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Alberta, Past and Present, Historical and Biographical
Vol 2
John McNeill


A forceful and resourceful business man is John McNeill, who is conducting his interests under the name of the Twin City Transfer Company. In this connection he has built up a business of large and gratifying proportions that stands as a visible evidence of his enterprise, determination, close application kind progressiveness. Mr. McNeill was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on the 27th of January, 1871, and is a son of William and Elizabeth (Bryce) McNeill, who were also natives of the land of hills and heather, where they spent their lives. The mother passed away in 1892, while the father, surviving for five years, was called to his final rest in 1897. He was a wholesale provision merchant and met with. substantial success in the conduct of his business affairs. Both were members of the Presbyterian church and Mr. McNeill was a Conservative in his political views. To him and his wife were born six children, five of whom, all sons, are living.

John McNeil!, the third child in order of birth, pursued his education in the schools of his native city and following his father's death assumed the management of the provision business, which he carried on for about twenty years, taking charge thereof when a youth of but eighteen. He prospered in his undertaking, building up a very substantial trade but with the desire to come to Canada he sold the business to his brother in 1910. It was his intention to engage in farming here, having come with a Canadian Pacific Railroad colony of about one hundred people, including Scotch, English and Irish. The people from Scotland traveled together and first made their way to Strathmore, where some of the number set- tied, while others went to look over the Canadian Pacific Railroad land twenty-four miles south of Sedgewick and there took up their abode. Mr. McNeill purchased a thousand acres of laud at thirteen dollars per acre on the ten-year payment plan. He built thereon a house and barn and fenced a portion of his tract. In connection with a neighbor he purchased a big gasoline engine to furnish motor power for the farm work. Up to this time he had never seen a gasoline engine, but he took charge thereof and broke two hundred acres of land for himself and an equal amount for his partner, after which he broke land for other Scotchmen, plowing altogether twelve hundred acres in the summer of 1910. In September of that year two men drove to his house late at night and asked to be directed to Caster. He put them on their way but two hours later these same men returned and again asked the way to Caster. Mr. McNeil took them in, keeping them all night. He showed them over his farm and they seemed so well pleased with it that they offered to pay him fifteen dollars per acre and also pay him for the breaking and improvement that he had placed thereon. Thus it was that he came into possession of his first Canadian money. He was given a week in which to make arrangements to move and he went to Sedgewick but found that there was nothing to be rented there save a small two-room shack. He then took an option on a half section of land south of Sedgevick, for which he was to pay twenty-three dollars per acre and to hold it he paid fifty dollars for the option. He then tried to get the sale papers ready but solicitors could not do the work then and because of the illness of his baby and the fact that the local doctor could not tell the trouble Mr. McNeill brought his family to Edmonton in order to get medical aid here. The hospitals being full, he rented a house on Ross street and arranged for a doctor to care for the little one. Pleased with Edmonton and its prospects he decided to remain here. He had a team and wagon left from the sale of his farm, so with these he brought to Edmonton the little furniture that he had and has since made his. home in this city. Everything argued well for the future. His baby improved at once on getting to Edmonton and Mr. McNeill found immediate employment by answering an advertisement in a window for a man to haul coal. He hauled two loads and quit but this opened up to him a, line of business, for on the 1st of November, 1910, he purchased the Twin City Transfer business, which then consisted of two horses and a little shack, ten by sixteen feet. His business grew very rapidly and in 1912 he built half of his present building, twenty-five by seventy feet, and increased the number of his horses to twenty. In 1914 he doubled the capacity of his barns and increased his horses to thirty. Today he is utilizing in his business thirty head of horses, eight auto trucks, fifteen McLaughlin automobiles and has a storage warehouse on One Hundred and Third street, while six months ago he took over the old Marshall Wells building for a storehouse. Both warehouses have trackage and his equipment is thoroughly modern in every particular. In 1918 he purchased a large building on Fourteenth street, thus securing a brick garage and in October, 1922, he rented a large garage, one hundred by one hundred and fifty feet. He employs fifty-three men, being today the largest individual employer of labor in Edmonton. The Twin City Transfer Company has exclusive privileges with all railway companies entering the city, so far as taxi service is concerned. It is also baggage agent for the Canadian National Railroad, the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Alberta & Great Waterways Railroad. it also has the contracts for moving all the scenery for the local theatres and does a large business in packing and crating furniture, while 1)001 cars are made up for all points east and west of Edmonton. The business is today one of the largest of the kind in western Canada and stands as a visible evidence of the indefatigable enterprise and progressive spirit of Mr. McNeil, who is sole proprietor. He handles all the business for the MacDonald Hotel and several other of the hotels of the city and he makes a specialty of piano moving, having the patronage of all the piano houses of Edmonton and keeping a crew of men for this particular work. The company has handled one hundred and forty-five pianos in two weeks. There is also a crew of men for crating and hauling furniture. Many interesting and some weird experiences have come to Mr. McNeil in the course of his business. In 1911 three strangers came to his office and each stored two trunks. On Mr. McNeill's arrival at his office early one morning one of these men was waiting to get in and said he wished to open one of his trunks. Mr. McNeill admitted him and was then called into the front office. When he finished his business there he returned to the back and saw the fellow lying on the floor. Examining him he found that he had taken a revolver from the trunk and had blown his head off. The fellow had a letter in his pocket saying that he had come there for the purpose of suicide and told whom to notify. On another occasion a young fellow, twenty years of age, visited Mr. McNeill and said he was broke and wished to borrow ten dollars on his trunk. Mr. McNeill told him to open the trunk that lie might see what was in it. And he did so. On top was a Bible and a photograph of the boy's parents. Mr. McNeill recognized the parents as old friends of his in Scotland and asked the boy why he was here. The answer was that he had run away from home two years before and Mr. McNeill told him to sit down and write a letter to his mother, which he did, whereupon Mr. McNeill gave him twenty dollars and a job. The boy continued in his employ for some time and is now a substantial business man of Edmonton. Throughout his life Mr. McNeill has extended a helping hand to those in need. On one occasion his wife advertised for a servant and three girls applied, one of whom was Scotch and she was given the preference. She did not come, however, after being engaged and the following week Mr. McNeill met her on the street and asked her why she didn't come. She said that she had a better job but the following week he was called to the hospital and found the girl there dead. He had known her parents in Scotland also and he buried the girl and notified her father and mother. These are but a few of the many incidents where he has extended assistance and aid in an hour of need. On two occasions Sir Harry Lauder visited Edmonton and on both visits has been entertained by Mr. McNeill. He also drove the Prince of Wales in one of his taxis in his visit to Edmonton in 1921. The Prince left his hat in the taxi and Mr. McNeill has it as a souvenir of the visit of His Royal Highness to this city.

On the 27th of June, 1893, Mr. McNeill was married to Miss Jennie Cuthbert McKenzie of Glasgow, Scotland, and to them have been horn five sons and a daughter: Mary, who is the wife of Donald Moore, who conducts a store of ladies' ready-to-wear goods in Edmonton; William, who is at the head of his father's taxi business; John, who conducts the Lines garage at Edmonton; Hugh, who is operating the garage on Fourteenth street in Edmonton; Alexander, who is employed in the transfer office; and Guy, in school. Mr. and Mrs. McNeil are members of the Presbyterian church and he belongs to the Masonic fraternity. In these associations are found the rules which govern his conduct and shape his relations with his fellowmen. He is also a member of the Kiwanis Club. He is not interested in politics and takes no active part therein but devotes all of his time to his business and to the good work that he can do in the world, for the spirit of brotherhood is strong within him.


 


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