The North-West Transportation Company: Personnel and Attitudes
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 26, 1969-70 Season
Toronto's position during the 1850s must be assessed at the outset. Today Toronto is a metropolitan centre, dominating a huge hinterland. D. C. Masters  analysed Toronto's rise to metropolitan status, and while whiggish, this approach is interesting and valuable. Metropolitan status is posited on certain conditions. First, the city must create for itself and its hinterland a well organized marketing system, including whole-sale, storage and exchange facilities. Second, the centre must control a manufacturing complex. Third, the metropolis must build a transportation system sufficiently sophisticated to make possible a free movement of goods. Fourth, the city needs a mature financial system to meet some of the capital and investment requirements of its hinterland.
Possession of these facilities does not automatically create metropolitan status, defined as "the dominance of an urban centre over an adjacent area or hinterland."  Winnipeg is a good example. The Rowell-Sirois Report refers to Winnipeg as the "metropolitan centre of Saskatchewan as well as of Manitoba ..."  The city served as a marketing centre for the two provinces, but it exercised no political, cultural or social hegemony over Saskatchewan, and in these spheres its control over Manitoba was limited. During the 1850s Toronto was still laying the foundation for its "dominance ... over an adjacent hinterland." Culturally English Canada was dominated from outside. Socially no centre could dominate, for Upper Canada was in process of chaotic and uncontrolled growth. Politically Toronto was strong, but did not dominate Upper Canada. George Brown and his Toronto allies were taming the Clear Grits, but the job was difficult and protracted. Toronto did not create leading issues like railroads, clergy reserves and French domination; rather, Toronto marched with the province. Long-term political stability did not come with the triumph of responsible government in 1849. As the 1850s advanced, increasing instability made difficult metropolitan, partisan or individual domination. Canada West was a sectionalized section; Toronto had not obtained unquestioned supremacy over dangerous rivals like Kingston and Hamilton. Further-more, Toronto had yet to enter a bitter struggle with Montreal in order to obtain a separate financial structure. Toronto was however emerging as Canada West's most important centre. 
The advent of responsible government in some respects served one of the purposes of the American Civil War. Each event involved the triumph of the business community. In the United States men of business were left in control after the catastrophic resolution of a cultural conflict: they then regarded the United States as an economic pie to be carved into huge sections for themselves. In Canada, 1849 gave Canadians internal control,  and the first consequence was a great railroad boom. The analogy of course is not perfect. The American business revolution had to await the resolution of a cultural conflict; in Canada expansion and economic growth mitigated cultural conflict. Also, businessmen in both countries were influential before their real liberation. In Canada Tory business cliques possessed vast influence before 1849. After 1849, regardless of politics, the business classes were in control. This furthered the breakdown of the old identification of Reform politics with economic discontent. This united business community was potent and not effectively opposed. Thus the triumph of Canadian business in the 1850s was sweeping.  Apportioning the wealth of the community was not a genteel process. Our valuable legacy from the 1850s, in terms of additions to our social complex, cannot blur the greed and immorality of the age. The attempt to drive North-West was to a great extent part of this process: an attempt to enlarge the circumference of the area being divided, that is, a manifestation of human greed.
Toronto was not in 1851 a large city, although its 30,775 citizens represented a threefold increase since 1837. Toronto in 1851 was still "purely a commercial centre ..."  It had not yet built the system of transportation which made it Old Ontario's transportation capital. Financially it was dependent upon New York, London and Montreal. The decade of our concern was one of growth. By 1861 for example, Toronto's population had risen to 44,821. Its business community had matured. In 1855 the Toronto Stock Exchange was established. Manufacturing plants were built and railroad mileage increased from almost nothing to just under 2,000. Toronto was establishing control over western Canada West, but did not have the superb system of communications needed to control the North-West.
Some major political problems required solution before the North-West could be exploited. The prairies were not part of the Canadian Union; the Hudson's Bay Company had rights and privileges recognized by the British government. Expansion north-west required the settlement of 1867, to relieve French Canadian fears of a huge addition to Canada West, to create a larger credit base, and to erect a strengthened political centre from which to exercise control. The tentative movements westward during the 1850s, while premature, were magnificent in conception. They were not useless, but constitute an important chapter in the story of confederation.
Two related manifestations illustrate Toronto's desire to expand north-west during the 1850s: the campaign against the H.B.C. and the formation of the North-West Transportation, Navigation and Rail-way Company. Approximately the same people controlled both, and they occurred simultaneously. The North-West Transportation Co. failed, but the campaign against the H.B.C. was ultimately successful.
Dislike of the H.B.C. was widespread. There was opposition in Oregon and Red River. Certain Britishers attacked the right of the Company to control such an immense area, a sentiment heightened in the 1850s by American immigration into Minnesota and Oregon. The settlement of those areas was feared as the prelude to U.S. expansion northward. The British government was sufficiently concerned to establish in February 1857 a parliamentary committee to investigate the advisability of renewing the Company's license to exclusive trade in areas not covered by the 1670 charter. A permanent settlement in the North-West however, required the co-operation of Canada, but official opinion in Canada was not yet very concerned with the area. A lengthy agitation was needed to educate John A. Macdonald and his associates in this regard. Much of this work was done by George Brown, owner of the Toronto Globe. As early as March 24, 1847 Brown displayed his interest in the general problem by printing a lecture, "Emigration and Colonization," by Hon. Robert Baldwin Sullivan. Sullivan emphasized colonization and settlement within Old Ontario, but in the latter part of his lecture he discussed the possibilities of the North-West. He was not concerned with the assault on the H.B.C., which became one of Brown's passions.
