If buildings could speak… - A historical and architectural tour of Vaudreuil-Dorion

 

Robert Unwin Harwood

Robert Unwin Harwood (1798-1863). © Centre d’archives de Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Famille de Lotbinière-Harwood Fund, P31/B,4.

Birth 1798 in Sheffield, England

Death 1863 in Vaudreuil

FROM SHEFFIELD TO MONTRÉAL

Born on January 22, 1798 in Sheffield, England, Robert Unwin Harwood was the third child1 of William Harwood (1766-1826) and Elizabeth Unwin (1768-1847)2. In 1821, he arrived in Canada to help two of his brothers, John Harwood (1799-1823) and William Harwood3. They opened a Montréal branch of the family business: William Harwood and Sons4.

FROM MERCHANT TO SEIGNEUR

On December 15, 1823, Robert Unwin Harwood married Marie-Louise-Josephte (1803-1869)5 at the Anglican Christ Church in Montréal. She was the eldest daughter of Michel-Eustache-Gaspard-Alain Chartier de Lotbinière (1748-1822), seigneur of Vaudreuil, Rigaud, and Lotbinière6. Six years later (1829), Marie-Louise-Josephte inherited the seigneury of Vaudreuil and the couple settled in Vaudreuil7. Robert Unwin Harwood therefore became seigneur by marriage. From then on, he developed a great interest in the financial management and profitability of the seigneury, particularly in collecting overdue payments totalling approximately 58,000 pounds from Vaudreuil landowners8. Administrator of the Compagnie de chemin de fer de Vaudreuil, he was also a fervent advocate for the Grand Trunk (Canadian National). In fact, one end of this company's bridge linking Île Perrot to Vaudreuil was located on land owned by his wife and the site of the former seigneurial mansion9. Like Pierre-Gustave Joly (1798-1865), husband of Julie-Christine Chartier (1810-1860), seigneuresse of Lotbinière near Québec City, the couple benefited from the seigneurial tenure reform, allowing them to transform one third of the seigneury into free and common soccage10 in March 1853, before its abolition in December 1854. Thus, between 1829 and 1854, the seigneurial couple of Vaudreuil granted very little land. Robert Unwin Harwood waited for the reform before selling the land at advantageous prices. As a result, the Lotbinière-Harwood family were millionaires before the end of the 19th century11.

A WINDMILL AND A NEW MANSION

In 1840, Robert Unwin Harwood had an imposing mill built in Pointe des Cascades, hoping to gain a significant income from flour production. Unfortunately, the company was no longer in operation in 185112. Pointe Quinchien manor, which was the residence of the Chartier de Lotbinière family from 1765 to 1822-1829, was left empty, rented and then finally abandoned after the construction of a new three-storey stone manor house in 1829. It was in this home that the Harwood-Lotbinière’s ten children were born13.

A POLITICAL CAREER

While managing the seigneury, Robert Unwin Harwood pursued a political career14. In 1832, he was appointed member of the Legislative Council of Lower Canada, but his term was not renewed at the time of the Act of Union (1840). On three occasions, he unsuccessfully ran as a Reform candidate in the elections. It was not until 1858 that he was elected to the assembly as the Vaudreuil representative. He left this position in 1860 to be elected to the Legislative Council as the Rigaud County representative.

ESTEEMED BY HIS COMMUNITY

During his lifetime, testimonies published in the newspapers commended this reformist-minded politician. Vaudreuil residents certainly maintained cordial relations with the Vaudreuil « seigneur »; citizens supported him on the political level as well as in his productive endeavours in the area of transportation. Although he was a seigneur of rather conservative allegiance, he also had a liberal spirit, showing indulgence and moderation during the insurrection of 1837-183815. Churches, schools and several residents acknowledged his generosity. For nearly 40 years, Robert Unwin Harwood, the "last Seigneur of Vaudreuil", left his mark on the collective memory of the Vaudreuil-Dorion community through his active and dynamic presence, his business sense, and his interest in the region's economic development16.

He died in the Vaudreuil Bay family mansion on April 12, 1863. He was buried at Montréal's Mount Royal Cemetery17.

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