the people of this county. To say that he was always successful would imply that he was more than human. He was irrepressible, and failure with him was simply an incentive to greater exertion. In fact, when his opponents succeeded in hedging him in at one point he simply broke out at another, and with such force and impetuosity as to overwhelm them all.
His municipal career is already written in the local history of Downie and that of Perth [History of the County of Perth, 1903 by William Johnston], and those of my readers who desire to follow out the life of this excellent man are referred to those portions of this work. At Confederation in 1867 he entered parliament as member for North Perth in the Legislature, his opponent being Mr D. D. Hay, whom he defeated. In 1871 he contested the Riding against the Hon. Thomas Ballantyne, and was again elected. In 1874 he resigned his seat in the Legislature, and became a candidate for the House of Commons, his opponent being Mr James Redford, whom he defeated. On a petition this election was voided, and he again entered the field, with Mr James Fisher, of Stratford, as his opponent, and he was again successful. In 1878 he retired from active politics.
There were few institutions in this county with which he was not to a greater or lesser extent identified. He was elected to the Stratford school board in 1853, on the retirement of Mr Peter Woods, and was also a member of the trustee board in S. S. No. 5, Downie. When the British Mortgage Loan Co. was established in Stratford he was chosen as its first president, for which his prominence and integrity eminently fitted him. He was also for a time its managing director. Although not an official in the Perth Mutual Fire Insurance Co., he had the honour of taking out policy No. 1 in that important institution. In the old days he was also a member of the Volunteer Fire Co.
In politics he was strongly Conservative, although by no means aggressive, believing that every man had a right to his own opinions in matters of conscience. He was a consistent member of the Church of England, and for many years was church warden. To one secret society he belonged, and to one only. He was an active representative man in the Orange order, remaining an active member during his whole life. It is worthy of remark, and is a high tribute to his character, that he always enjoyed the confidence and good-will of the Roman Catholics during his political career.
In 1850 he married Jane Dunsmore, then of Huntingdon, Quebec, to whom were born four sons and five daughters, several of whom are now dead. Mr Monteith's career was unique, and should be a sacred heirloom in his family for all time to come. He was possessed of those rugged qualities that so often distinguished the men of that generation now nearly passed away, and who made this county what it is. Those hardy and intrepid characters seem not to be fashionable now-a-days. That process of polishing necessary to bring a man up to the modern requirements of society is apparently fatal to a perpetuation of those qualities so strongly marked in Andrew Monteith and our pioneers generally. If such be the case it is to be regretted. Better far in any country or society to have ruggedness with strength that polish associated with weakness.
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