By June 1848 the Globe was attacking the rights of the H.B.C. The Company's territory, it was claimed, was "capable of supporting a numerous population. This wide region nominally belongs to the Hudson's Bay Company, but in point of fact it does not seem to be theirs."  At the same time the Company was criticized for its treatment of the Indians. This article illustrates the basic strategy of the H.B.C.'s enemies. First, it was argued (correctly as it turned out) that the North-West could support a large agricultural population. Secondly, the Company's trade monopoly was emphatically denied. Here the agitators were wrong: the Company's valuable interests, including the monopoly, were recognized by the British government. These claims could not in equity be simply dismissed. Third, the Company was at-tacked for violating certain aspects of what the Toronto agitators considered the British "way:" its treatment of Indians; its denial of free trade; and, its refusal to inaugurate self-government in Red River. These attacks represented various degrees of truth. The Indians were often mistreated, but Canadian rule was little better. The Company did possess a trade monopoly, but it was breaking down. As for self-government of the Canadian type (i.e. a developing liberal-democracy), it would come only when demanded by a sizeable portion of the inhabitants of Red River.
The campaign against the H.B.C. petered out in 1850.  Some new factors were stressed during the second phase in the mid-1850s. The North-West, for example, was proclaimed a valuable mining region.  Toronto's special role was again emphasized. The Globe argued that Toronto must reach into the North-West or it would fail to match such cities as Chicago, Oswego and Buffalo. The alternative was to become a mere local market town. 
In the same year, 1856, Canadian patriotism was added to the agitation by an anonymous correspondent, "HURON": "I desire to see Canada for the Canadians and not exclusively for a selfish community of traders, utter strangers to our country; whose only anxiety is to draw all the wealth they can from it, without contributing to its advantages even one farthing."  HURON pronounced "the charter of the Hudson's Bay Company ... null and void" and declared that "The interests of Canada require that this giant monopoly be swept out of existence ..." Incipient nationalism? If so it should be noted that it conforms to a pattern which has been consistent for a century. This economic nationalism which involves patriotic opposition to external economic penetration remains to this day, and is characteristic of both the political Left and Right. HURON also emphasized the British tie: "The formation of a Company in opposition to the Hudson's Bay Company would advance the interests of Canada; it would consolidate and strengthen the British power on the continent ... In the organization of [opposition to the H.B.C.], every patriot, every true Canadian, beholds results the most important to his country."
Later in 1856 the Globe argued the need for additional land, in view of the shortage of settlement territory "south of Lake Huron ..." At the same time Canada's claims were boldly presented: "[Canada] is fully entitled to possess whatever parts of the great British American territory she can safely occupy ..." The Globe further claimed that Canada was both willing and able to assume the government of the North-West.  Canada in fact was willing to do nothing of the sort! The press agitation continued for years, until the North-West was safely in Canadian hands.
The influential Toronto Board of Trade was also active. A meeting to discuss the North-West was held on December 3, 1856.  A leading Toronto businessman and Liberal, William Howland, was in the chair, and Allan Macdonell (who will be discussed later) addressed the meeting. He discussed trade with Rupert's Land, and the resources of the area. He attacked the rights of the H.B.C. and advocated a transportation system to the west. Captain William Kennedy also spoke, in similar terms. It was unanimously agreed "'That the claim of the Hudson's Bay Company to exclusive right of trade over a large portion of British North America, is injurious to the interests of the country so monopolized, and in contravention to the rights of the people of the British North American Provinces.'" The Board petitioned the Canadian legislature, "'praying that steps be taken to ascertain what are the legal rights of the Hudson's Bay Company to the territory and exclusive trade claimed by that Company in the northern part of this continent, and to pray them to adopt such measures as may be necessary to protect the rights of this province.'"
In March 1857 P. B. De Blaquiere and James Morris raised the problem of the North-West in the Legislative Council.  On March 12, the Toronto Board of Trade's petition was discussed and tabled. Concern was widespread. On March 19, for example, the United Counties of Lanark and Renfrew demanded that the Province of Canada annex the far west. In April 1857 the Lanark-Renfrew and Toronto petitions were ordered "printed for the use of Members." Although fairly constant, pressure of this kind did not capture the enthusiastic goodwill of the government until the mid-1860s.
The 1856-57 agitation produced one concrete result: a Legislative Assembly investigation into H.B.C. claims. The Assembly was probably influenced by the establishment of a similar body by the British House of Commons. The committee worked during May and June 1857.  Provincial Secretary T. Lee Terrill (M.P.P. for Stanstead) was chairman, and George Brown served as a member. Three witnesses testified; all were hostile to the Company.
George Gladman, a native of the North-West, served the H.B.C. for thirty-one years. By 1857 he had turned against his old firm and was about to join the board of the North-West Transportation Co. Gladman praised the agricultural potential of the North-West and discussed the Red River colony. He proposed a scheme for opening communications between Canada and the North-West and closed with a plea for annexation.
Allan Macdonell dismissed the claims of the H.B.C.: "those claims have no foundation in law or in equity; whilst I might not be disposed to dispute that in itself the charter may be good, ... yet I contend that it cannot confer upon the Hudson's Bay Company those powers and privileges which they assume." Macdonell urged the importance of re-opening trade between Canada and the North-West, and attacked the Company for its treatment of the Indians. Towards the end of his statement, Macdonell made a claim characteristic of nineteenth century Canadian business-liberalism: "British subjects, and above all Canadians, will exercise a right of trade there, and maintain that in this day even Great Britain ... has not the right to forbid Canadian people trading there, merely to protect some few traders in London, in the enjoyment of a monopoly."
William Dawson of Toronto, head of the Woods and Forests Branch of the Crown Land Department, was the third man interviewed. He claimed the Pacific as Canada's western boundary. Dawson also discussed trade, waggon roads, river navigation and the agricultural potential of the region. He concluded: "I have desired to speak [the truth] strongly for the good of my country, and in the interests of humanity." However, his statement appears not to be that of a humanitarian but of an obnoxious and disagreeable man!
The committee avoided a decisive recommendation by simply submitting to the Canadian Parliament as its report the "Minutes of Evidence" of the three witnesses. The report was nonetheless an obvious attack on the H.B.C. In the summer of 1857 however, the Canadian government dispatched the Gladman-Hind-Dawson party to investigate the potential of the North-West. Its report was much more positive than that of the similar expedition under Captain John Palliser.
Canadians were learning about the value and potential of the far west. The names of those responsible turn up with monotonous regularity: George Brown, S.J. and William Dawson, Allan Macdonell, George Gladman and William Kennedy. These men, and others, played an important role in the formation of Canadian public opinion and there-for contributed to the developments of the 1860s and 1870s. 
