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A History of our Firm
Chapter II -
Gilmour, Rankin & Co., Miramichi, Alexander Rankin, James Gilmour, Richard Hutchison

Opened 1812 Closed about 1870

Alexander Rankin and James Gilmour (the brother of Allan Gilmour senior) were sent out to Miramichi in 1812, in the firm's brig, the Mary, 180 tons burden (compare this with the Mauretania of to-day, 31,938 tons). They had to land at the mouth of the river, which was full of ice, and walk to Chatham, while the Mary had to winter at Prince Edward's Island. At that period the woods extended down to the edge of the Miramichi River, which had two branches, the North-west and South-west, thus affording every facility for large operations. Though it was a fine, navigable river, the bar at its mouth could only admit vessels of 16 to 18 feet draft. That was at the time, and for many years after, quite sufficient for the class of vessel then built but it became inadequate later, and the bar has since been deepened. The country was almost virgin forest. The very site for the saw-mill, offices, and house at Douglastown, almost opposite Chatham, had to be cleared. A shipbuilding yard was built later, and still later a second saw-mill; while men in rapid succession, and employment for them, quickly followed each development.

In this, till then, very sparsely inhabited district, it was necessary that the firm should be general suppliers as well as general employers and, therefore, a store was established, in which everything that the district could require had to be provided for. Of necessity, the bulk of the wages to the workpeople had to be paid in kind. A heavy part of the firm's operations consisted in getting together, and transporting inland, the provisions necessary for the various camps of lumbermen, who set out for the woods early in September, and remained there till the end of spring, afterwards bringing the logs down to the mill boom at Miramichi. After despatching these from the river's bank on their course down stream, the men had to follow on as 'stream-drivers,' pick the logs up as they got stranded on the shoals or banks, and refloat them. In the wider channel lower down they were able to form the logs into rafts, and two or three men would bring the raft down to the mill boom, there to be broken up into separate logs once more. Now, the mere work of supplying these parties, in addition to the local Miramichi demands, would be a heavy matter, requiring considerable arrangement and finance. Not only were there no steamers or railways, but there were practically no roads; where there were tracks they were mostly undefined, indeed they had mostly to be made.

Schooners had to be chartered to bring cargoes of sugar and molasses from Demerara and the West Indies, and pork from Boston or Canada; tea and biscuit came from home, and these, together with fish and game, formed practically the fare on which the lumbermen subsisted for six months of the year, and thrived too. I can say, from experience gained during a camp visit, when the thermometer was many degrees below zero, that frozen fat pork with molasses is quite delectable. Even during the night Nature called for the replenishment of the system, and whatever the hour, I rarely failed to note some one attacking the commissariat.

It would be difficult to define the extent of timber lands held by the firm, for they were widely scattered, extending on the one hand up to the Tobique, a branch of the St. John River, and on the other hand to one of the branches of the Restigouche. I have heard of parties of lumbermen in adjacent camps, cutting on the one hand for the St. John, on the other for the Miramichi, and in another case, cutting for Restigouche and Miramichi, on practically the same ground.

At what date it is not clear, but Gilmour, Rankin & Co. were soon followed at Miramichi by the firm of Cunard Bros., whose operations, similar in kind, kind, were conducted with keen antagonism. The rivalry was great, alike of principals and employees, and at election times there was always some very lively work—axe handles being freely used as arguments. My brother Alexander writes me:-

'I recollect the election in New Brunswick in 1843; Gilmour, Rankin & Co. for J. A. Street, Cunard Eros. for Williston. Cudgels were used, and there were many broken heads on both sides. County Northumberland took twelve days polling—open voting. Street won by an overwhelming majority. Feeling afterwards ran so high that two companies of soldiers were sent from St. John to quell the riots. It was some time before things calmed down.' Ultimately Cunard Bros., defeated and worsted in competition, had to go under. This for Miramichi district meant a considerable upheaval, for they had been doing an immense business, but on lines utterly unsound. Their motives would appear to be fairly indicated in a conversation with another competitor who had found fault with the prices Cunard Bros. were selling at. The partner's reply was :-'We don't care a d— so long as we sell more deals than Gilmour, Rankin & Co.' Strange what events follow upon hidden causes. Stimulated by failure in one sphere of activity, Samuel Cunard returned to this country, and promulgated the idea of a subsidised mail steamship service to America. The project, after much labour on his part, commended itself to some capitalists and shipbuilders, and from this beginning arose the Cunard Co. of to-day—not, however, without some vicissitudes. One may ask, how far should Gilmour, Rankin & Co. have credit for the Cunard Co.?

