Memorable Manitobans: John Duncan McArthur (1854-1927)
Railroad contractor, lumber merchant.
Born in Glengarry County, Ontario on 25 June 1854, he farmed before coming to Winnipeg in 1879. He joined a railroad workgang and worked his way up to contractor for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He subsequently built the Manitoba line from Emerson in 1889. In 1905 he contracted to build the Transcontinental Railway line 250 miles east from Winnipeg, then west to Edmonton, Alberta and then on to the Peace River country. By 1910 he contracted to build, and later to operate, the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway from Edmonton to Grand Prairie and also the Alberta Great Waterways Railway from Edmonton to Fort McMurray on the Athabaska River. When several companies declared bankruptcy, McArthur lost $30 million dollars outstanding on his contracts. In 1911 he contracted to build the first 180 miles of the Hudson Bay Railway from The Pas to Thicket Portage in Manitoba. He boasted that he had built more miles of railroad than any other contractor in Canada.
Also active in the lumber and pulp industry, in 1901 he purchased the Lac du Bonnet Mining, Developing and Manufacturing Company and its holdings of 2,000 acres of land and a brick manufacturing plant. He built a sawmill just north of what is now the Town of Lac du Bonnet and, in the following year, opened a logging camp near Old Pinawa. In 1920 he secured Pulpwood Birth #1 from the federal government and a permit for the Pine Falls power site (Great Falls) on the Winnipeg River. By 1924, with the Canadian National Railway line being built to Pine Falls, he succeeded in buying the land to be occupied by the new paper mill. He then formed the Manitoba Pulp and Paper Company and was its first President. By the time of his death, he was president of the J. D. McArthur Company, North West Lumber Company, McArthur Land Company, and McArthur Lumber and Fuel Company, Vice-President of the Manitoba Pulp and Paper Company, and a director of the Western Trust and the Beaver Lumber Companies.
In January 1889, he married Mary McIntosh (?-?), daughter of Alexander McIntosh of Lancaster, Ontario. They had no children. In 1909, he built, along with James Fisher, the Breadalbane Block (now the Ambassador Block) in Winnipeg. A year later, he was listed by the Winnipeg Telegram as one of Winnipeg’s 19 millionaires.
He died at Winnipeg on 10 January 1927, immediately upon his return from health treatment at Battle Creek, Michigan and was buried in St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery. He is commemorated by McArthur Falls, on the Winnipeg River, and McArthur Street and a commemorative plaque in the Town of Lac du Bonnet.
“Pioneer contractor of Manitoba is dead,” Manitoba Free Press, 11 January 1927, page 5.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
McArthur Commemorative Plaque, Town of Lac du Bonnet.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 28 May 2022