The second important manifestation of Toronto's interest in the North-West was the attempt to found a new North-West Company. The idea of such a company was popular and its leading promoter was Allan Macdonell of Toronto, who advocated the idea as early as 1847. Although not completed until 1855, the Northern Railway which connected Toronto with Georgian Bay stimulated interest in the project and made it more workable. The Northern was mooted during the 1830s and received a great deal of attention during the 1840s. In 1851 Macdonell and a group of associates applied for a charter "to construct a railway from Lake Superior through British Territories to the Pacific Ocean."  The enabling bill was defeated in Sir Allan MacNab's Railway Committee, because Imperial consent was needed to alienate H.B.C. land. The Rail-road Committee observed that the proposed firm lacked adequate financial resources, but agreed that the scheme was feasible. Similar bills introduced in 1853 and 1855 were vetoed for the same reasons.
A more determined effort was made in 1856. Early in August those interested in opening steamboat communication with the North-West met in Toronto and set up a provisional committee, which reported on August 12, 1856. Among those present were Mayor J. B. Robinson, Hon. P. M. Vankoughnet, Angus Morrison, M.P.P. and George Brown's brother Gordon (who was elected the group's secretary). The scheme under consideration involved a rail connection between Toronto and Collingwood (i.e., the Northern Railway), and a steamboat link between Collingwood and Lake Superior. The Provisional Committee endorsed a railroad connecting Toronto with the upper lakes and claimed that existing settlement north of Lake Superior and in the American North-West would make trade profitable. It also argued for a steamboat system on the upper lakes. The meeting consequently resolved: "'That this meeting, recognizing the importance of the North Western steamboat connection, adopt the Report now submitted as the basis on which a company shall be formed and pledges itself to do every endeavour to carry the undertaking to a successful finish." 
An action committee was established, including such personages as Mayor Robinson, Gordon Brown and Angus Morrison. It is interesting to observe how a common interest in railroads dissolved the political antipathy existing between men like Brown and Robinson. The work proceeded. Meetings were held to raise money by subscription. Gordon Brown went to Collingwood where £2,000 was subscribed. The Globe commented on September 1: "The spirited behaviour of the people of Collingwood has placed the establishment of the line beyond a doubt." Enthusiasm however was not enough, and the scheme failed for want of money.
The situation was more favourable in 1858. Added to the general mania for railway development, prospecting and commercial expansion was a desire for a share of the gold discovered in B.C. Information on the North-West was more widespread than ever thanks to committee investigations and scientific expeditions; and, the Canadian Party of Red River was becoming ever more vocal. A substantial step was taken when Macdonell and his friends finally secured a charter for the North-West Transportation, Navigation and Railway Company. The charter was given royal assent on August 16, 1858.  The petitioners were all Torontonians: W. H. Boulton, Thomas Clarkson, Allan Macdonell, John McMurrich, George Monro, Thomas Hutchison, "and others." The company possessed normal corporate powers plus some unusual privileges. For example, the government was permitted "to authorize the ... Company to enter upon any ungranted lands of the Crown and to make and establish facilities for the purposes of transportation, traffic and trade" and to build roads, tramways, railroads or canals, between navigable watercourses, "from any place or places on the shores of Lake Superior, to any point in the interior, or between any navigable waters within the limits of Canada ..." Further, "the Governor in Council shall only authorize such works in one single continuous line of communication extending westward from Lake Superior." This section was a blatant claim for a western Canadian boundary somewhere in the far west! Regardless of sentiment, this was obviously an invalid claim. The entire scheme may have been simply a facet of the anti-H.B.C. campaign. The basic point was non-recognition - that is, non-recognition of the very existence of the H.B.C. This approach to private property is probably unique in all of Canadian history.
For survey purposes the North-West Transportation Co. was empowered to enter any lands to the northward or westward or within the shores of Lake Superior provided, of course, that such lands were "within the limits of Canada ..." Within the same area the company was to provide the shipping facilities needed to carry on trade and to carry passengers on Lakes Huron and Superior, and to the north and west of Lake Superior. The company's capital stock was set at £100,000, divided into 20,000 £5 shares. The capital could be increased by £7,500 for each mile of portage railroad constructed over five miles in length. Settlement and trade in the North-West involved a fundamental challenge to the H.B.C.
The company could procure from Crown lands, timber, stone, fuel and other necessary material. Such activities could be regulated by the government. "[If] deemed expedient for public purposes ..." the government was empowered to purchase any company possession except wharves and storehouses for the investment value plus 6% (not, it should be noted for the real value at the time of sale). Operations were to begin immediately. Within two years a survey was to be completed. Unless major progress had been recorded, the charter would lapse in 1866. No trade or communications monopoly was conferred. The H.B.C. was apparently to be tolerated as a competitor.
Although it failed, the North-West Transportation Co. is of considerable interest. It can be approached in three ways. First, an insight into the firm's nature and motives can be obtained through an analysis of its leadership. Second, in 1858, the company published three pamphlets. They too merit analysis. Third, the company's hesitant and obscure activities require discussion.
The act of incorporation named a provisional board of directors: Thomas Clarkson, John McMurrich, William McMaster, Angus Macdonell, William Dawson, Adam Wilson, J. C. Chapais, John McLeod, Allan Macdonell, George Monro, E. T. Richardson, Thomas Dick, Gordon Brown, Clark Ross, G. H. Simard and Ignace Gill, "with power to add to their numbers until the first general meeting ..." They added Kivas Tully, George Michie, William Howland, Lewis Moffat, Sir Allan Mac-Nab, Viscount Bury, J. E. Turcotte, George Gladman, William Kennedy and Alfred Roche. Clarkson resigned, leaving twenty-five provisional directors.  These men fall into several obvious groups.
