Duncan Monroe (1842-1936)
The Sash our Forefathers Wore
"One of Cornwall’s best beloved citizens."
Duncan Monroe was born near MacGillivray’s Bridge in Glengarry County, Ontario on December 19th, 1842 to parents John Monroe of Kilmuir, Scotland and Catherine McMillan of Lochiel Township in Glengarry County, Ontario.
John Monroe had left Scotland to find work in the West Indies as a Blacksmith before emigrating to Canada in 1832. In 1834 John would marry Catherine in Glengarry County.
Duncan was educated at the schools of Charlottenburgh and Lochiel and the old grammar school in Lancaster, Ontario where he learned the Gaelic language.
After leaving school, Duncan settled in Buckingham, Quebec where he acquired sufficient knowledge in the French language in order to secure a junior clerkship in the general store of James Wilson, where he was employed for seven years.
It was while Duncan was living in Buckingham that he joined the Loyal Orange Association of British North America and would remain a member for 76 years until his death.
Duncan was an active and enthusiastic member and was instrumental in reviving the Orange Lodge in Cornwall, Ontario. Due to Duncan’s dedication and commitment to the Association, the members in Cornwall agreed to name the Lodge in Duncan’s honour calling it “Monroe Loyal Orange Lodge No. 880”.
During Duncan’s 76 years in the Association he held chairs at the Primary, District, County and the Provincial Grand Orange Lodge of Ontario East as Grand Master. Throughout all his years he seldom missed an Orange Walk on July 12th.
When Duncan moved from Buckingham to Cornwall he served as head clerk for 13 years in the large general store of William Mattice, one of Cornwall’s pioneer businessmen.
After resigning from his head clerk position, Duncan went out on his own and took over the agency for the Royal Fire Insurance Company taking on partner, Garfield H. Cottrell. The firm was known as “Monroe and Cottrell”.
Duncan eventually branched out into other lines of insurance and also dealt heavily in real estate and became one of Cornwall’s largest property owners.
A man proud of his British heritage, Duncan always thought of himself as Canadian first, last and always.
In Duncan’s younger days, he joined the militia during the “Trent affair” (1) and served on the mounted patrol during the Fenian Raids (2) of 1866 and 1870.
Taking a great interest in education, Duncan acted as secretary-treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the Cornwall Public School and a second position as secretary-treasurer for the Cornwall High School (Cornwall Collegiate Vocational School) for a period of 62 years, resigning in 1929 and being succeeded by his partner in the Insurance business, Garfield H. Cottrell.
For many years, Duncan donated a medal each year to the pupil making the highest standing in British and Canadian History at the examination for entrance to the High School.
No function in connection with either the elementary or secondary level, whether in the classroom, auditorium or on the field of sport was considered complete without the presence of Duncan Monroe and he wielded a great influence among the young people of Cornwall, all of whom loved him for the interest he displayed in their welfare. At such gatherings Duncan always conveyed words of encouragement to the pupils, urging them to be studious in their studies and obedient to their instructors, as in this way they would become a credit to themselves, their parents and good citizens of Canada.
Duncan was a staunch Presbyterian and a long-standing member of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Cornwall. He was inducted as an Elder of the Church in 1902 and served in that capacity until his death and acted as Clerk of Session 1909 to 1927.
Duncan was heavily involved in other clubs besides the Loyal Orange Association. He was also a member of the St. Andrew’s Society, Camp Aberdeen and the Sons of Scotland. He was a charter member and past president of the Cornwall Club and one of the founders of the Cornwall Curling Club. With the manager of the Bank of Montreal Duncan organized the Cornwall Golf Club and Bowling Club. He also served on the Town of Cornwall Council, President of the Cornwall Agricultural Society, Cornwall Cheese Board, Cornwall Board of Trade and a life Governor of the Cornwall General Hospital.
Duncan had a just claim to no small share in the credit for Cornwall’s development having seen it grow from a small village to that of a model young city.
His many activities, extending over a period of so many years made Duncan one of the best known members of the community.
Within a few days of Duncan’s 94th birthday, he passed away at his home on 5th Street in Cornwall.
Out of respect to his memory, flags were flown at half-mast at the Cornwall Collegiate Vocational School and Public School and over the Orange Block on Pitt Street from the time of his death until after the funeral.
That Duncan’s death was deeply regretted was indicated by the large number who attended his funeral service to pay a last tribute of respect to a worthy man. People in all walks of life and of every religious persuasion in Cornwall as well as many prominent residents of the United Counties and from distant points, assembled in St. John’s Church to attend the service.
On account of the schools being closed in observance of the birthday of His Majesty King George VI, the teachers of the Cornwall Collegiate Vocational School and Public School attended the service. Members of Monroe Loyal Orange Lodge No. 880 attended the funeral as a body.
On the occasion of Duncan's passing, the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder, the local newspaper wrote an article about Duncan explaining him as "one of Cornwall’s best beloved citizens".
Duncan was laid to rest at Woodlawn Cemetery in Cornwall on December 4th, 1936.
This article was written with information from the Cornwall Community Museum, the Cornwall Public Library, Ancestry.ca, the Canadian Encyclopedia and Bro. M. Alexander.