Memorable Manitobans: John Alexander Machray (1865-1933)

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John Alexander Machray
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Lawyer, embezzler.

Born at Haddington, Scotland on 17 February 1865, son of William F. and Bessie Machray, nephew to Robert Machray, he came to Winnipeg as a boy, in 1874. He was educated at St. John’s College (Winnipeg) and the University of Manitoba (BA 1884, with First Class Honours and the Silver Medal). He then attended Sidney Sussex College at the University of Cambridge, receiving his LLB there in 1887. He was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1890. He served as a Bencher for the Law Society of Manitoba.

He was a partner in the law firm of Machray and Sharpe, and a King’s Counsel. He also became bursar of the University of Manitoba and, in 1924, volunteered to become bursar of St. John’s College without pay, adding the posts of Chancellor of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land and Chairman of the University of Manitoba Board of Governors to his portfolio. In 1932, following an audit, it was revealed that all the endowment funds of the university, the college, and the diocese, as well as clients’ trust funds, had been systematically embezzled by him over a period of several years. Machray had prevented audits for many years.

What he had done with the money was never clear, although he may have lost it covering various bad investments, mainly in real estate. He was apparently not a successful investor. The collapse of the real estate market in the Great Depression broke him totally and he was unable to disguise the situation any longer. A subsequent Royal Commission was unable to locate the money, although evidence given before it was front page news for weeks. It determined that Machray had been insolvent for 20 years.

In 1904, he married Emily Florence Drewry (1879-1960, daughter of Edward Lancaster Drewry) at Winnipeg and they had five children: Mary Machray (1905-2002, wife of Ralph Sausmarez Carey), Jean Machray (1907-1998, wife of Walter Carman Newman), Emily Ruth Machray (1910-2002, wife of John Porteous Arnold), John Robert Forsyth “Bob” Machray (1914-2004), and Christine Machray (1918-2006, wife of Donald Haggart Pattison). The family lived at 76 Harrow Street (1909-1933).

Dying of cancer, he was sentenced to seven years at Stony Mountain Penitentiary on lesser charges of theft, and died in prison on 5 October 1933. He was buried in the St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Canadian Bank of Commerce Building / Millennium Centre (389 Main Street, Winnipeg)

The Machray Scandal by Jim Blanchard
Manitoba History, Number 33, Spring 1997

John Alexander Machray, Dictionary of Canadian Biography


Who's Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, 1911. C. W. Parker, editor. Canadian Press Association, Vancouver.

The Leading Financial, Business & Professional Men of Winnipeg, published by Edwin McCormick, Photographs by T. J. Leatherdale, Compiled and printed by Stone Limited, c1913. [copy available at the Archives of Manitoba]

Birth and death registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

Obituary [Emily Machray], Winnipeg Free Press, 23 May 1960, page 18.

Obituary [Jean Newman], Winnipeg Free Press, 6 October 1998, page 34.

Obituary [John Robert Machray], Winnipeg Free Press, 11 August 2004.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Obituaries and burial transcriptions, Manitoba Genealogical Society.

We thank Pat Benham Norrena, Jack Patriarche, and Oliver Bernuetz (Legislative Library of Manitoba) for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 21 December 2022

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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