The first group consisted of seven experts on the North-West: Dawson, Allan and Angus Macdonell, Moffat, Gladman, Kennedy and Roche. William Dawson, a Scot who emigrated to Canada in 1836, was the firm's first president. He was experienced in natural-resource administration, and was the brother of S. J. Dawson who was one of the leaders of the 1857 Canadian expedition to the North-West. William had been Crown Timber Agent for Ottawa, and from 1852-57 was Superintendent of the Lands and Forests Department, Canada West (with headquarters in Toronto). He sat in the Union parliament for Three Rivers 1858-61 and for Ottawa County 1861-63. Another of William's brothers was Rev. Aeneas Macdonell Dawson, who delivered the panagyric at the funeral of D'Arcy McGee. He was also a nephew of Col. Miles Macdonell and a distant relative of Allan Macdonell. Dawson later became an early property owner in Thunder Bay. 
Allan Macdonell, a moving spirit of the North-West Transportation Co., is a shadowy figure.  He came from a fascinating family of highland Scots who settled in New York in the 1770s. During the American Revolution his people fought for Britain and then migrated to Canada. The family produced many notable Canadians, including Allan's father Hon. Alexander Macdonell who served under Simcoe during the American Revolution, was the first sheriff of the Home district, sat in several Upper Canadian assemblies, was Speaker of the House and topped his career with an appointment to Upper Canada's Legislative Council. Allan Macdonell's maternal family was equally distinguished. His uncle, Col. Samuel Smith, was twice administrator of Upper Canada. Some of Allan's brothers and many of his nephews were lawyers. One niece, Margaret Macdonell, married John Beverley Robinson Jr. in 1873. Robinson of course was associated with Macdonell during the 1850s.
Macdonell's career was both interesting and romantic. He was born in 1808.  After studying at the York Grammar School he attended Osgoode Hall and was called to the bar in 1833. In 1838 he was appointed a major in the Queen's Rangers, thus conforming to his families' loyal and military traditions. George Monro, later a member of North-West Transportation Co.'s board, became a captain in the same regiment, at the same time.  If Macdonell served as Sheriff of Gore, as has been contended,  it must have been at about this time for when he testified before the 1857 committee, he claimed to have spent ten years on the Lake Superior coast. This tour, which involved participation in copper mining, must have occupied the 1840s because he was in the militia in 1838 and back in Canada agitating by the late 1840s. Macdonell travelled extensively in Rupert's Land. He has very accurately been described as a "Toronto Liberal promoter of North-West development ..."  He was certainly both a Torontonian and a Liberal! In 1858 he brought suit to test the legality of the Double Shuffle, indicating his prominence as a Brownite Liberal.
Angus D. Macdonell, an obscure figure, was Allan's brother. A "land agent and broker ..."  he was doubtless interested in railways. Scadding claims that he was in the first class of Dr. Stuart's Home District School in 1807, with such wholesome playmates as Allan MacNab. Scadding is probably wrong, because Angus was likely younger than Allan,  indicating that he was born after 1808. Angus was secretary of the North-West Transportation Co.
George Gladman was born about 1800, in the North-West. His father was a Chief Factor, and George became a Chief Trader. During the 1850s, after thirty-one years in the Company's service, he lived at Port Hope. We have already observed him before the 1857 committee. Gladman was a leader of the Gladman-Hind-Dawson expedition, which was assisted by the H.B.C. He must have been useful to the North-West Transportation Co., and to the enemies of the H.B.C. 
Lewis Moffat of the wholesale grocery firm "Moffat, Murray and Co., Toronto" was vice-president of the North-West Transportation Co. He was the half-breed son of the Hon. George Moffat, a former partner in the North-West Company. Moffat was doubtless knowledgeable about the far west. 
William Kennedy was a western agitator, whose nephew A. K. Isbister was a famous Manitoban with a lifelong passion for the rights of his region. Kennedy wanted Rupert's Land annexed to Canada. He collected signatures in Red River in 1857 for a petition asking Canada to protect the colonists against the H.B.C. Kennedy was associated with those in Toronto interested in the new North-West Company as early as 1856. His 1857 agitation in Red River, doubtless in association with the increasingly vociferous Canadian Party, was probably only another aspect of the anti-H.B.C. campaign. As late as 1884 he was still agitating in the North-West Territories. Kennedy knew the North-West intimately. In 1857 he was entrusted by Gordon Brown. Howland, McMurrich and McMaster to trace "the most practicable communications route between the head of the lakes and the Red River ..."  These men all became members of the board of the North-West Transportation Co.
Alfred Roche  was vitally interested in the North-West. He served in the Provincial Secretary's Department and was an expert on Canadian claims in the far west. It is likely that Roche helped convert Joseph Cauchon to strong support for the annexation of Rupert's Land. Roche was anxious to strengthen the Anglo-Canadian position in the west against feared American encroachments. He left government service during the late 1850s or early 1860s to become the Toronto manager of the Canada Agency Association.
Of the seven "western" directors at least four were deeply involved in the agitation against the H.B.C. Only Moffat was obviously wealthy. These men, however, had the knowledge necessary to their venture's success - if in fact it was ever a viable enterprise. The remaining directors represented the company's financial and political strength.
Five directors added to the board solid, respectable strength: Gordon Brown, Monro, McLeod, Wilson and the hero of 1838, the redoubtable Sir Allan Napier MacNab. They were men of means but not extremely rich; they had political connections but were not powerful. Gordon Brown was an influential member of the Globe's staff. An enemy of the H.B.C., he was enthusiastic about the commercial possibilities of the North-West. George Monro, a local Tory and wholesale grocer, was for several years after 1834 a Toronto alderman. In 1841 he was elected mayor of Toronto and he represented the Third Riding of York, 1845-47. John McLeod, M.P.P. for Essex (1858-61) is another obscure and interesting figure. The act of incorporation stipulated that the provisional board must be reduced to ten. McLeod, one of those so reduced, promptly double-crossed his former colleagues. Professor Careless explained how: "the Globe was loud with indignation when, in ... (July of 1859), the government transferred the company's mail contract to a political friend, McLeod, member for Essex - whose poor, decrepit little steamer, it appeared, was in miserable contrast to the Nor' Westers' splendid craft, the Rescue."  In 1861 McLeod was back on the board, a return probably explained by the later history of the company. Adam Wilson had a distinguished career. Born in Scotland in 1814, he emigrated to Canada in 1839. Wilson was Robert Baldwin's law partner, 1840-49. In 1859 he became the first mayor of Toronto elected by popular vote. Wilson sat in the Union parliament for North York, 1860-63. He served as Solicitor-General in the undistinguished Sandfield Macdonald-Sicotte ministry 1862-63, when he became a judge of the Court of Queen's Bench for Upper Canada. In 1878 he was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and in 1884 Chief Justice of Ontario's Court of Queen's Bench. His career culminated in 1887 when he became a knight bachelor.  The career of Allan MacNab is too well known to bear retelling here. Suffice it to say that he was unusually interested in railroads. It is difficult to know what his presence on the board signified. He might have wanted to safeguard other interests, or thought the scheme would succeed. MacNab had once had great political influence, but by 1858 was in advanced decline.
