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Canadian History
Archibald McKellar


Sheriff of the County Wentworth, was born in Glenshire, three miles from Inverary Castle, Argyleshire, on the 3rd February, 1816. Glenshire belonged to the estate of the Duke of Argyle. Peter McKellar and Flora MacNab, were our subject's parents, and they occupied a farm on the estate of the Duke of Argyle, but seeing that there was little or no prospect of advancement, or of acquiring land of their own in Scotland, they emigrated to Canada in 1817, accompanied by Mrs. McKellar's father and mother, brother and two sisters. After spending nine weeks in a sailing vessel going from Greenock to Quebec, they travelled in bareaux and schooners to Queenston, then the western limit of civilization, where the women and one infant (the subject of this sketch) stayed while the men went westward, on foot, through he forest, to select a good location for their little settlement. After they had nearly reached the Rondeau on Lake Erie, they decided to return to the township of Aldborough, the western extremity of what was then know as the London district, but now the western limit of the County of Elgin - the site of the City of London but being then surveyed. The inducements to return to Aldborough were, first, that there was already a small Highland settlement there; secondly, the country was hilly, and more like their native land than that further west; and thirdly, the land belonged to the Government, and had been placed in Col. Talbot's hand for location. Having selected their lots, they returned to Queenston, and in ox teams, and such other conveyances that could be obtained, they took their families and belongings, and arrived at their new homes in time to erect shanties before the winter set in. Here the McKellar family remained until 1837, when they removed to a farm which they purchased in the township of Raleigh, County Kent, three miles west of the town of Chatham, on the banks of the River Thames. This farm is still the homestead of the family. For the first ten or twelve years of his life our subject attended the public schools in the township of Aldborough, where his parents first settled in 1817. He then was sent to Geneva, N. Y., and finally to the High School in Niagra, taught by Dr. Whitelaw. On leaving school he went to the farm, and settled there with his parents. Though he determined to make farming his business, he also engaged in lumbering. In 1857 he entered Parliament as member for Kent, having been a member of the County Council for fifteen years previously. In 1841, at the first election for Parliament after he became of age, he supported and canvassed for the Tory candidate, Mr. Joseph Woods, in opposition to Mr. Harrison (afterwards County Judge of York). Mr. Woods was returned. During this election he heard for the first time a thorough political speech by Mr. Harrison, and was greatly impressed by his arguments in favour of municipal institutions, especially those relating to voting in Provincial elections in each township, instead of groups of townships, as was the custom at this time, the polls being kept open for a week, causing some of the electors great inconvenience and loss of time and money. In the counties of Kent and Lambton, then united, many of the electors had to travel distances varying from ten to ninety miles before they could record their votes. Immediately after Mr. Harrison's defeat in Kent, he was elected for Kingston, and was appointed Provincial Secretary. Mr. McKellar, though prosecuting farming at the time, read the leading papers of the day, he being a subscriber for both the Colonist and Examiner, the first the leading organ of the Tory party, and the latter that of the Liberal party. During the next session of Parliament he carefully read the debates and found that Mr. Harrison was sincere in all he had promised the electors of Kent and Lambton on the hustings at Chatham, with regard to municipal and elective reforms. He told his Tory friends that if Mr. Harrison ever became a candidate for parliamentary honours again in Kent, he would support him as vigorously and determinedly as he had opposed him in the last election. These friends, with turned-up eyes and uplifted hands, asked in holy horror, "Why do you propose to do so?"  Mr. McKellar replied that, "if he gave us the municipal law, a township election law, and other minor measures of reform, he would vote for Mr. Harrison."  They then declared that municipal institutions were republican or monarchical, so long as they benefited the country and bettered the condition of the people (as he believed they would), he would support them, and did so afterwards in Parliament and out of it. Mr. McKellar was frequently twitted afterwards, when in Parliament, that he had been a Tory and had voted once on that ticket. He always good humoredly admitted the impeachment, but claimed that he, like a great many others, had done it in ignorance, and since then he often shuddered at the thought that that vote might be the sin for which there is no forgiveness; and in view of that belief he said that he had done a good deal of missionary work witht he view of bringing others out of the darkness that shrouded him when he have that unfortunate Tory vote. Mr. McKellar was the author of the Drainage Law, which has been the means of reclaiming hundreds of thousands of acres of waste land; and to aid the public in having this important work done as cheaply as possible, he had (while he was Commissioner of Public Works and Minister of Agriculture) the sum of $400,000 appropriated to purchase drainage municipal debentures bearing interest at five per cent, thus giving the public money at a lower rate than they could get it elsewhere, and at the same time securing to the Government the highest rate of interest obtainable from the banks and municipal debentures, than which there is no better or safer security. It was during Mr. McKellar's term of office, as Minister of Agriculture, that the Ontario College of Agriculture, which is now proving of so much benefit to the country, was established at Guelph. He carried through Parliament the charter for the Southern Railway, extending from the Niagra to the Detroit and St. Clair rivers, and was chiefly instrumental in raising upwards of $300,000 by way of bonuses in the southern counties to aid in its construction. He also carried the charter for the Erie and Huron Railway Company. This road extends from the Rondean harbor on lake Erie and runs north through the towns of Blenheim, Chatham, Dresden, and Wallaceburg, then to the St. Clair river to Sarnia, a distance of about seventy miles. Forty miles of this road has been operated during the past two years, and the balance of the line will be completed by the end of 1885. In 1851, Mr. McKellar was urged to consent to be nominated for Kent on the Reform ticket, and did so, but under great disadvantages, it being at a late period of the canvass, and he was defeated; but in 1857 he again came forward, and was elected by a large majority. He represented Kent for ten years, and at Confederation he was elected for the Provincial House, to represent Bothwell, which he continued to do until 1875. Then he accepted the shrievalty of Wentworth. During the last four years of his political life he was a member of the Government, both in the Blake and Mowat administrations, as Commissioner of Public Works and Minister of Agriculture and Emigration, and afterwards as Provincial Secretary. He married, in 1836, Lucy MacNab, his second cousin, who died in February, 1857, leaving nine children, four sons and five daughters, of whom three sons and three daughters remain. The eldest son, Peter D. McKellar, is registrar of Kent, and the two younger are on the old farm. The daughters are all married. In 1874 he married again Catherine Mary Mercer, widow of Lawrence Wm. Mercer, daughter of Dr. Grant Powell of Toronto, and grand-daughter og Chief Justice Powell, the second Chief Justice of Upper Canada. Mr. Mckellar is a strictly temperate man, never having used spirits, beer or tobacco. He professes Presbyterianism, and is a staunch Reformer in politics. He had travelled through Great Britain and the United States. Altogether his career has been marked by energy, uprightness, ability, and success.


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