Gilmour, Rankin & Co. started their own shipbuilding yard—indeed, actively carried on this branch. The two rival firms, each having its own clients, supplied other builders with goods, materials, and cash advances, and at the end of the season these clients' crafts would be sent home to Liverpool, the market then for the sale of soft-wood ships.

Among the builders who worked through Gilmour, Rankin & Co. were Joseph Russell, George Burchill, and later on John Harley, each turning out two or three ships each year.

When the Gilmour, Rankin & Co. shipyard was started I cannot tell—probably under Mr. Allan Gilmour or Mr. William Ritchie, both of whom had qualifications. Who succeeded them or him I never heard, but in my time, and for many years previously, Mr. James Henderson was the shipbuilder, and turned out some very pretty models.

At the store the work was unending, and when the doors opened at six a.m. in the summer, there would be a crowd awaiting entrance, and closing time, ten to eleven p.m., must have been hailed with satisfaction albeit I have heard some of the employees say that those days under Mr. Alexander Rankin were the most enjoyable of their lives. In winter time with early morning, teams galore had to be loaded up with material for the camps, and throughout the day the work was only less arduous than in the summer.

A notable event in the history of the firm was the great fire at Miramichi, still so termed despite more recent great conflagrations. An account of the fire will be found in Appendix III. Between morning and night the whole of Gilmour, Rankin and Co.'s work for well-nigh a generation was undone —had clean disappeared. The one thing left standing near by, untouched by the fire, was a wooden shanty wherein lay a corpse.

For many years, and until the supply ceased, or became too costly to get, Miramichi square pine was famous for its clean, mellow, and readily workable character; in my time it had become quite a negligible quantity, and has now ceased altogether to be exported thence. All descriptions of lumber were readily obtainable, but now, as from other lower ports, spruce deals are practically the only export.

Mr. Alexander Rankin appears to have been the acting spirit of the firm, and very fully possessed the confidence of the home partners. It was to him from time to time that the young men from home were sent out. Mr. James Gilmour, his partner, though he was older, and no doubt took some share of the responsibility, does not appear to have been regarded as a serious quantity. I am unable to trace when my uncle, John Rankin, went to Miramichi—probably in the year following his brother Alexander, say, 1813 or 1814. His, however, was a short career. He was drowned from a raft on 4 August, 1815, at the age of twenty-one. As time went on, and particularly after Mr. James Gilmour left for home, greater responsibility was given to Mr. Richard Hutchison. He became a partner, probably in the latter part of the forties. After the death of Mr. Alexander Rankin in 1852, he was the sole resident partner until about 1870, when the business, mills, and lands were handed over to him altogether by the home partners.

Born 31 December, 1788 Died 3 April, 1852

Alexander Rankin, born at Mains House, Mearns, Renfrewshire, was brought up in the Glasgow office, whence he went to Miramichi, N.B., in 1812, along with Mr. James Gilmour (brother of Allan Gilmour senior), and founded the firm of Gilmour, Rankin & Co.

