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History of the County of Perth, 1825-1902 William Johnston, 1903
William Davidson -- The life of this pioneer, in the number and variety of the offices he has been called upon to fill, presents a somewhat multifarious aspect when we consider the qualifications necessary to a proper discharge of the varied obligations of those pursuits in which he has been engaged. Like many others of our great men who have accomplished much, he did not take up his first occupation either from a desire for it or natural adaptability to discharge its functions. He became a bushman, because he believed in the principle of doing whatever was nearest him to do. It was characteristic of him that whatever he undertook to do he did well. To this excellent feature he owes largely his success. With him there was no slipshod work, no dallying with important trusts, no leaving to others or to chance what it was his duty to perform. This thoroughness and honesty of purpose where it exists to that degree as in Mr. Davidson is fortune enough for any man. He who waits for chances and opportunities to show his powers will never be likely to find them. The men, therefore, who brave all circumstances and press manfully forward will find opportunities near their pathways in every direction., In this company he had a prominent place. A want of high education made him careful in his calculations, and so he became exact. An honest desire to coverome and advance his worldly circumstances gave strength to his character, and men will always lean on an oak rather than a willow. These qualities are eminently distinguished in this man, and to them, and not to external influences, he owes his position.
Mr William Davidson, present county clerk, was born in Monaghan, Ireland, in September, 1833. His education was such as could then be obtained in that country, which, he says, comprised the three Rs, and doubtless a fourth branch might be added--a close acquaintance with the "tawse." In this department of our old country system at that period a close companionship with this pedagogic appliance was considered a very effective means of communicating information. Of course a young aspirant after knowledge was not consulted regarding this part of his tuition, and frequent admonitions, even by the subject of this sketch, were not likely undeserved. In this seminary Master Keenan was all powerful, for good or evil. The seats were pieces of rock, and writing desks were simply a piece of board laid across the pupil's arm. Of these educational advantages he availed himself only for one year.
In 1845 his father, the late Abraham Davidson, emigrated to Canada, accompanied by his wife and six children, of whom William was second oldest. After a long voyage of nearly seven weeks they arrived in Toronto on June 9th. His father at once came on to Fullarton, settling on lot 14, concession 7, then a wilderness. Young Davidson remained in Toronto township with his uncle, who was engaged in teaching. They kept bachelor's hall, William the younger being cook. Here, for about twelve months, he resumed his acquaintance with his books, not much progress being made, his culinary duties no doubt being of so varied and interesting a character as to prevent a great acquisition of book learning. During 1846, in his thirteenth year, he rejoined his father's family in Fullarton, walking from Toronto township on foot and driving two cattle, his journey occupying five days. On his arrival, along with his brother, he entered the laborious task of clearing land. The woods were soon removed from the homestead, when contracts were effected to clear land for others.
In 1857 he married Elizabeth Cole, of Fullarton, and was now on the very threshold of that career in which he has so much distinguised himself. In 1859, at the age of 26, he was appointed township clerk. His subsequent municipal life in every department goes to prove that the choice made on that occasion was most advantageous, not only to Fullarton, but to Perth County. Hhs thoroughness and adaptability for this work led to his appointment as treasurer in 1860. He continued in office as clerk for nine years, when he resigned and was elected reeve. This position he held for eleven years, or until 1878. Meantime he became recognised as an authority on municipal law, which reputation he still retains in an increased degree. In the legislation affecting municipalities from the Act of 1850 onward, through every department, it is doubtful if any other officer in this county has a more extended or correct knowledge of the principles underlying that enactment.
For a number of years previous to 1878, when he resigned the office of reeve to become county clerk, his worth as a public man was recognized in the South Riding. At a convention of the Conservative part, to whose platform he adhered, he was in 1870 nominated as their standard-bearer for the Legislative Assembly. This honour for private reasons he declined, considering the proper discharge of his legislative functions, if elected, would interfere with those important trusts the people in Fullarton had confided to his judgment and ability. In 1860 he built a store in Carlingford, and, in conjunction with his farm, carried on a mercantile business such as suited the requirements of a country village. He was also postmaster in this little hamlet, continuing to hold that position until his removal to Mitchell in 1877. From the multifarious duties arising from his own private business on the farm, in the store, and the post office, with his other public employments, Mr Davidson at this time was a busy man. In 1869 he sold his store, but did not by any means seek to relieve himself from any of the activities in which he was engaged, as he at once accepted a general agency for the Perth Mutual Fire Insurance Co., in which capacity he rendered valuable service to the institution.
Meantime, during 1867, he resigned the office of township clerk, and in 1868 was elected reeve, with his father as deputy. This change opened a new sphere for the display of that faculty of careful manipulation in those affairs committed to his trust which has proved the mainspring of his success. At the council board, in the county council chamber, amongst the large number of representative men from every section of this county, it was but a short time till he was considered one of their most careful and best informed men. As a natural consequence, he was soon honoured with the highest position in their gift by being elected as warden. His record here is also unique in county history in being elected consecutively for 1875, 1876, 1877, and till October, 1878, when he resigned to accept the clerkship tendered him by the county council. In our municipal history no other case has ever happened where a reeve of any township has been elected warden four years consecutively. During his term of office county indebtedness to the municipal loan fund was settled. Another able man had a seat on the county board at this period, as reeve of Downie, in Hon. Thomas Ballantyne. To these two representatives, with whom were associated the warden, were assigned all negotiations in relation to this very important question. Reports regarding this affair are signed by William Davidson as chairman, and are by far the most comprehensive of any reports I have seen in connection with public business in this county. Suffice it to say that this committee finally disposed of our indebtedness to this fund in a manner satsifactory to all. For a more exhaustive explanation of this question, my readers are referred to "Municipal Notes" in another part of this work.
