Archibald McKellar was born in February, 1816, within about three miles of Inverary, Argyleshire, Scotland, his parents being named respectively, Peter and Flora (McNab) McKellar. In the spring of 1817, the family emigrated to Canada, landing at Quebec after a nine weeks’ voyage across the Atlantic; it then taking as many weeks as it now does days to make the trip. From the old capital they proceeded to western Canada, and finally settled at Aldboro’, in the county of Elgin, Ontario. They were amongst the early settlers of that part of the country, and like many others were called on to endure the attending privations of pioneer life, but hardy Scotch families are not easily discouraged by a rugged life, and they prospered in their new home.
The subject of this sketch spent his youth at home, alternately working on his father’s farm and attending the common school at Aldboro’ until 1834, when he went to Geneva, New York, where he spent about a year. In the fall of 1836, he returned and spent the following year at the grammar school in Niagara, taught by Dr. Whitlaw. This comprised the extent of his school education, as he shortly afterwards married and settled on a farm on the banks of Thames River, in the township of Raleigh, Kent, where he continued for thirteen years, a successful farmer. He, however, was not allowed to confine his attention exclusively to his farm, for from 1842 till 1849, he was a member of the council board for the united counties of Essex, Lambton and Kent, and also reeve of the township of Raleigh in 1846-7-9. From 1849, when Kent separated from the others, to 1857, he was a member of its county council, and reeve of Chatham during the same period.
From the time of attaining his majority, Mr. McKellar was an interested observer of public events. His first vote was cast in 1841, in favor of a Tory candidate, but never one since. Not giving it much serious thought, he had allowed his surroundings and associations to influence his action. While taking an active part in the campaign, working and speaking in favor of his candidate, he was much impressed by some of the views held by the Reformers, and, as a consequence, after closely studying and comparing the policies and aims of the two parties, he became firmly convinced that the Reform party was in the right, and it ever afterwards received his firm support. In 1857 Mr. McKellar entered Parliament, and for eighteen years was prominently before the public. During that time he passed successfully through eight contests, his return being always bitterly opposed by the Conservatives, who made him a special object of attack, even going so far as to manufacture the most unfounded charges against him, though he never suffered much from their being fired at him. He was first elected to represent Kent in the United Parliament of Ontario and Quebec in 1857, where he remained until Confederation (1867), of which measure he was a supporter. In 1867 the county of Kent was divided into two ridings, and Mr. McKellar was elected to the Ontario Parliament from Bothwell, the eastern Riding of Kent, which he continued to represent until 1875, when he resigned to accept his present office. During this time he was one of the prominent figures in political life, and a man of decided ability. In 1871 he was appointed a member of the Executive Council, and was returned by acclamation on accepting office. From this time till April, 1874, Mr. McKellar was Minister of Agriculture and Commissioner of Public Works. Retaining the former office until he resigned, he also became Provincial Secretary when Mr. Fraser took charge of the Public Works Department, and held the offices of Minister of Agriculture, and Provincial Secretary till he resigned in 1875. He originated and carried through the Drainage Bill, perfecting it by subsequent legislation, before leaving the Government. This was a measure of great benefit and importance, especially to the farmers, and has been the means of reclaiming more than half a million acres of otherwise almost useless lands, and Mr. McKellar deservedly received much credit for it.
In 1875 he was appointed Sheriff of Wentworth County, and has satisfactorily discharged the duties of that office since August 1st of that year.
After his retirement from public life, the following address and presentation were tendered him by friends in his old constituency, in recognition of his public services:
To The Hon. Archibald McKellar, Sheriff for the County of Wentworth, and Late Provincial Secretary of Ontario:
“Sir, The events of the past nineteen years, during which you have been the representative of the county of Kent in the old Parliament of Canada, and since Confederation, of the county of Bothwell and the East Rid?
ing of Kent in the Legislature of Ontario, are among the most important in the history of the Province and Dominion.