The district was pretty well in its pristine condition, namely, river and woods and fairly large Indian colonies distributed at different points. With these conditions he had to clear the ground to start in getting his wharves, mill, stores and house built, and when these were all set a-going, assistants came out in rapid relays from Glasgow. From the first he was a force in the place, and he afterwards became a force in the province. His personal bearing, his kindly if taciturn manner, his ability to direct, attached to him all who came in contact with him. It seems almost strange that a man in such surroundings, with the never-ending work of his own business, should have had the time or disposition to think so much of others as he did. His was no self-seeking spirit. If criticism could be made of him, it was that he was altogether too kind-hearted and sympathetic. As time went on, and for what reason one cannot very well tell, he entered the New Brunswick House of Representatives, and on his proceeding to the Senate, became the Hon. Alexander Rankin. I suppose it must have been a sense of duty to the community, for there was no honour that could have been bestowed upon him greater than the respect that was entertained for him throughout the province. He was only human, and maybe the rivalry that existed with the firm of Cunard Bros. was such, that to be a candidate and their opponent, may have had even for him some charms. His influence among the people was great—he was simply adored. His house, one for the period sufficiently dignified, and of considerable extent, provided accommodation for the recruits who came from home and for the clerks. It was a very hospitable house, and he entertained freely not only the passing traveller, but those who from time to time visited the province. Among these were several Governors and other notable personages, also the Rev. Dr. Norman McLeod, a name then and always an honoured one wherever Scots abound. He jokingly rallied Mr. Rankin with being the father of so large a family, as there was hardly a house or shanty he entered where he did not find an inmate rejoicing in the Christian name of Alexander Rankin.

After the fire at Miraniichi, which devastated not only his property, but the surrounding country (even sweeping across the river, at that point about a mile and a half wide), he, out of the goods that immediately afterwards arrived from the spring ships, and out of his own pocket, met, so far as was possible, the needs of the distressed.

A considerable colony formed round him at Douglastown—I presume, attracted by the work offered—a good many Scotchmen, some possibly imported. The Indians were not profitable clients at the store, and still less so to him, as they unceasingly brought their troubles and appeals to him. They might be useful in certain ways to the winter lumber parties, or by bringing in skins, etc. to trade, but they were too prone to intoxication; when sober they were hunters, but never 'citizens.' They called him their 'Great White Father.'

An old employee writes me:-' He was always an early riser—always up at five in summer, rain or sunshine—had a turn round the deal wharf and timber ponds before work commenced at six. In fact, all day long I may say he was ubiquitous.'

It was a day of mourning when the news came out that Alexander Rankin had died at Brornborough, 3 April, 1852, and the allusion made at church on the following Sunday may be worth reprinting:-

'In his life he set an example of serving his generation in many respects. Providence blessed his temporal enterprises, and thus enabled him to furnish the means of support to many families. By the blessing of God upon steady industry and persevering attention to business, he was enabled for a long period of time to furnish employment to a great number; and I believe it will be admitted by all who have been in his employment that, as a master, justice, integrity, and uniform kindness have ever marked his conduct.

'And as he prospered himself, so he was delighted to see others prospering also. Wherever he found any who were anxious to do well, he was always willing to encourage them, and even to stretch out to them a helping hand.

'The kindliness of his disposition inclined him always to sympathise with others in their misfortunes, and his. sympathy was manifested in the most delicate manner. Many have received tokens of his kindly feeling, of which none ever knew but the person who received them, for he was one of those "who do good by stealth and blush to find it fame." He never sought to blazon abroad the acts of kindness which he performed—nay, he even shrunk from the idea of having them mentioned.

'In the old settlers, with whom he had been long acquainted, he ever felt a deep interest. While they maintained an honest and reputable character, however poor they might be, they had always free access to him, and were ever treated with respect and kindness.

'Of his gentlemanly manners, mild, unassuming disposition, and bountiful hospitality I will not speak, nor will I dwell on the manner in which, as a representative of this county, he served his generation for a great number of years; for most of you know, even better than I do, what time and attention he devoted to the duties that devolved on him as Legislator, and how he employed the accurate and extensive knowledge which he possessed of the country, for the purpose of promoting its prosperity in every possible way. Neither would I say much of the active encouragement which he gave to agriculture and domestic manufactures, and to everything which he thought had a tendency to bring comfort to families, and secure their temporal prosperity.

'There are, however, one or two traits in his character which deserve a more particular notice.

