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John Bell, solicitor for the Grand Trunk railway company for nearly thirty years, and one of the oldest lawyers in Central Ontario, is a native of the county of Tyrone, Ireland, and was born in Straban, June 10, 1823. His father, Robert Bell, was a linen manufacturer, of Scotch-Irish descent, like the people generally in the north of Ireland; and his mother, before her marriage, was Catherine Wallace, whose father was Scotch. Before our subject was a year old, the family emigrated to the United States, and spent nine years in the city of New York, where the son laid the foundation of’ his education in the so called Kidder’s academy.
In 1833, there being a wide spread and great depression of the cotton manufacturing business, Robert Bell removed to Kemptville, then in the Johnstown district, now in the county of Grenville, and there settled on land in the dense forest, one mile from any opening. There our subject had a first-class opportunity for developing his muscle by hard work, he aiding with the axe, to clear nearly a hundred acres, with little opportunity, meantime, to strengthen his mental faculties by suitable nourishment a great trial, no doubt, for his subsequent history shows that he must have yearned for knowledge.
At eighteen years of age he entered the grammar school at the village of Kemptville, and, after pursuing his studies there for some time, entered Victoria College, at Cobourg, where he studied between one and two years, then entered at Toronto the law office of Chief Justice Hagarty and Hon. John Crawford, since deceased. His articles expired in 1849; he immediately commenced the practice of his profession at Belleville, in company with the Hon. John Ross, then a member of the Legislative Council, and afterwards Attorney-General, &c., of the Province of Canada. They were in company until 1852, when Mr. Ross, since deceased, became president of the Grand Trunk railway company, and on the 2nd of October of the same year, Mr. Bell was appointed solicitor of that company, a position which he still holds. He has also been for a long time solicitor for the county of Hastings, and for the Bank of Montreal for a longer period; and is likewise solicitor for the Merchants’ Bank, and one or two other institutions. He was created a Queen’s Counsel in 1866. Mr. Bell has never stood for a civil or political office, but has made his profession his exclusive business, giving to it his closest studies and his best energies; hence his high standing. We have heard him called a “born lawyer.” He is in love with his work, and pursuing it energetically; has very clear perceptions, a sound judgment, and unquestioned integrity, and is one of the safest counselors in Ontario. On railway law we know no higher authority, and he occupies a recognized place in the front rank of his profession.
He has been master of the Moira Lodge (Belleville) Freemasons, and is a royal arch; is also a member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church, and chairman of its board of trustees.
On the 1st of August, 1853, Mr. Bell became the husband of Helen Maria, daughter of John Turnbull, one of the oldest settlers in Belleville, and she had eight children, six of them still living. She died on the 28th of June 1879. She was a very affectionate wife and mother, a zealous Christian worker, foremost in “labors of love,” and her demise created a vacuum in the benevolent circles of this city.
An associate of hers in Christian and charitable work, speaks of her “as constant in her friendships, unassuming in her manners, a model wife and mother, and a good Samaritan.” She was deeply attached to the church of her father (Presbyterian), of which she was long a consistent member.