Recognition urged for Williamstown historian
BY SCOTT CARMICHAEL
Staff One of Glengarry’s most important, yet most overlooked, historical figures may finally be receiving some long-deserved recognition.
At the most recent meeting of the Glengarry Historical Society board on August 9, David Anderson spoke of John Rae, referring to the early 19th century political economist and long-time Williamstown resident as “world-renowned in an obscure way.”
Mr. Anderson also explained how Mr. Rae – for whom he is submitting an application to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in the hopes of procuring a plaque recognizing him as a Person of National Historic Significance – and his achievements deserve to be celebrated.
“Economic professionals recognize him as a true forerunner of modern economics, and yet, in his time and really up to the present, he’s not publicly-known,” said Mr. Anderson, who pointed out that perhaps the Aberdeen native’s greatest contribution was his espousal of the endogenous growth theory which holds that investment in human capital, innovation, and knowledge are significant contributors to economic growth.
The theory also postulates that the positive side and spillover effects of a knowledge-based economy will help lead to economic development.
“It’s essentially the economics of modern, decentralized communication, specifically, the Internet,” added Mr. Anderson.
“Not to make too big of a deal of it, but that’s what it amounts to.”
Mr. Anderson is currently completing the application to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board.
“Then there’s a process of eliciting academic support from professionals...In this case, the Canadian Economic Association and Aberdeen University,” he said.
“There will be others, but they’re the main ones...the weighty supporters.”
Calling the entire process – which also includes “vetting of the evidence” and the composition of a study “which is about the equivalent of a master’s thesis” – a “very scrupulous and demanding” one, Mr. Anderson explained that it will be some time before the plaque is erected, if it is ultimately approved.
“There’s also the question of the text and the making of the plaque, and so on, so by the time everything’s finished, you’re talking three to four years,” he said. There’s also the matter of deciding a spot for its location. “It will be somewhere in Williamstown,” said Mr. Anderson, adding that the actual site of the home in which Mr. Rae and his wife, Eliza, lived – circa 1822 to 1831, during which time he also operated a boys school in the village, served as a coroner for the Eastern District, and possibly practised as a physician – remains unknown.
Mr. Rae died in Staten Island, N.Y. in July 1872 at the age of 76.
He was a resident of the palatial estate of his longtime friend, and one of Glengarry’s most successful expats, Roderick William Cameron, at the time of his death.