Isaac Montgomery Barr
Biographical Sketch by Franklin Lloyd Foster, Ph.D.
(originally written as a submission to Wikipedia -
Isaac Montgomery Barr
(March 2, 1847 – January 18, 1837) Anglican clergyman; promoter of British colonial settlement schemes, most notably the Barr Colony which became Lloydminster and District in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada
Early Life and Education: Isaac M. Barr was born in Hornby, Canada West (now part of Halton Hills in Ontario, Canada). His father, William Barr, born in 1816 in Ireland, was a Presbyterian Minister. Isaac Barr’s mother Catharine (Baird) Barr, also born in Ireland, died when Isaac was 10 years old. Isaac Barr’s early education was in a small rural school where the teacher was his father, supplementing his modest ministerial stipend. William Barr brought much of his ministerial approach to education and young Isaac emulated his father by playing the role of preacher in childhood games. 1 From 1868 – 1870 Barr attended Huron College, in London, Ontario, with the intention of becoming an Anglican cleric. In 1870, he moved his studies to the University of Toronto. Following graduation he began his ministerial career as a curate in Exeter and Woodstock, Ontario.
Isaac Barr at his desk in London
planning the great colonial enterprise that became
Lloydminster and District
Personal Life: August 10, 1870 – Isaac Barr married Eliza Weaver in London, Ontario. His first child, Gertrude Bessie Barr was born June 19, 1871. A second daughter, Dora Kathleen Barr was born in 1874, and a son, Harry Baird Barr, was born in 1877. In 1883, he and the family moved to the United States but the marriage seems to have come to an end. On June 25, 1900, apparently divorced from Eliza, Barr married Emma Williams, in New Whatcom, Washington. 2 That same year, his son Harry died of disease while serving with Canadian contingents participating in the Second Anglo-
In 1905, in Lincoln, Nebraska, Barr married Christina Helberg. They would have two sons: Harry Montgomery Baird Barr and William Hall Barr.
Ministerial Career: In 1875, Isaac Barr was appointed by the Bishop of Saskatchewan to serve the Prince Albert Settlement in Saskatchewan in what was then the North-
Career as a Colonizer: Isaac Barr became a great admirer of Cecil Rhodes and his efforts to spread British influence in the world. He resigned his ministry in Washington state with a view to travelling to South Africa to assist Rhodes. When Barr reached London, England in January of 1902, he was dismayed at news of Rhodes failing health and, two months later, Rhodes died. 6 Barr by now though had first-
At the same time, another Anglican cleric with Canadian experience, George Exton Lloyd, was writing letters to the editor also urging British colonization in Western Canada. Both Barr and Lloyd received large numbers of responses to their letters and, on Barr’s initiative, the two men met at Lloyd’s home in London. 8 As the response continued, Barr developed an increasingly detailed plan for a group settlement or colonial planting. In September of 1902, he sailed for Canada to meet with Canadian government officials in Ottawa, and railway executives in Montreal. 9 He also met with officials of the Elder Dempster shipping lines to arrange ocean transportation. Barr made verbal arrangements with all these individuals for assistance and support. Both the Government of Canada and the shipping lines had incentive programs to promote the much desired settlement. However, many of the commitments Barr received were not carried to complete fruition.10
Barr’s plans included the formation of several “syndicates” or co-
The project continued to mushroom into one of the largest group settlements in Canadian history; attracting attention from the Canadian, British, and even the United States press. The main party, including Barr and Lloyd, sailed on the SS Lake Manitoba from Liverpool on March 31.1903. Many other colonists came on other ships and this flow continued over a period of several years, thanks to the energy generated by Barr’s idea of an all-
By the time the ship docked in Saint John, New Brunswick complaints had already surfaced about Barr’s inability to meet the colonials’ expectations. Rev. Lloyd had emerged as a steadying force and contrast to Barr. The growing tension between the two was fuelled by Barr’s lifestyle; drinking alcoholic beverages, and having on board his young, female typist, both of which offended the prim moral standards of Rev. Lloyd.14
Contrary to some local Lloydminster lore, Isaac Barr did reach the future site of Lloydminster and, on the morning of May 10, 1903, raised a red ensign he had brought with him, to mark the culmination of his plan. However, facing rejection and criticism, threatened with legal action, or worse, Barr retreated from the adventure.16 His rejection was even more poignant when, despite some growing pains, the settlement quickly became a success and one of the prime agricultural areas in western Canada and, later, an oil producing center. It had, indeed, been a promised land.17
Latter Years: After his withdrawal from the Barr Colony expedition, Barr returned to Markham, Ontario where he had left Christina Helberg with his relatives.18 He married Christina in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1905, worked briefly as an insurance salesman, before moving to Ferndale, Washington where he attempted farming. In 1910 he became interested in a settlement scheme in Victoria, Australia.19 He sold his property and, along with Christina, and Harry (age 4) and William (9 months) sailed from Vancouver, British Columbia, with a stop in Honolulu, Hawaii on December 9, 1910,20 and then on to Australia. The Closer Settlement they were aiming for was 210 kilometres from Melbourne, near Cohuna. Conditions in the new settlement were challenging, farming success was modest. In 1916, he appeared as a witness at a government inquiry into the settlement. He claimed that pamphlets approved by the government had led he and his family to Australia and that a promise of free title should be honoured.21 Despite the difficulties, Isaac and Christina raised their family and their descendents remain in the area.22
Barr died January 18, 1937 in Cohuna, Australia just weeks before his ninetieth birthday.
20. Ships List -
22. Reid, Helen Evans (1969), All Silent, All Damned, Toronto: The Ryerson Press, p. 133
For more information about Isaac Barr and his family -
Isaac Barr, seated centre, on board SS Lake Manitoba
Standing: second from left -
far right: George Flamank