William Howland and William McMaster were full-fledged members of the new political-financial class which possessed immense authority during the 1850s. Both men were Liberals. William Howland, an American of impeccable ancestry was born in 1811. In 1830 he migrated to Canada, where he quickly became an important Toronto businessman. His interests included lumbering, rafting, potash, produce and milling. At various times he was president of the Ontario Bank. the Confederation Life Insurance Company and the Toronto Board of Trade. Although a Reformer, Howland stayed out of the Rebellion of 1837. In 1857 he won West York and held it in Union and federal parliaments until 1868. In 1862-63 he was Minister of Finance in the Sandfield Macdonald-Sicotte ministry, serving with his fellow director Wilson. He was Receiver-General in the Sandfield Macdonald-Dorion government, 1863-64. Later in 1864 he succeeded Oliver Mowat as Postmaster-General in the confederation coalition. With William McDougall, another Toronto expansionist, Howland refused to follow George Brown out of the famous coalition. He succeeded Alexander Galt as Finance Minister in 1866, and as a delegate to the London Conference he was one of the fathers of confederation. In 1867 he became Canada's first Minister of Inland Revenue, and was created a member of the Order of the Companion of the Bath. Later, in 1879, he became a Knight of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. From 1868-73 he served as Ontario's second Lieutenant-Governor. 
William McMaster, born in 1811 in Ireland, migrated to York in 1833. He became a dry goods and wholesale merchant and soon headed his own firm, William McMaster and Nephews. His unspectacular political career began with election to the upper house (for Midland) in 1862. In 1867 he was called to the Senate. McMaster's business career is more interesting. To wholesale and dry goods interests he added banking. Masters comments: "McMaster's answer to the growing financial strength of Montreal was the establishment of the Canadian Bank of Commerce."  McMaster was the bank's first president, 1867-86. He was thus instrumental in gaining Toronto's financial independence from Montreal. He is remembered for his philanthropic endeavors. Senator McMaster was a supporter of Toronto's Mechanics' Institute and a pillar of the Jarvis Street Baptist Church. McMaster contributed $60,000 of the $103,000 required to construct the latter. He also contributed $190,000 to Toronto's Baptist College and later paid the salaries of its teachers - $14,500 annually. Baptist College was the forerunner of McMaster University which ultimately received the bulk of his estate.
A conscious effort was made to make the North-West Transportation Co.'s board representative. This explains the inclusion of four Lower Canadian politicians: Turcotte, Simard, Chapais and Gill. Turcotte, a barrister, sat in various Union parliaments, 1841-44 and 1851-64. In 1861 he defeated William Dawson in Three Rivers.  Turcotte was Solicitor-General (Canada East) under Draper. 1847-48, and Speaker of the Assembly, 1862-63. He does not seem to have had any notable business career. George Simard represented Quebec City. 1856-63. He was vice-president of the Quebec Fire Insurance Co. J. C. Chapais was M.P.P. for Kamouraska 1851-67. and a Senator of Canada 1868-85. He also sat in Quebec's first assembly, 1867-71. Chapais had some railroading experience as a government director of the Grand Trunk.  He held several cabinet posts: Commissioner of Public Works (1864-67), Minis-ter of Agriculture (1867-69). and Receiver-General (1869-73). Like Howland he qualified as a Father of Confederation. Ignace Gill, unlike most of our directors, found a biographer in his son Charles. Gill, M.P.P. for Yamaska 1854-61, "etait conservateur en politique et tres fidele a son parti."  Which, translated, probably means that he was an undistinguished backbencher. In 1832 he married Elizabeth MacDougall whose family, like the Macdonells, was descended from the highland Scots who rose in 1745 and then emigrated to America. They settled in the same area of New York as did the Macdonells. It is possible that the Macdonells, Dawsons and Gills were all related.
The next group consists of six directors: McMurrich, Tully, Ross, Michie, Richardson and Dick. They were solid businessmen on the fringes of public life. John McMurrich, a Liberal, was born in Scotland in 1804. In 1833 he came to Canada as representative for a Glasgow wholesale firm, and stayed. He founded branches of the business in Toronto, Kingston and Hamilton. He contested the Upper House seat of Saugeen in 1856 but was defeated. In 1862, however, he took the seat when its incumbent, James Patton, joined the cabinet.  He retained Saugeen until 1864. McMurrich was M.P.P. for North York, 1867-71. Kivas Tully was a Toronto architect, who in 1867 became Architect and Engineer in Ontario's Department of Public Works. Clark Ross, a Toronto lawyer, headed the prestigious firm "Ross, Crawford and Crombie."  He might have been a wealthy man. George Michie was a partner in "Fulton and Michie, Retail and Wholesale Grocers." 
E. J. Richardson and Thomas Dick are almost completely obscure, al-though Dick was active in the 1856 attempt to organize a new North-West Company. Viscount Bury, an English nobleman, linked the Toronto group and English finance. His role will be discussed when the dissolution of the North-West Transportation Co. is considered.
