Born in Creebridge in the parish of Minnigaff Peter was a highly successful businessman and politician in Canada. Amongst other things, he was the first Mayor of City of Montreal..

Peter McGill, Creebridge and Montreal

THE HONORABLE PETER McGILL was the son of John McCutchon, of Newton Stewart, in the county of Galloway, by Mary McGill, his second wife. He was born at Cree Bridge, Wigtonshire, in the month of August, 1789, and received at his baptism, on the 1st of September following, the christian name of Peter, which, unlike his surname, he neither had the inducement nor the power to change. His parents were able only to give him the patrimony of a good example, a parish school education, and a discipline of industry. Nature was more affluent, for she bestowed a sound constitution, robust health, and a frame that would have done credit to the Life Guards, for he was if we mistake not, upwards of six feet in height. He had a handsome face, and an eye, behind whose tint of northern blue there lodged a greater amount of mirth and mischief than are usually found looking out of the serious heads of the Scottish race. We do not know what his occupations were between the periods of his leaving school and his leaving Scotland. All that we are able to narrate is, that in the memorable year of 1809, when the war flame illumined all Europe, when the ocean was the playground of privateers, and when sea risks of every kind amounted to prohibitions, young McCutchon left his father's house by the Cree, ferried his fortunes out of Wigton Bay, waved a cordial good bye to the Mull of Galloway, and in a cheerful frame of mind arrived at Montreal in the month of June. Inducements were not wanting to attract him to Canada. His maternal uncle, the Hon. John McGill, a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada, and at one time Receiver General of that Province, had accumulated wealth as well as honor in his new home. Having no children and many possessions, he very naturally sought in his own family for heirs of his blood. It may have been personal feeling, or it may have been a genealogical prejudice, but he determined to obtain by law what had been denied by nature — an heir of his name as well as of his race. The impression which the nephew made on the mind of his uncle must have been very satisfactory, as on the 29th of March, 1821, and during the lifetime of the former, a Royal License was issued under the sign manual of His Majesty George the Fourth, from which we shall make the following extract:

"Whereas Peter McCutchon, of Montreal, in the Province of Lower Canada, merchant, only surviving son of John McCutchon, of Newton Stewart, in the county of Galloway, gentleman, by Mary, his second wife, deceased, who was the sister of John McGill, of York, in the Province of Upper Canada, Esquire, a member of the Legislative Council, and late Receiver-General for the said last mentioned Province, hath, by his Petition, humbly represented unto us that his said honored maternal uncle having, in the consideration that he is now a widower, advanced in years, without any children alive, and the only survivor of the male branch of his father's family, by a letter bearing date at York aforesaid, the second day of January last past, signified his earnest wish and desire that the Petitioner should assume and use his surname; and the Petitioner, being desirous, from motives of affectionate regard towards the said John McGill, of forthwith complying with his wish so expressed; the Petitioner, therefore, most humbly prays our Royal License and authority that he may assume, take, and use the surname of McGill instead of his present surname. Know ye that We, of our Princely grace and special favor, have given and granted, and by these presents do give and grant unto him, the said Peter McCutchon, our Royal License and authority, that he may assume, take, and use the surname of McGill instead of his present surname, provided this, our commission and declaration, br recorded in our College of Arms; otherwise this our License and Permission to be void and of none effect."

Before he assumed his uncle's name, or inherited his property, Peter McCutchon addressed himself to the duty of working out his own fortune. With a hearty vigor he entered on that career of commerce with which his history was to be chiefly associated. In the capacity of clerk, he engaged in the service of Messrs. Parker, Gerrard, Ogilvy & Co. After a few years' exertion, he had so far made his way as to become a partner, and to see his name fill the third place with the quadruple alliance of Porteous, Hancox, McCutchon & Cringan.

In 1824, the Hon. John McGill died, and the subject of this sketch inherited the fortune for which he had been requested to lay aside his paternal name. It was, we believe, about this time he formed an English partnership with Mr. Dowie, of Liverpool, and if we are rightly informed, a Canadian one with the late Mr. Price of Quebec. The firm of McGill & Dowie lasted for some years, while the business under the name of Peter McGill & Co. was continued for a still further period. Though great pecuniary disasters overtook the firm, it was wealthy enough to bear the shaking. It lost much metaphorical blood in the form of money; but in saving its credit, it saved its actual life; and it was only common policy to shed one in defence of the other. The high-minded merchant entered into rest with the comfortable reflexion, that his commercial honor had never been impeached.

