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Fraser's Scottish Annual
Early Scotch Merchants of Montreal


BY A. H. U. COLQUHOUN, B.A.

THE backbone of the commerce of Montreal appears to have been Scotch from a comparatively early period; that is, some years before the close of the eighteenth century. As soon as the country passed under British rule, as soon as the developing fur trade found itself under the protection and stimulus of British enterprise and power, the opening presented by Canada to hardy, venturesome and capable young men was taken advantage of by many young Scotsmen.

The fur trade generally, and in particular the service of the Honorable the Hudson's Bay Company, attracted a number of our race, who, either in exploration, in trading with the Indians, or in commercial operations within the settled areas of the Canadas, exhibited those qualities which make for success everywhere—character, energy, industry. Names like Alexander Mackenzie, James McGill, Simon McGillivray, John McLeod, and many others, will always be remembered for the services to commerce and civil life performed by the men who bore them. Because it is characteristic of most of these Scotch pioneers of commerce that they were wide-minded in their views of life and full of public spirit, not mere money- grubbers, but able to shape the policy of the community as well as construct their own private fortunes. They and their associates and successors, therefore, bulk largely in the expansion of old Montreal, more largely, perhaps, than their numbers, by an actual count of heads would warrant, since there never was a time when mer. of other racial origins— English German, French, and especially American—did not play an honourable part in the development of Montreal. But to our own race, I think, belongs the lion's share of the credit, and certainly the outstanding names of that period are Scotch.

As the years went on, and Montreal began to acquire commercial supremacy, owing to her situation as a distributing point, we find that Scotchmen still figured prominently in her commercial affairs. When you reach the year 1830, or just before the introduction of railways and ocean-going steamers, you find that names like these confront you in the mercantile chronicle: Robert Gillespie, of Gillespie, Moffatt & Co.; Hugh Allan, of Miller, Edmonston & Allan; John G. MacKenzie, of J. G. MacKenzie & Co.; Joseph McKay, of Joseph McKay Bro.; James Ferrier, of Ferrier  Co.; James Law, of Law, Young Co.; James Scott, of Scott, Montgomery & Co., and a score of others, names sufficiently indicative of their origin. Every one of these men acquired a handsome fortune, and more than one of them became personally associated with the great business expansion which opened out in Canada after 1840.

Montreal, as we know it to-day, owes so much to its Scottish merchants and capitalists that we can hardly conceive of its being the city it is without their courage, their ability, their far-sightedness, and their resources. These are large claims. Can they be substantiated, or are they the idle boastings of prejudiced partiality? Let us examine a few of the conditions that go to make Montreal the principal distributing point, manufacturing centre, financial force, and ocean port of Canada— surpassing every other city in the Dominion in every one of these respects—and let us enquire how far Scotsmen were a factor in the ultimate result.

Of course, I realize that when once capital accumulates in the hands of a body of men of any race the opportunities for undertaking great enterprises successfully are in their favor. It may be said, many Montreal capitalists were Scotch; consequently, when capital was required for great ventures Scotchmen naturally became connected with those ventures. But that is a one-sided view. I claim that the Scotch temperament had much to do with the directions into which capital was sent, and the success with which it was manipulated. Supposing the intrepidity and determination of Sir Hugh Allan had been less than they were, would the ocean carrying business have been attracted to Montreal as early as it was? Mr. Allan was an Ayrshire lad, who came to Canada in 1826. After amassing a moderate fortune in the Montreal firm of which he was a member, he became interested in the ocean trade, partly, no doubt, owing to the fact that his partner,

Mr. Miller, was a ship builder, and he himself the son of a ship captain. The idea of having steam vessels come up the St. Lawrence involved heavy risks. Only a man of courage would have entertained it. The coasts were dangerous and badly lighted. The competition of Boston and New York, for passenger traffic, at least, was even greater than at present. But from the first trip of the steamship "Canadian," in 1853, down to the present day, the great shipping firm of H. & A. Allan has been a staunch factor and friend in the development of our Atlantic Ocean trade. Sir Hugh Allan was at all times so confident of the commercial future of this country that any new scheme brought to his attention, calculated to promote national development, could at once claim his support as director or share-holder.

If the ships that came up the St. Lawrence from the sea had stopped at Quebec and unloaded there, where would Montreal's position as an ocean port be to-day? Another Ayrshire man, John Young, who came to Canada in the same year as Hugh Allan, may fairly claim the chief share of the credit for the deepening of Lake St. Peter, between Quebec and Montreal, so that the largest ocean vessels could make their way to Montreal. In 1849, Mr. Young became a member of the Harbor Commission, and at the time of his death in 1878, thirty years after, he was chairman of that body, and the needs of the harbor and the ship channel, the promotion of navigation and the expansion of commerce, were never out of his thoughts. He was bold in conception, and many of his plans were criticised as being wild and visionary. But they have all been realized. He, like many others, was simply ahead of his time in far-sightedness and capacity. If Montreal takes in earnest to erecting monuments to her foremost men, she will do well to remember the names of Hugh Allan and John Young. They were not alone in the work by any means, but their names stand out more prominently than those of some others.

They were good types of the Scotch merchants of Montreal who, as a class, have produced some remarkable examples of what thrift, capacity and sagacity can accomplish. Peter McGill was one of these. He was a native of Wigtonshire where he was born in 1789. His father's name was McCutcheon, and subsequently he adopted that of his mother, a sister of John McGill. He was for many years President of the Bank .of Montreal, one of the earliest promoters of railways, and interested in all the political and military activities of the time. To another Scotsman— a man of the same name—James McGill, Montreal owes her famous University, which was founded under the terms of his will when both church and state had failed to take adequate steps for the secular education of the people of the Province of Quebec. James McGill's original foundation has been largely added to by other men of the same race, by Lord Strathcona, Sir William Macdonald, Lord Mount- Stephen, Peter Red path, and others. The works of benevolence and charity were never forgotten by the Scots of Montreal. As one instance of this may be mentioned the McKay Institute for Deaf Mutes founded by Joseph McKay, who established the great dry goods firm of Joseph McKay & Bro., and made a large fortune which he used wisely and well. Mr. McKay was born in Kildonan. By his will he left over $60,000 to charitable and religious objects. Another name worthy of mention is that of James Ferrier, a native of Fifeshire, who like all the others mentioned here was the architect of his own fortune. Mr. Ferrier became not only associated with large financial interests but took a keen interest in public affairs, in educational work, in municipal administration. In 1845 he was mayor of the city, and at one of the crises in the history of McGill University he was its staunch friend and benefactor.

If one took away from Montreal the ocean trade, the ship channel, the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Merchants' Bank, the University of McGill, the Royal Victoria Hospital, and other institutions and enterprises which all owe their existence to the foresight and genius of the Scots merchants of the city, one would realize the extent of their labors and the wisdom of their conceptions.


THE old precentor of a small rural parish kirk, though he had for years, Sunday after Sunday, given out the Psalms to be sung in the service, had never quite mastered the Roman numerals. One Sunday, after some consideration, he announced Psalm xliii. in the following manner:-" Let us sing to the praise and the glory of God, the ex, the el, and the three-eyed Psalm!


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