The three pamphlets published by the company provide a good insight into the firm, its objectives and its leaders. Memoranda and Prospectus of the North-West Transportation and Land Company (Toronto, 1858) was published just before the company was incorporated. It opened with a violent attack on the H.B.C.'s monopoly, and proceeded to list such western export possibilities as buffalo hides, furs, tallow, fish, salt, sarsaparilla and cranberries! The ultimate objective was "the opening [of] a direct communication between Lake Superior and the Pacific ..." Initially transport must be by water, and the first need was the establishment of communications with Red River. Opening a mail route was another possibility: "a proposition may be made for carrying the mails; the revenue arising from that source would assist somewhat towards current expenses." From this mundane consideration the author rose to ecstatic heights: "we place before us a mart of 600,000,000 of people [in China], and [our project will] enable us geographically to command them; opening the route, and leaving it to the guidance of commercial interests, Canada will, sooner or later, become the great tollgate for the commerce of the world." The men involved were imaginative salesmen!
In October 1858, after passage of the act of incorporation, Allan Macdonell's The North-West Transportation, Navigation and Railway Company: Its Objectives (Toronto) was published. Macdonell opened with the usual (and by now stale) assault on the H.B.C., and defined the purpose of the new firm as participation "in that important and lucrative trade, which, although emphatically belonging to Canada, has for the last 38 years, been exclusively monopolized by ... the Hudson's Bay Company." Macdonell described the formation in 1783 of the North West Company, capitalized at some $40,000. In three years, continued Macdonell, the company's trade was valued at $600,000. Macdonell and his associates wanted that trade. As Edward Watkin commented, "Certain gentlemen at Toronto have ever been ready to despoil any old and successful undertaking." 
Canada would benefit from the new company. Trade revenue would circulate and 4,000 men would find employment. The H.B.C., contended Macdonell, had never taken into Rupert's Land as much material as possible, and numerous commodities could in return be exported from the region. Colonization would increase trade; Indians could purchase goods. Even at "a very low estimate" the native peoples should buy $1,580,000 worth of imports annually. For Macdonell the possibilities were boundless!
He then proposed a transportation system. The first requirement was 140 miles of railroad from Lake Superior to the eastern end of Lac la Pluie. Next, a canal must be cut at the mouth of the Lac la Pluie River to make possible a steamboat connection between Lac la Pluie and Lake of the Woods. Then 100 miles of rail must connect Lake of the Woods with Red River. According to its charter the 240 miles of railroad would enable the North-West Transportation Co. to raise $7,200,000, enough to complete the work. The Red River should be improved for 450 miles, from Breckenridge to its mouth. The company could then operate into the U.S. and launch steamboats on Lake Winnipeg and the Red. Another line of steamers, for service in the far west, should be maintained beyond the rapids at the mouth of the Saskatchewan. Macdonell thus sketched a line of communication from Lake Superior to the Rockies, with a feeder line running deep into the American west. The system would enable the company to take passengers and freight to Oregon and British Columbia, and place at its disposal "the golden harvests of the mineral slopes of the Pacific, and the rich freights of China and India." The trade between Red River and St. Paul was, of course, to be absorbed.
He continued by pointing out that until the completion of the railway operations must be over waggon roads, which could connect the various lakes. Macdonell made some dubious claims. For example, he argued that a ton of goods could be shipped from England to Red River over his route for $25. The H.B.C. apparently paid $160 for the same service.  Macdonell also discussed sources of immediate revenue, including profits expected to arise out of the Great Lakes fish trade, trade with B.C., and the establishment of telegraph services. Only the first suggestion was realistic.
Macdonell's pamphlet contained as an appendix, "Observations upon the Construction of a Rail Road from Lake Superior to the Pacific" (first published in 1851). Most of its material was common by 1858, but it contained a few interesting arguments and its tone was unusually enthusiastic. An attempt was made to prove that a railroad to the Pacific would be a better link between Britain and the east than a Central American canal. When the role of seapower in the maintenance of Britain's world position is remembered, the imaginativeness of Canadian businessmen becomes clear. After referring to the value of "growing corn upon the untrodden slopes of the Rocky Mountains." Macdonell perorated: "Like the Genii in the fable, [the Indian trade] still offers the casket and the sceptre to those who, unintimidated by the terms that surround it, are bold enough to adventure to its embrace. In turn Phoenicia, Carthage. Greece, Rome, Venice, Pisa, Genoa, Portugal, Holland and lastly England, has won and worn this ocean diadem; Destiny now offers [the Indian trade] to us."
The third pamphlet, Prospectus of the North-West Transportation, Navigation and Railway Company (Toronto, 1858), claimed three objectives. First, "The opening of a route to the rich prairie lands West of Red River, and thence to Fraser River and Vancouvers [sic.] Island." Second, "Participation in the lucrative trade of those countries, in which the Company will have an advantage, as they must be, for at least a considerable period, almost the sole carriers of exports and imports." Not only are the H.B.C. claims and rights ignored, but the promoters of the North-West Transportation Co. clearly contemplated the creation of their own monopoly! Third, "The construction of a Railway, ... as early as circumstances will permit, to the Pacific." The Prospectus out-lined a proposed first year's expenditure of £75,000, which would open communications to the Pacific without railway construction. £75,000 was a meagre first step in a scheme designed to seize control of a major part of the world's trade!
The "quixotic" and "abortive"  operations of the North-West Transportation Co. are easily described. The board, as required by charter, was reduced to ten.  The provisional executive remained intact: Dawson, Moffat and Angus Macdonell (who was no longer a director). With one exception the groups already described were represented. No Englishman replaced Viscount Bury. Four western experts remained: Dawson, Moffat and the Macdonells. They controlled the executive. Sir Allan MacNab represented the solid, respectable group with financial and political connections. Both Howland and McMaster, the rich Upper Canadian Liberal politicians, survived. Chapais and Turcotte continued to represent Lower Canada, and two obscure businessmen remained, McMurrich and Dick. With a permanent board and executive the company proceeded to business. 
A contract, really a subsidy, to carry mail to Red River at $1,000 a trip was quickly secured. William Kennedy retained his close connection with the company by taking charge. Mail was to be delivered twice monthly in summer and monthly in winter. The company, in a trans-action regarded as shady by some shareholders, purchased the Rescue, which sailed between Collingwood and Fort William. Ineffectual at-tempts were made to improve the primitive waterways system west of the lakehead. The Rescue, commanded by Thomas Dick, commenced operations in July 1858 (before the charter received royal assent), but there was not much mail.
