Monteith Family's Scrapbook: A Glimpse Into Their Private Life by Ellen Thomas, Stratford-Perth Archives

Although people have kept journals from the time of the Middle Ages, a closer approximation of the modern-day scrapbook began during the Renaissance with the “commonplace” book. The commonplace book, popular with upper-class Europeans, often contained recipes, quotes, letters, poems, prayers, and notes from other texts. With the invention of the printing press, family bibles became a form of keeping family genealogy and was a scrapbook of sorts.

With the development of the industrial printing press, and the mass production of printed material, what we now identify as a scrapbook, became a popular way to preserve newspaper articles with mentions of the family, interesting columns, poetry, greeting cards, invitations, postcards, letters, advertising material, and any other printed material that was of interest to the creator.

In the collection of the Stratford-Perth Archives are the Monteith family scrapbooks. The Monteith family can be counted among Perth County’s first European settlers. It all started in 1830, when Samuel Monteith, the oldest son of John Monteith, emigrated to Canada from the County of Tyrone, Ireland. John and the rest of the family followed in 1834 and the Monteiths set up a farm in Downie Township. They became a prominent political family, with nine Monteith family members running for various political offices. Of these nine, three were Mayors of Stratford, five were MPPs and two have been MPs.

The first to enter the political arena was Andrew Monteith, brother to Samuel. In the 1850s he was on the Downie Township Council, served as Deputy Reeve of Stratford, and was Warden for the County in the 1860s. He then moved onto provincial politics and was the representative for North Perth to the first Ontario Legislature in 1867. In 1874 he served one term in federal parliament. Also, a businessman, he naturally kept ledgers. One of our earliest scrapbooks belonged to Elizabeth Maggie Monteith, 1857-1890, daughter of Andrew and Mary Jane. The ledger dates to 1843 and all but three pages are filled exclusively with poetry clipped from a Stratford paper in 1875. Only 18 years old, Elizabeth naturally saved poetry that spoke to her, and reflects the interests the young woman. The oldest scrapbook, again created in a repurposed book, was that of Samuel Monteith’s wife, Annie Jane. Printed on the front, in careful script, are the words “Gore of Downie 1871” and on the inside cover “Mrs. Samuel Monteith’s Book.” The clippings are, for the most part, poetry, but also clipped were articles that interested Annie. One such article was titled “Defense of Canada.” It is an interesting snapshot in time of U.S. and Canada relations, written in 1866.

Andrew Monteith Stratford-Perth Archives

Nelson Monteith

Move forward in time to the early twentieth century and we come to Nelson Monteith (1862-1949). Nelson was the youngest son of Samuel, born in Downie Township. Nelson Monteith was a farmer and politician. In the collection of the Stratford-Perth Archives are his diaries which are a unique record of farming, politics, and daily life. In addition to the diaries, there are several scrapbooks which date from 1905 to 1909. From 1905 to 1908, Nelson was the Minister of Agriculture in the Ontario Legislature. He had previously served as a Downie Township Councillor, Deputy Reeve, Reeve and later, Warden of Perth County in 1897. His scrapbooks consist of political clippings, many about him, telegrams, and articles on agricultural. They are an excellent record of his time in office.

A son of Samuel, Dr. Joseph Dunsmore Monteith, 1865-1934, was Mayor of Stratford for two years and represented North Perth in the Ontario Legislature from 1923 to 1934, during which time he served as Provincial Treasurer and Minister of Labour and Public Works. His scrapbook contains political cartoons from the Toronto Daily Star and The Evening Telegram from 1927 to 1931. They are all labelled in beautiful script and, almost all, are a commentary of Howard Ferguson, Ontario’s ninth Premier.

The largest collection of scrapbooks belonged to the son of Dr. J. D. Monteith, Jay Waldo “Monte” Monteith and his wife, Mary. In 1939 he was elected to Stratford’s City Council. In 1944 and 1945, he was Stratford’s Mayor. He entered federal politics in 1953 when he was elected by residents of Perth County to be our Member of Parliament. During his time in Ottawa, he served as Minister of National Health and Welfare. In addition to a very active life in community organizations, he also played a role in the launching of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, in 1953. In the Monteith’s scrapbooks there is a letter from Sir Alec Guinness thanking Monte for a “delightful evening.” There are physical scrapbooks that cover the 1950s and 60s and banker’s box after banker’s box full of material meant to be scrapbooked from the late 1960’s to the 1990’s. There are treasures untold in these boxes, from the signatures of the first men on the moon, to personal papers that provide a glimpse into the private life of a family that left an indelible mark on our local community, our province, and our country.

* Monteith Avenue was named after the Andrew Monteith. (See Monteith Avenue)

Waldo Monteith