During that period in which he was warden another important matter affecting this county was dealt with. It will be remembered that in 1873 a bonus of $80,000 had been granted to a railway from Stratford to Wiarton. This project met with strenuous opposition from Blanshard, Fullarton, Hibbert and Downie. Towards its construction Mr. D. D. Hay had exhausted every effort in its favour, being strongly supoprted by Stratford and those municipalities lying north. The attitude of the southern townships at that time did not arifse from opposition to the scheme itself, but to their being made contributors to it, which, as far as human foresight could extend at that peirod, would be of no benefit to them. Fulminations loud and deep were launched against the by-law, and that iniquitious measure passed by Mr. Blake's Government known at the grouping system. This measure enabled a few municipalities in favour of a scheme to group other municipalities with them who would have a minority of votes, and thereby force legislation on the weaker party antagonistic to their interests. In this case it was fully carried out, forcing a large debt on the southern townships. A quarter of a century has now passed away since this event, and looking back over the whole question and its results, I am constrained to say that in the interest of all our people, it was well that Mr Hay's measure became law.
Mr Davidson, as warden, now opposed issuing debentures to the company until a sufficient guarantee was given that it would complete its contract in building the road. The company, meantime, had made a demand for these securities without such guarantees, which Mr Davidson considered, very properly, was a breach of contract. They were determined to compel compliance with their demands, and entered a suit against the county. His management of this affair on behalf of his constituents indicated great zeal and judgment, as well as an extended knowledge of municipal law. When this sruggle terminated, after three years' litigation, in which he defeated his opponents on every occasion, they at last made arrangements to carry out their original agreement. If they had accepted the position at the outset much time and useless expense would have been avoided. Three years had now elapsed since this by-law was passed, and before passing over the debentures Mr Davidson detached the coupons falling due during that period, which the company were not now entitled to receive by their conduct, thus saving to this county $14,000. When we consider this large item, and that much larger one saved in our municipal loan fund indebtedness by Mr Ballantyne and himself, this county has been relieved of a liability amounting to nearly $100,000.
Before leaving this subject, I may be permitted to say that he did not object to carrying out the provisions of the by-law, although opposed to the principle by which it was carried. As a proof of this those debentures granted to the Stratford and Port Dover road were promptly handed to that company, they having at once complied with their agreement. Throughout this whole affair Mr Davidson evinced great common sense and discretion, discharging his duties in a manner honourable to himself, and eliciting warm approval from every section of our county. During 1879 he removed to Stratford, and at the election of 1881 he was chosen a member of the board of education, being appointed secretary-treasurer at its first meeting. This position he has held ever since.
That our readers may form an idea of the work accomplished by this pioneer, and those matters he has dealt with during a busy life, we submit a statement of the various positions he has been called upon from time to time to fill. He was township clerk of Fullarton for nine years, and reeve for eleven years; warden of Perth County for four years; county clerk for twenty-four years, still retaining that position. He was postmaster in Carlingford eight years; secretary trustees S. S. No. 4 Fullarton, for seventeen years; trustee and secretary-treasurer Mitchell high school board for eight years; trustee Stratford school board for four years, and secretary-treasurer for twenty-two years, and alderman of the City of Stratford for eighteen years, for nearly all of which period he was chairman of the finance committee. He was mayor of Stratford two years; auditor British Mortgage Loan Co. for twenty-one years; trustee of the hospital since it was first instituted; inspector of house of refuge since it was erected; director of the Perth Mutual Fire Insurance Co. for fifteen years, and its president for ten years.
To discharge the multifarious duties in connection with these positions was the work of no ordinary man. The whole secret of his success was honesty of purpose and a thoroughness in everything he undertook to accomplish. This inspired confidence in those whom he served, which in his career has never been shaken, and which he still retains.
He was a man of strong and robust physique, and his youth spent in chopping and logging had so inured his constitution to hard labour that he was able to accomplish all his undertakings with ease. He is possessed of a large amount of good, common sense, is affable and kind in his manner, knows men well, and has the faculty of penetrating their motives. These characteristics, with a capacity for hard work, were the instruments by which he raised himself to the front rank of Perth's great men.
About Perth County, Ontario
Welcome to Perth County GenWeb, your online guide to Perth County Genealogy since February 1998! I am Meg Fuller, Your Coordinator for this County site.
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Perth County is located in south-western Ontario in about the middle of the peninsula. There are many small towns and hamlets in this area, and the largest city is Stratford. Stratford currently has a population of about 30 000. This population swells in the summer tourist season! For the most part Perth County consists of rural agricultural land. The other major industry is tourism because of the Stratford Festival.
It is one of the few counties in South-Western Ontario that doesn't touch any of the Great Lakes. Because of its location, and distance from the Great Lakes, it was one of the last areas in Ontario to be settled. People who aren't familiar with Ontario often confuse it with Perth, a city in Lanark County. If it's Perth, Lanark County you're after, or if your reference just says Perth, here's a link to the Lanark County GenWeb. But it was nice of you to visit.