Andrew Monteith

A political dynasty

Monteith Avenue, on the survey he laid out in 1874, was named by William Gordon in honour of his good friend Andrew Monteith (1823-1896), the patriarch of what became the leading political family of Perth County and Stratford for more than a century.

Five members of the Monteith family were elected to either the Ontario legislature or the Canadian Parliament, two of them holding cabinet posts. Andrew was elected to both houses. A grandson of Andrew Monteith, Jay Waldo (Monte) Monteith (June 1903-December 1981) was a Perth member of Parliament (1953-1972) and and minister of national health and welfare in the John Diefenbaker cabinet (1957-1963). He was the first Perth member elevated to a federal cabinet.

Andrew Monteith  was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, in 1822, the youngest of the five children of John and Elizabeth (Gibson) Monteith. The family emigrated in 1834 and arrived in Little Thames on July 12 of that year. Andrew found himself as an 11-year-old in the wilderness of the Huron Tract in the middle of summer. His oldest brother, Samuel (1805-1890), preceded the rest of the family to Canada in 1830 and welcomed his parents, his three brothers and one sister. The first Monteith family home was a log house on the Embro Road in the Gore of Downie Township. Samuel had worked with the Canada Company surveyors in adjoining townships.

John Monteith opened a general store in 1838 at 1 Ontario St., where Scotiabank's main Stratford branch is today. While Andrew helped out in the store, he found it too confining and began to devote more time to his farm, where he later built a large handsome stone house on the St. Mary's road, later known as Erie Street, in Downie Township on Stratford's southern. He also built one of the first brick business blocks on Ontario Street where the Stratford Herald was published for many years.


Andrew Monteith held almost every political office in Downie, Perth and Stratford. He became the first president of the British Mortgage and Loan Co. He served on the Perth County council (1850-1865) and Stratford town council (1857-1861). In Confederation year, 1867, he was elected as a Conservative to represent North Perth in the Ontario legislature and served to 1874. In that year he was elected to the House of Commons. After four years as a federal member he resigned from politics. He died at his home in Downie Township in 1896. Monteith Township in Parry Sound was named after Andrew Monteith. With notes from Stanford Dingman. Picture: Wikipedia

Note: In 1876, this information is contained in the Stratford Directory: "Andrew Monteith, MP, also county treasurer, office courthouse." That would be the first county courthouse, north of the Avon River, between Elizabeth and William streets and just west of Hamilton Street. His residence was listed as "house St. Marys Road, Township of Downie." 

Two of Andrew's sons became mayors of Stratford: John Charles Monteith (1893-1894) and Dr. Joseph Dunsmore Monteith (1917-1918). Both were elected to the Ontario legislature as well. John was elected in 1902, but the election was overturned. Joseph was in the provincial legislature as the member for Perth North (1923-1934). He was the Ontario treasurer (1926-1930), and the minister of labour, public works and highways (1930-1934). He died in office. His son, Jay Waldo "Monte" Monteith, also served in the House of Commons. Source: Joseph Monteith-Wikipedia 

A treasured set of municipal council minutes from 1853

This set of council minutes was one of 50 treasured objects made available to citizens in 2022 by the Stratford-Perth Archives. Each object had a special connection to people and places in Stratford's history. 

In 2022, the Stratford-Perth Archives celebrated a special anniversary. Fifty years ago, on Jan.13, 1972, work began on a project championed by the late R. Thomas Orr (see Cobourg Street) and the Stratford Public Library (see St. Andrew  Street) to protect the Orr family collection of local history books, documents and photographs, as well as archival material from the Perth County historical collection, and make them easily available for researchers. 

Andrew Monteith, surrounded by family at their Erie Street residence, 1892. The house was demolished in 1970  Stratford-Perth Archives

These bound Perth County council minutes from 1853 were presented to Samuel Nelson Monteith (1862-1949) in 1907.       Stratford-Perth Archives

Both collections had been growing since the early 1900s. Eventually, similar collections from around the county were added. Local governments transferred records no longer needed for day-to-day work that have permanent value. These council minutes date back to the first year of operation for the newly independent Perth County council, which included representatives from rural townships and unincorporated villages such as Stratford and St. Marys. Prior to 1853, the county had been a part of the Huron District and the United Counties of Huron, Perth and Bruce.

