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HARWOOD, ROBERT UNWIN, merchant and politician; b. 22 Jan. 1798 at Sheffield, England; his mother was Elizabeth Unwin; d. 12 April 1863 at Vaudreuil, Canada East.

Robert Unwin Harwood came to Canada in 1821 to work for the family-owned wholesale hardware house of John Harwood and Company of Montreal, then managed by his brother John. Young and handsome, Robert won the hand of Marie-Louise-Josephte, the eldest daughter of the late Michel-Eustache-Gaspard-Alain Chartier* de Lotbinière, seigneur of Vaudreuil, Rigaud, and Lotbinière; they were married on 15 Dec. 1823. Before his fortunate marriage Harwood had been an obscure petitioner seeking from the crown a grant of 200 acres of unlocated land in some remote township north of Montreal. After his wedding, he moved in a more select society, serving, for example, on the grand jury for criminal cases several times between 1824 and 1828 with John Molson* Jr, Peter McGill [McCutcheon*], George Moffatt, and other prominent Montreal merchants.

Following his wife’s inheritance of the seigneury of Vaudreuil in 1829, Harwood exchanged trade and Montreal society for the countryside. His first years in Vaudreuil were spent attending to long-neglected seigneurial matters, renewing the censitaires contracts, and building a new manor house for his growing family which eventually numbered ten children. “My occupations are at present so great,” Harwood wrote in 1830, declining an appointment as justice of the peace, “that I could not do my duty as a magistrate.”

During the 1830s provincial politics somewhat diverted Harwood from parochial problems, but after 1840 he again turned his full attention to the seigneury. He made generous donations to the churches, schools, and needy individuals of Vaudreuil. He pursued reforms in agriculture and transportation; this interest he called “a hobby,” but it was based on a sound grasp of problems and genuine concern for improvement. Harwood, who was usually referred to as seigneur, was one of the few to commute seigneurial property into freehold tenure, doing so between 1846 and 1853. Rather than relying solely on rents for his income, he used the right of banalité to begin a large-scale milling operation in 1841. Towards the tenants he was less businesslike. He preferred leniency to litigation in the collection of seigneurial dues. His liberal attitude led his disapproving brother in England to say in 1852 that “the management of property to advantage is a talent not possessed by many and certainly not by our family”; however, it also prompted La Minerve to remark, around the same time, that “Mr. Harwood’s conduct as a seigneur has been and remains irreproachable.” All in all, Harwood was a rare example of an English speaking seigneur who gained the respect and affection of his people. After his death La Minerve noted that “few seigneurs were as well liked by their censitaires as he was.”

Harwood’s political career, although curious, was of less significance. In 1832 he was appointed to the Legislative Council of Lower Canada, but as a moderate and youthful member he had little influence on its decisions during the constitutional tension in the 1830s. Following the troubles of 1837–38, in which he played no part, Harwood was one of the moderates added to the Special Council in September 1839. His term was short, as the Special Council last met in June 1840.

Not appointed to the Legislative Council after the union, Harwood eschewed active participation in politics until 1847 when he stood for election in Vaudreuil as a Reform candidate. He was defeated then and again in 1851 and 1854. He was finally elected to the assembly from Vaudreuil in January 1858. In 1860 he resigned his seat and won election to the Legislative Council for Rigaud. Thus his political career came full circle – from a young appointed member of the upper house to an old elected member of it.

Harwood died at the manor house in Vaudreuil in April 1863. “The Hon. Robt. Harwood was much respected,” it was noted, “indulgent to his tenantry, of unspotted reputation, courteous and considerate to all with whom he had relations.”

John Beswarick Thompson

Bureau d’enregistrement de Vaudreuil (Qué.). Terrier des mutations de la seigneurie de Vaudreuil, 1829–63. McGill University Libraries, Dept. of Rare Books and Special Coll., ms coll., Robert Unwin Harwood papers. PAC, MG 24, I119, Seigneurie de Lotbinière, 1821–65, pp.74–114; RG 1, L3L, 136; RG 4, A1, S-244, p.152; B12, 1; B30, 115; B72, 39, 43, 49. Private archives, Henri de Lotbinière Harwood (Vaudreuil, Qué.), Harwood family papers. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1842, I, app.Z; 1851, III, app.U.U.; 1852–53, VII, app.P.P.P. L. C., Special Council, Journals, 1839; House of Assembly, Journals, 1829, app.Ee (A). La Minerve, 16 déc. 1847; 13 janv. 1848; 16, 19 déc. 1851; 16 avril 1863. Montreal Gazette, 30 April 1846, 5 Feb. 1851, 16 Oct. 1860. Montreal Herald, 9 June 1821, 1 May 1822, 3 Feb. 1849. Vindicator and Canadian Advertiser (Montreal), 1 Sept. 1835. The British North American almanac and annual record for the year 1864: a hand-book of statistical and general information, ed. James Kirby (Montreal, 1864), 308. E. C. Royle, An historical study of the Anglican parish of Vaudreuil (Hudson Heights, Que., 1952), 49.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

John Beswarick Thompson, “HARWOOD, ROBERT UNWIN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 24, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/harwood_robert_unwin_9E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/harwood_robert_unwin_9E.html
Author of Article: John Beswarick Thompson
Title of Article: HARWOOD, ROBERT UNWIN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1976
Year of revision: 1976
Access Date: October 24, 2014