“Among those deserving particular mention are the complete establishment of our free and non sectarian school system: The final settlement of the Clergy Reserve question, and the placing of all religious bodies upon the same footing in the eye of the law: The long, arduous, and successful struggle against the domination of the whole country by corrupt statesmen, backed by powerful railway and sectional interests, culminating in the Act of Confederation and the control by each Province of all its local affairs and its just share of public money, and in Ontario the Government of the Province through one legislative body: The enactment of laws for the suppression of corrupt practices at parliamentary and municipal elections: The extension of the suffrage, and voting by ballot: Laws for the encouragement of immigration, and the settlement, upon the free grant and home stead system, of our unoccupied wild lands: The provincial aid towards the railways of Ontario: The distribution of the surplus revenue among the municipalities, and the just and equitable settlement of the question of municipal indebtedness: And the establishment of agricultural institutions, such as provincial, county, and township fairs, and an agricultural college.
“Among the blessings we have derived from the political events here enumerated are, a rigid economy in the public expenditure of provincial money, a wide diffusion of an educated, intelligent, liberal and enterprising spirit among all classes of the community,religious, political, commercial and social, “There has come, too, the rapid growth of a truly national feeling among the people, and the name of Canada is no longer looked upon abroad as the title of a mere colony, or a term of reproach; but the name of a new nation in which all feel a just and honorable pride. It is admitted on all hands that whilst united with the Empire we are not solely dependent upon it. Our countrymen everywhere have the hopes, aspirations, and anticipations of a free and unrestrained people, with the characteristics of a new nationality.
“With the great events above enumerated your name has been intimately connected, both in their accomplishment and the realization of their benefits. Your course, since first elected, has been consistent, and you have your reward in the universal satisfaction shown by all parties; and your constituents in this county feel an honorable pride in having sustained you and the great cause of Reform against the most malevolent opposition.
“In presenting you with this small token, the gift of your constituents, they desire to express to you not only their approval and appreciation of your past political life, but the high esteem in which you are personally held by them as a consistent, constant, and earnest advocate of their political rights, and as a personal friend. They sincerely hope that in your retirement from the political arena both yourself and Mrs. McKellar may be long spared to enjoy the rewards and pleasures of a more private life, but at the same time a life attended by great responsibilities and cares, in which we hope you will always merit the approbation and esteem of your country men, and that the blessings of an all wise Providence may always attend you.”
The address was signed by Dr. Jacob Smith, Luther Carpenter, Arch. McDiarmid, Henry Westland, James McKinlay, Dr. James Samson, Isaac Swartout, J. P. McKinlay, and James Grant, the committee of management. The present consisted of a massive gold watch and guard, valued at $300. The case of the watch was beautifully chased, and bore upon its interior the following inscription: “Presented to Hon. A. McKellar by a number of his friends, on his retiring from public life. Sept. 8, 1875.”
The demonstration was held at Ridgetown under the auspices of the Reform Association. In connection with this event, the following letter, addressed to the secretary by the Minister of Justice, explains itself:
“Ottawa, Sept. 3. Dear Sir, I regret that public business will prevent my presence at the demonstration at Ridgetown in honor of Mr. McKellar. The old and intimate personal and political associations between your honored guest and myself would have made it very grateful to my feelings to be with you on such an occasion, and to express, however inadequately, my strong sense of Mr. McKellar’s great worth and many virtues, as well as the warm feeling of affection with which he has inspired me. Wishing every success to your gathering, and all good fortune to your guest, I am faithfully yours, Edward Blake.”
We have only space for an extract from a similar letter received from the Hon. A. Mackenzie, Premier:
“There are few men in Canada, who have rendered such zealous service to the public as Mr. McKellar. I have had the pleasure personally of cooperating with him in public affairs for a quarter of a century, and I probably know Mr. McKellar better than any other man in Canada, an intimacy which has led to the highest appreciation of, and admiration for, his unselfish zeal on behalf of his country.”Further comment than this on his public life would be superfluous.
Sheriff McKellar is connected with the Presbyterian church, and has always been from principle abstemious in his habits, never having used either tobacco or strong drink.
He was first married at Niagara, in 1836, to Lucy McNabb, who died in 1857. In May, 1875, he married Mrs. Kate Mercer, daughter of Judge Powell, of Toronto. He has three sons and three daughters living, the eldest son being Registrar of Kent, and the other two farming at the old homestead.