The H.B.C. was very much on the defensive. Its internal control at Red River was deteriorating, in part because of the Canadian Party and central Canadian interest in the settlement. The Company's leadership was fully aware of the inevitability of western settlement, and wanted to avoid another agitation. Consequently Simpson instructed his sub-ordinates to assist Kennedy's venture. Nonetheless the scheme failed, chiefly because of "the unreliability of the service."  The North-West Transportation Co. could not compete with the Americans. A letter sent from Red River to Lachine by the Canadian route took ten weeks longer than a letter sent through the U.S. According to E. E. Rich: "the delivery of mail at Red River by the Fort William route merely emphasized the great superiority of the normal approach from the United States ..."  Simpson estimated that the firm paid £100 to deliver a letter from Red River to Toronto! By early 1859 the anti-H.B.C. agitation was so quiet that the Company could administer the deathblow by instructing its employees to stop assisting the firm. In July 1859 the government transferred the mail contract to John McLeod, and in 1860 the project was abandoned. In 1863 the government paid $3,500 compensation for cancellation of the contract. Lord Bury attempted to secure an Imperial contract to carry mail from Toronto to the Pacific, but London refused to subsidize the venture.
The story now becomes obscure and complicated. Dawson went to England in 1858 to discuss railway matters and, in all probability, to promote his firm. While in England he probably met Viscount Bury who was the moving force in the Halifax and Quebec Railway Company, which included men ambitious for a transcontinental route. Bury visited Toronto in 1858-59 and discussed railway matters with Dawson. Some kind of agreement was reached for Bury joined the provisional board. Shortly thereafter, in March 1859, the North-West Transportation Co. was absorbed by a British firm. The new company was an amalgamation of English and Canadian interests. An executive committee was established in Canada, but control was centred in a London directorate. The Canadian operation was radically transformed.  MacNab replaced Dawson as president; J. B. Robinson, M.P.P. replaced Moffat as vice-president. Angus Macdonell continued as secretary and Viscount Bury and John McLeod re-joined the board. Allan Macdonell continued as a director. Exclusive of the secretary only MacNab and Macdonell survived from the ten man board. The rest were newcomers: J. B. Robin-son, Bury, H. J. Boulton, John Cayley, John McLeod, Alfred Roche, Clark Ross and D. B. Read. Some had served on the provisional board. The most obvious point about the reorganization is that the first group discussed, the north-westerners, lost control. Only Roche and Macdonell remained. Among the English shareholders were Bury (also on the Canadian board), Charles Fitzwilliam, Robert Benson and Pascoe Charles Glyn. These men were all active in Canadian transportation, and helped bring into association a complex of interests concerned with the development of the North-West.
Edward Watkin, the British North American Association and the International Financial Society are the most famous manifestations of this drive. They were instrumental in shifting the H.B.C.'s emphasis from fur trading to more sophisticated forms of development, a process which culminated in the I.F.S. purchasing control of the H.B.C. in 1863. The new management's purpose, as explained by Rich, was the "realization of the potential value of the Company's territories rather than concentration upon the fur trade."  The North-West Transportation Co. had helped pave the way. Our story now moves into the grander drama of confederation and Canada's annexation of the North-West.
In conclusion, some characteristics of the North-West Transportation Company's personnel should be noted. These men were bound together by a web of associations. The Macdonells and Dawson were related. Gill was probably tied to this group by blood. Later Allan Macdonell became J. B. Robinson's uncle. Monro and Macdonell served together in the militia. Macdonell, obviously a key figure, was close to George Brown and his circle, which included Gordon Brown, Wilson, McMurrich, Howland and McMaster. These inter-relationships were similar to those found earlier in the Family Compact! Another obvious network of ties existed amongst the experts on the North-West. Macdonell was almost certainly an intimate of veteran anti-H.B.C. agitators like Gladman and Kennedy. Moffat was also probably part of this group. It should be further noted that the company's promoters were able, knowledgeable and prosperous men. But they were not sufficiently prosperous to make their venture succeed.
The aggregate of political ability and weight attached to the firm was impressive. Seven provisional directors were M.P.P.s. Others were added in 1860. Men like Howland, McMaster and Chapais became moderately important politicians. While many high-ranking Liberals supported the company, it was not partisan in its personnel. Liberals and Conservatives worked together.
The promoters' motives should be questioned. They wished to build a railroad to the Pacific, but were intent on ignoring the H.B.C. From a business point of view the scheme was hopeless. Until 1859 the firm's moving spirits were probably chiefly interested in attacking the H.B.C., which was regarded as a mercantilistic relic. After the 1859 reorganization the chief concern seems to have been a sophisticated form of promotion. Politicians like Brown and Howland had their own ulterior motives. As Professor Careless has illustrated: "Brown used the North-West agitation to complete the re-unification of Upper Canada's liberal party, merging Toronto urban and business leadership with Clear Grit agrarian strength in a dynamic party front ..."  Participation in such agitations and ventures served important local political needs. It is significant that the 1857 Grit convention endorsed the annexation of the North-West. At the same time, positions adopted for regional political purposes were not designed to serve the people of Red River. Brown and his friends posed as Upper Canada's champions on this question, and wanted the Conservatives on the defensive. They were unnecessarily aggressive - a stance which made difficult an orderly withdrawal by the H.B.C.
The men of the North-West Transportation Co. also revealed some persistent Toronto business attitudes. The North-West was regarded as a huge extractive resource, obviously designed to provide profit and opportunity for the Toronto entrepreneur and his friends. It was assumed that the North-West would be economically dependent on the St. Lawrence valley. Many westerners will argue that these attitudes have never changed. Politicians used the North-West as an issue in central Canadian politics, regardless of the views and interests of westerners. This theme recurs in Canadian history.  Fear of U.S. annexation spurred Toronto's interest in westward expansion, in order to preserve the area's wealth for Canadian businessmen and their British allies. This kind of consideration was a major theme in 1869-70. The H.B.C., controlled from another metropolitan centre, was hated and opposed. Toronto was jealous of her burgeoning metropolitan status and demanded respect and power. When Macdonell associated Toronto with Phoenicia, Carthage, Greece, Rome, Venice, Pisa, Genoa, Portugal, Holland and England he appealed to a strong Torontonian imperialism, which over the years has tried to manifest itself economically, socially, culturally and politically. Toronto has been called many things, but to my knowledge never "the humble city."