'He took a deep interest in the education of the young. Believing that the happiness and good order of society depended very much on the moral and religious training of the young, he ever exhibited a marked attention to whatever had a tendency to improve the mode of education, and to secure its advantages to the rising generation. Hence he was anxious to obtain information concerning the improvements introduced into schools; hence he often took an opportunity of inculcating on the settlers in distant and destitute localities, the importance of obtaining teachers, and even contributed largely to the building of schools, and in many places also to the maintenance of teachers.

'Nor was he less desirous that the services of the sanctuary should be supported. To this church, in particular, he has been a steady and efficient supporter, contributing liberally himself, and encouraging others to do likewise. Nor was his liberality confined to this church, nor even to that branch of the Christian Church to which he belonged; for, though himself conscientiously attached to the Church of Scotland, he yet wished to see all others enabled to worship God according to their own consciences.

'He who has now departed was for forty years a resident in Miramichi, and on the first of January last completed the sixty-third year of his age.'

A letter from my uncle, Mr. Robert Rankin, dated Liverpool, 6 April, 1852, states:-' On Thursday he came to Bromborough Hall, and felt so well and strong, that the same evening he took a long walk over the farm with Mr. Ritchie. On Friday he was engaged in writing letters to New Brunswick, and really seemed better, and in better spirits than he had been for a long time. Next morning he was seized with internal bleeding, which eventually tended to suffocate him, and although the doctor was with him continuously, it was of no avail, as God had willed it otherwise, and I trust he is now in rest and happiness, leaving a bright example to all his friends who are left behind, as few men possessing more sterling worth and kindness of disposition ever lived.'

These closing words form a eulogy, equally applicable to the life and character of him who wrote them.

Born 1782

James Gilmour, son of Allan Gilmour of South Walton, Mearns, and brother of Allan Gilmour senior, Glasgow, went out to Miramichi in 1812, along with Alexander Rankin, to found Gilmour, Rankin and Co., and remained there, with the exception of one short visit to this country, till he left the concern, about 1840, at his brother's instigation. He went to reside at Polnoon, Eaglesham, a parish adjacent to Mearns. I was informed by one of the employees that he was a nonentity in the business, and that a very unpleasant manner and temper caused him to be intensely disliked.

It was this James Gilmour who, with his son, became heir to Allan Gilmour senior, under the terms of the Will made shortly before his death. Under this Will he obtained Eaglesham House, Renfrewshire, a very large property, which Allan Gilmour senior had bought from the Earl of Eglinton, and which has passed down from Allan Gilmour to Allan Gilmour, the present proprietor having been born in 1851.

Born 1810, Died 1890

Richard Hutchison was also a product of the Mearns parish and school. It is not very clear when he went out to Miramichi. He was made manager of G., R. & Co. before the retirement of Mr. James Gilmour, and some time after that date he became a partner. After Mr. Alexander Rankin's death in 1852, he removed into Mr. Rankin's large house. He had married a Miss Mackie, a lady of distinctly excitable temperament, and as the clerks mostly lived in 'The House,' this did not make for harmony in the staff. I recollect him as being, in my opinion, a much more capable man than any of the other partners of the Colonial houses, unless it were Allan Gilmour, of Ottawa (Shotts Allan). Of strong, indeed, rugged character, quaint in manners as in speech, he lacked the elements of touch and sympathy with his fellow-creatures—indeed, there was much of the Puritan sourness in his disposition. The 'store' under his regime no longer harboured the contented staff it previously had. Twice the entire staff was depleted. On the first occasion, when the Californian mining fever set in, about 1850, all the clerks started out, if not gleefully, without regret for what they were leaving. Of those who started for California, only one reached San Francisco, the others disposing of themselves in various positions by the way—New Orleans being the favourite place. This would point to their distaste for their environment at Miramichi rather than to their being imbued with a desire to get rich quickly.

The second occasion was in 1852, when the staff was dismissed wholesale by Mr. Hutchison.

When, about 1870, all the New Brunswick firms were transferred to the partners abroad, Mr. Hutchison assumed the liabilities of his own; and I think his was the only case of the financial pledges to the senior partners being fully redeemed.

His son, Mr. Ernest E. Hutchison continued business at Miramichi under his own name.


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