This printed and bound set of minutes from Perth County council’s first five years was donated to the archives in 1987 by the family of Samuel Nelson Monteith (1862-1949). Monteith was MPP for the riding of Perth South from 1899 to 1908 and was minister of agriculture. Before he was elected to the provincial legislature, he had been county warden. A note inside the cover indicates that before the book was presented to him in 1907, it had belonged to Thomas Babb from Mitchell. Clearly, it was treasured long before arriving at the archives 80 years later.

These council minutes show early, local democracy in action, and many of the decisions recorded affect our lives today. In 1853, council petitioned the Canada Company for a grant in or near Stratford as a site to build a county grammar school, allowed Mr. Linton to use a room in the new county buildings for meetings of the managers of the mechanic’s institute (forerunner of a public library), and created a subcommittee to report on the bridge being constructed over the Thames River in Mitchell. They also agreed that the proceedings of the municipal council of the County of Perth, at its various sittings during the year 1853, be inserted in the Hamburg Beobachter (a German language newspaper) and that 100 copies of the same be published in pamphlet form. 

Nelson Monteith’s copy was one of 100 such pamphlets printed in English in Stratford at the Perth County news office, which also included announcements about council’s discussions and decisions. Source: Stratford-Perth Archives,  Reflections: Jan. 14, 2022 

Samuel Nelson Monteith (1862-1949) inductee 2000: Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame Association

Stratford-Perth Archives

Nelson Monteith: the man behind the gift of the 1853  Council Minutes.

Samuel Nelson Monteith (1862– 1949) was the nephew of Andrew Monteith for whom Monteith Avenue is named.  He was an Ontario farmer and political figure who represented Perth South in the legislative assembly of Ontario from 1899 to 1902 and from 1905 to 1908. 

He was the son of Samuel Monteith, who came to Upper Canada from Ireland in 1830, and the nephew of Andrew Monteith (see above).  He served as reeve for Downie Township from 1894 to 1896 and was warden for Perth County in 1897. 

On his farm, whenever a tree was cut down, a new tree was planted in its place. 

In 1898, he was originally declared elected over William Caven Moscrip but Moscrip appealed and was declared the winner. An appeal followed and Monteith won the subsequent byelection, losing in 1902 to Valentine Stock. Monteith defeated Stock in the 1905 election and served as minister of agriculture in Sir James Whitney's cabinet from 1905 to 1908. 

During his term, a program of tree-planting was established in the province. He was defeated by Stock in the 1908 election. The municipality of Monteith in Cochrane District, now part of Iroquois Falls, was named in his honour; it was the site of an experimental farm. 

Monteith was a graduate of the London Commercial College in 1882 and the Ontario Agricultural College, Guelph, in 1890. He made several noted agricultural and environmental advances when he served as the minister of agriculture (1905-1908). During that time the first county agricultural representatives were appointed in Ontario. Monteith was also instrumental in establishing the St. Williams tree nursery in Norfolk County and the Monteith Farm for delinquent boys in Monteith, the town that was named in his honour in the Cochrane District of Northern Ontario. 

Under his jurisdiction, the grant program for reforestation and roadside tree plantings flourished. This was vitally important because many areas of the province had been denuded of trees to meet the insatiable demand for lumber used in construction. In addition, cheese factory standards were improved, agricultural short courses expanded, fruit farming encouraged and the quality of livestock in the province upgraded. 

Monteith became a member of the North Perth Agricultural Society in 1878 and served for many years in various leadership roles, including president. His political career spanned the years from 1891 to 1908, when he served on Downie Township council, was the warden of Perth County, the Perth County commissioner, and in the Ontario Legislature the member for Perth South. For 41 years, he was a director with British Mortgage and Trust, the last 24 as president. 

In 1910, he and a partner established telephone service between the city of Stratford and the town of St. Marys. His leadership, vision and dedication were instrumental in encouraging agricultural societies, mortgage and trust organizations and telephone companies to improve their service to rural Ontario.

Nelson Monteith’s 86 years were crowned with esteem and were an inspiration to family, friends and associates. He died where he loved to be, in his orchard on his beloved Sunnyside Farm south of Stratford. 

The Monteith name dominated municipal, provincial and federal politics in Perth County for more than 50 years. Sources: Hon. Samuel Nelson Monteith–Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame Association; Samuel Nelson Monteith | Legislative Assembly of Ontario; Samuel Nelson Monteith-Wikipedia 

* At the Stratford-Perth Archives are the Monteith family scrapbooks, a great glimpse into their private lives. See Monteith Family's Scrapbook