In summary, five chief conclusions can be drawn. First, the Toronto business community was vitally interested in the North-West and felt it necessary to destroy the favoured position of the H.B.C. Second, while Brownite Liberals were obsessed with this theme, interest in the North-West was non-partisan. Third, interest was sufficiently strong to permit some probing operations, which were largely tolerated by the H.B.C. because of its defensive stance. Fourth, before the North-West could be adequately exploited from central Canada, a new political settlement for British North America was necessary. Fifth, at this early date Toronto business revealed persistent imperial (or metropolitan) attitudes.
1. D. C. Masters, The Rise of Toronto, 1850-1890 (Toronto, 1947). The following abbreviations are used in the text and the footnotes: C.P.C. for Canadian Parliamentary Companion; H.B.C. for Hudson's Bay Company; North-West Transportation Co. for North-West Transportation, Navigation and Railway Company (also called the North-West Transit Company); T.C.D. for Toronto City Directory.
4. With reference to social, political and cultural aspects of metropolitanism it should be pointed out that the term implies an homogenous hinterland. This helps explain the tremendous power of a Paris or a London. In many respects Canadian society is too regionally disparate to permit such control from one centre. Economically, of course, such control is less difficult.
5. Canada could not of course have any foreign policy during this period. It is interesting to note that the United States during the great age of economic expansion (c.1865-c.1896), minimized the problems by indulging in as few foreign adventures as possible.
6. For the stranglehold exercised by business fifteen years later see Donald Swainson, The Personnel of Politics: A Study of the Ontario Members of the Second Federal Parliament, Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto, 1968.
15. For activities in the Legislative Council see Province of Canada, Journals of the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada. Being the Third Session of the 5th Provincial Parliament, 1857, vol. XV, 60, 80, 184, 195.
16. For various aspects of this investigation see Province of Canada, Appendix to the Fifteenth Volume of the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, Being the 3rd Session of the 5th Provincial Parliament, 1857, vol. XV, Appendix 17. This appendix is unpaginated.
17. An interesting attempt was made to open trade with Red River in 1857. In April three men, Lundsell, Richardson and Ball - under Lundsell's leadership - left Toronto for Red River via St. Paul. They took with them about £600 of trade goods. The expedition was a fiasco for they quarreled before they reached Red River, where they sold their goods and dispersed. It would be interesting to know whether they were independent or inspired by the Toronto agitators. The evidence required for a conclusion is not available. See John S. Galbraith, The Hudson's Bay Company as an Imperial Factor, 1821-1869 (Toronto, 1957), 335. For an extensive discussion of Canada and the H.B.C. lands see Anna Margaret Wright, The Canadian Frontier, 1840-1967, Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto, 1943.
18. Allan Macdonell, The North-West Transportation, Navigation and Rail-way Company: Its Objectives (Toronto, 1858), 4. For the 1851 scheme see also Laurence Sidney Fallis Jr., The Idea of Progress In The Province of Canada, 1841-1867, Ph.D. thesis, University of Michigan, 1966, 48-51.
23. For Allan Macdonell see W. L. Scott, "A U. E. Loyalist Family", Ontario Historical Society, Papers and Records, XXXII (1937) ; Scadding, op. cit., 330; Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry, II, 562-63; Upper Canada Gazette, January 11, 1838; J. M. S. Careless, Brown of the Globe, I (Toronto, 1959), 288; Wright, op. cit., I am indebted to Mr. Tommie Tweed of Toronto, who in 1961 generously provided the author with useful references to the carer of Allan Macdonell.
24. Burke, op. cit., II, 562 gives the year 1803. Burke is in error. The Department of Vital Statistics, Province of Ontario, gives the date of his death as September 9, 1888, at the age of 79 years and 10 months. He was thus born in 1808.
27. Careless, op. cit., I, 288.
32. Careless, op. cit., 239. See also Ibid., 229; Galbraith, op. cit., 346; Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870-71 (London, n.d.), 827; Stanley, op. cit., 264-65.
33. W. L. Morton, The West and Confederation, 1857-71 (C.H.A. booklet, Ottawa, 1958), 7, 9; T.C.D., 1861-62, 252.
34. Careless, op. cit., 307. See also T.C.D , 1859-60, 295 and T.C.D., 1861, 375.
35. While mayor of Toronto Adam Wilson wrote The Constable's Guide: A Sketch of the Office of Constable (Toronto, 1859). This is an excellent book, replete with legal precedents, light touches and progressive ideas. It is interesting to note that at this early date he advocated the use of photography by police forces.
36. D. B. Read, in his The Lieutenant-Governors of Upper Canada and Ontario, 1792-1899 (Toronto, 1900) commented: "Sir William Howland was a pioneer in opening up the North-West territory. In 1857-1858 he was a director of the Rescue Company formed for that purpose." (p. 212). It is unusual to find an historian indicating an interest in the North-West Transportation Co. as early as 1900. Read's interest doubtless grew out of his own service on the company's board. See T.C.D., 1861, 375.
40. Charles Gill, Notes Historique Sur L'Origine de la Famille Gill de Saint-Francois du Lac et Saint-Thomas de Pierreville et Histoire de ma Propre Famille (Montreal, 1887), 90. This is a not very useful piece of hagiography.
46. Joseph James Hargrave, Red River (Montreal, 1871), 143.
48. This part of the story is told chiefly from secondary sources because of a lack of primary material. The records of the North-West Transportation Co. were moved to England. See Bertrand, op. cit.; Careless, op. cit.; Galbraith, op. cit.; Arthur S. Morton, op. cit.; E. E. Rich, Hudson's Bay Company 1670-1870, three volumes (Toronto, 1960) ; Wright, op. cit.
53. J. M. S. Careless, The Union of the Canadas: The Growth of Canadian Institutions, 1841-57 (Toronto, 1967), 206.
Page revised: 22 May 2010