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MONRO, ALEXANDER, surveyor, office holder, jp, author, and journalist; b. 17 March 1813 in Banff, Scotland, son of John Monro; d. 26 Dec. 1896 in Baie Verte, N.B.

In 1815 Alexander Monro’s family left Scotland and settled on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick. They remained in the region until 1818, at which time they moved to Mount Whatley, near Sackville. Shortly thereafter they established themselves in Baie Verte.

Monro’s interest in surveying developed at an early age and was greatly encouraged by his teacher at Baie Verte, Robert King, who owned a surveying compass. In 1837, at the age of 24, Monro went to Fredericton to seek an appointment from the surveyor general, Thomas Baillie*. Unsuccessful in his attempt at government employment, he bought the firm of Gibson’s Land Surveying in Saint John. This business and a variety of odd jobs occupied him for a year, after which he returned to Fredericton and obtained a post as a deputy surveyor of crown lands. He moved to Gaspereaux (Port Elgin) in 1845 and three years later was appointed a justice of the peace for Westmorland County. In 1858 he was the surveyor in the settlement of the New Brunswick–Nova Scotia boundary, and in the 1870s he served on the Baie Verte canal surveys. From what records remain, it appears that Monro’s surveying work was focused on Westmorland County.

Monro wrote or compiled several books. His first, A treatise on theoretical and practical land surveying adapted particularly to the purpose of wood-land surveys . . . , appeared in Pictou, N.S., in 1844. The New Brunswick legislature contributed £50 toward the cost of publication. Monro argued that the book was badly needed since the British works on which surveyors were then dependent ignored woodland surveying. He also stressed the importance of surveying in general, maintaining that all members of the legal profession, as well as all landowners, should have knowledge of it.

Monro’s major work, New Brunswick; with a brief outline of Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, was printed in 1855 by Richard Nugent* in Halifax. In many ways the book is encyclopaedic, covering in detail such topics as the geography, population, mineral resources, judicial institutions, and roads of the colonies, especially New Brunswick. It was intended to correct some of the erroneous information that had previously found its way into print. Often written in a circumlocutory manner, the work argues that in its raw materials and water-power New Brunswick had the capability of becoming an important manufacturing centre. Its message, as geographer John Warkentin has pointed out, is similar to that current in the Maritimes today: “People should buy locally, governments should support industry, businessmen should be more aggressive, there should be less criticism of local endeavours, and the young should be taught skills.”

        New Brunswick set the tone for Monro’s next three publications. The first of these, Statistics of British North America, including a description of its gold fields, appeared in Halifax in 1862 and its success prompted the publication of a larger version, History, geography, and statistics of British North America, which was printed in Montreal in 1864 by John Lovell. Both are sound compendia of large amounts of statistical data. In addition, Monro contributed the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia sections of Lovell’s British North American almanac and annual record for the year 1864: hand-book of statistical and general information.

With the publication of Annexation, or union with the United States, is the manifest destiny of British North America (Saint John, 1868), a change in Monro’s attitude became evident. Until this time his writings had been positive and promotional with regard to Canada but he was now less sanguine about the country’s prospects. He amplified his position in The United States and the Dominion of Canada: their future (Saint John, 1879). Vast tracts of the dominion were uninhabitable, he maintained, and the extremes in weather were “not congenial to the Anglo-Saxon and other progressive races of the human family.” Since Canada and the United States were geographically complementary and consequently had strong ties, Canada should abandon its loyalty to Great Britain and contemplate union with the United States. The StJohn Daily Sun would later comment that, next to Goldwin Smith*, Monro was the Canadian writer who took “the most gloomy view” of the country’s future.

Monro had had a brief career in journalism. During the period 1858–60 he edited the monthly Parish School Advocate and Family Instructor for N.S., N.B., and P.E.I. (Baie Verte; Saint John). The journal advocated free schools and their financing to a limited extent by direct assessment, supported Bible-reading in the schools, and promised to take no political stand except in regard to education. It also offered lessons and questions for use at home and in the schools, analysed school bills, commented on reading and the use of language, and promoted school libraries. From May to August 1883 Monro contributed to the Chignecto Post and Borderer a series of nine articles, in the form of letters to the editor, under the general title “The Isthmus of Chignecto.” Three years later this same region was the subject of a communication in the Bulletin of the Natural History Society of New Brunswick.

Little is known of Monro’s private life. In 1844 he had married Mary Chappell of Botsford Parish, and they had had three children. She died in 1872 and three years later he married Mrs Caroline I. Innis.

Eric L. Swanick

The full title of Alexander Monro’s major work is New Brunswick; with a brief outline of Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island: their history, civil divisions, geography, and productions; with statistics of the several counties; affording views of the resources and capabilities of the provinces, and intended to convey useful information, as well as to their inhabitants, as to emigrants, strangers, and travellers, and for the use of schools; it was reprinted in Belleville, Ont., in 1972. His article in the N.B., Natural Hist. Soc., Bull. (Saint John) is entitled “On the physical features and geology of Chignecto Isthmus” and appears in no.5 (1886): 20–24.

Mount Allison Univ. Arch. (Sackville, N.B.), Alexander Monro, notebooks and survey plans. PANB, RG 7, RS74, 1899, Alexander Monro. “Alexander Monro, esq.,” Chignecto Post and Borderer (Sackville), anniversary number, September 1895: 7–9. StJohn Daily Sun, 1 Jan. 1897. J. R. March, “Nova Scotia–New Brunswick boundary,” Canadian Surveyor (Ottawa), 12 (1954–55): 8–12. John Warkentin, “Early geographical writing in English on British North America,” Biblio. Soc. of Canada, Papers (Toronto), 12 (1973): 38–71.

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Cite This Article

Eric L. Swanick, “MONRO, ALEXANDER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/monro_alexander_12E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/monro_alexander_12E.html
Author of Article:   Eric L. Swanick
Title of Article:   MONRO, ALEXANDER
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   June 7, 2023