Theodore Hart began his business career in his father’s firm, Benjamin Hart and Company, a Montreal insurance agency and mercantile business. His cousin, Abraham Joseph, was also associated with the firm. After his father’s death in 1855 Theodore established a similar but separate business which was to include large land holdings and extensive corporate interests. His mercantile business consisted of a general wholesale and retail trade and a part interest in at least one ship that traded between Britain and Canada East. As an insurance agent Hart handled marine, life, and fire insurance, and represented the Equitable Fire Insurance Company of London, the Sun Mutual Life Insurance Company of Montreal, the Mercantile Insurance Company, the Security Insurance Company of New York, Minerva Life of London, and the New York Underwriters. His land holdings included 6,400 acres of mining lands north of lakes Huron and Superior, the Le Closse fief in the centre of Montreal bought from the Sulpicians in 1845, and other valuable real estate in the city, including over 200 houses. One of the incorporators of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1851 and a provisional director of the Montreal and Bytown Railway established in 1853, Hart also served as a director of the Richelieu Company, the Consumers’ Gas Company, the Montreal Railway Terminus Company, the Montreal Permanent Building Society, the Montreal and Lachine Railroad Company, the Anglo-Canadian Telegraph Company, and the Canadian board of the International Life Assurance Society of London; he also held shares in the Bank of Montreal and the City Bank. Hart was particularly active as an investor in such mining concerns as the Upper Canada Mining Company, the Echo Lake Mining Company, and the Montreal Mining Company. His deep involvement in railways with termini in Montreal may have been motivated by a desire to increase the value of his extensive land holdings in the city’s east end and in its central business district around Place d’Armes.
Hart also participated actively in and contributed generously to the life of his community. A member of the militia, he served during the 1837 rebellion and by 1846 had attained the rank of captain in the 3rd Battalion of Montreal militia. He served as director of the Montreal Horticultural Society in 1853–54, was a member of the St James Club, and held executive offices in both the Montreal Merchants’ Exchange and Reading Room and the Montreal Board of Trade. Along with his father he signed the Annexation Manifesto of 1849 and later became a political partisan of Luther Hamilton Holton*, a Liberal and the man he felt would serve the “best commercial interests” of the city. Hart made generous financial donations to McGill College’s general endowment, the Montreal Protestant House of Industry and Refuge, and the Montreal General Hospital, which he served as a governor for several terms; in recognition of his philanthropy the hospital made him a life governor in 1878.
Although a member of one of Montreal’s most prominent Jewish families and an early, active participant in the Shearith Israel congregation, Hart became estranged from his religious community in the late 1840s. The cause of his estrangement may have been his second marriage, to Mary Kent Bradbury, a Unitarian from Boston. His first marriage on 4 Jan. 1842 to Frances Michael David, his first cousin, ended with her death in 1844 after she had given birth to two daughters, who died in infancy. By his second marriage Hart had three sons and a daughter. Like several of his business contemporaries, including his friend Luther Holton, both Hart and his wife joined the Unitarian Church of the Messiah.
In 1872 Hart gave up business and five years later retired to Europe for health reasons, although he visited Montreal periodically. He died of stomach cancer on 28 May 1887 at the home of his daughter, the wife of a French prefect.
A man of external piety, philanthropy, public spirit, and wealth, who made the transition from a family mercantile firm to large corporate interests, Hart possessed all the stereotyped qualities of the successful, mid-19th-century Montreal businessman.
AC, Montréal, État civil, Unitariens, Messiah Unitarian Church (Montreal), 30 June 1887; Minutiers, L. A. Hart, 7 March 1888. ANQ-M, État civil, Juifs, Shearith Israel Congregation (Montréal), 4 janv., 13 oct. 1842; 4 mars, 13 oct. 1844. Bibliothèque Atwater (Montréal), Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal, Minute books, 1829–35. McCord Museum (Montreal), Hart papers; Militia lists, 1846. McGill Univ. Libraries (Montreal), Dept. of Rare Books and Special Coll., W. N. Evans, “History of the Church of the Messiah: Montreal, 1892” (typescript). PAC, MG 24, D16. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1849–57. Can., Prov. of, Statutes, 1859–67. Elgin-Grey papers (Doughty). Montreal General Hospital, Annual report (Montreal), 1861–87. Gazette (Montreal), May, June 1887. La Minerve, mai 1873. Montreal Transcript, January 1863. Canada directory, 1851; 1857–58. The Jewish encyclopedia . . . , ed. Isidore Singer (12v., New York and London, 1901–6), VI. Montreal directory, 1847–59. Montreal pocket almanack and general register (Montreal), 1845–59. Terrill, Chronology of Montreal. Atherton, Montreal, I–III. Camille Bertrand, Histoire de Montréal (2v., Paris et Montréal, 1935–42). The Jew in Canada: a complete record of Canadian Jewry from the days of the French régime to the present time, ed. A. D. Hart (Toronto and Montreal, 1926). Joseph Kage, With faith and thanksgiving: the story of two hundred years of Jewish immigration and immigrant aid effort in Canada (1760–1960) (Montreal, 1962). Sack, Hist. of the Jews in Canada. Gérard Malchelosse, “Les Juifs dans l’histoire canadienne,” Cahiers des Dix, 4 (1939): 167–95.