In 1818, the Bank of Montreal was established. In the following year Mr. McGill was elected one of the directors. In 1830, he was appointed Vice-President, and in 1834, President of the Bank. The last-mentioned officer is chosen annually, and it is no light compliment to the subject of this sketch that, without interruption, he continued to fill the office until June, 1860, when age and ill health obliged him to relinquish his connection with that great institution. On the 13th February, 1832, he was married, by special license, at Brunswick square, London, to Sarah Elizabeth, a daughter of Robt. C. Wilkins, Esq. Of this marriage two sons survive.

Mr. McGill was a wealthy and benevolent, as well as a sagacious and a painstaking man, who not only applauded the sentiment, but really enjoyed the labor of doing good to other people. He was courteous and conciliatory to all, and thoroughly free from that kind of Dombeyan pomposity which Dickens has satirized, and which many men mistake for good breeding. His mind was cast in a gentle mould, and his heart was a treasury of benevolence and charity. Such qualities, combined with his social and commercial position, fitted him to be what he was, a useful intermediary between extreme parties. His principles were not deficient in outline, but such outlines were cut in Caen stone and not in granite. They were therefore very sensible to the touch of time, the influence of contact and the power of association. The Honorable George Moffatt, who was his friend, might instructively be contrasted with Mr. McGill. Both were high-minded honorable men. Moreover, they started from the same point of the political compass. But there was a great difference in the way in which they applied their knowledge. One did what he thought was right, the other did what he thought was best. One asserted the obligations of principle, the other insisted on the considerations of expediency. Mr. Moffatt was governed by the rule and square of imperious conviction. Mr. McGill watched, and to a great extent was controlled by the course of events. Principle in one case was inflexible and unyielding; in the other it was pliant and elastic. The former character attracted more respect, and the latter more affection; and thus people sometimes found themselves most liking what abstractedly they least admired. The age in which we live is an age of conciliation, with which compromise has a good deal to do. Mr. Moffatt preferred the old-fashioned axioms to the new-fashioned age. Mr. McGill accepted things as they were, and if he could not suit the age to the axioms, he would adapt the axioms to the age. This policy of observing the ebb and flow of public opinion, of being content to follow the times and apply their lessons, has its advantages, which, though of a negative character, may nevertheless represent a positive benefit.

The community of mixed nationalities in which Mr. McGill lived, was exactly the community where such a policy could find scope and be appreciated. There is no more cosmopolitan population in British America than is to be found in Montreal. All sorts and conditions of men congregate there; men of all origins, all creeds, and of every occupation — men who are attracted from parts the most remote, governed by interests the most different, and engaged in pursuits the most varied. Yet, notwithstanding such an accumulation of contrarieties, Mr. McGill was able even in such a community to exert an influence which was generally beneficial, because it was always moderate. Thus his assistance and co-operation were commonly sought for in religious, charitable, or useful works. In this way offices more onerous than profitable, honors more burdensome than enviable, and duties more exacting than desirable, gathered about his path with fatiguing accumulation. He seemed to be associated with every undertaking that needed direction; the head of almost every society that wanted a chairman; and the co-operator with almost every charity that wanted a friend. From 1834 to 1843, he was the President of the Montreal Branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society; and when he resigned, an order of Honorary Governors was instituted primarily for the purpose of keeping his name on the roll of the Society. He was President of the St. Andrew's Society from 1835 to 1842. In 1846, he was appointed Provincial Grand Master of the Free Masons for the District of Montreal and William Henry, and in the following year he was elevated to the office of Superintendent of Royal Arch Masonry in the Province of Canada. He was the first Mayor of the city of Montreal; and though he was nominated by the Crown, we think the opinion includes no slight to the citizens when we add that they have never chosen a more useful and efficient chief magistrate. By way of adding strength to this impression, we shall append a resolution which was unanimously adopted at the close of Mr. McGill's civic career:

On the motion of Alderman DeBleury, seconded by Councillor Bourett, it was unanimously resolved :
That, whereas, the present Council will, from and after to-morrow, cease to exist the present is a fitting moment to convey to his worship the Mayor, the Honorable Peter McGill, the most sincere and unanimous thanks of the members of this Council, for the very gentlemanly and courteous manner in which he has at all times conducted and performed the high and important duties connected with his office as Mayor of this city, and it is with deep regret they have learned that he is determined not to be put in nomination at the ensuing municipal election to sit again at this Board, where his acknowledged ability and services have been so pre-eminently useful; and the loss of such invaluable services cannot fail to be felt by the citizens generally.

Besides the offices already mentioned, Mr. McGill was for fourteen years a Governor of the University of McGill College, and he was also a Governor of the Montreal General Hospital, Chairman of the Canada Branch of the Colonial Life Assurance Company, President of the Lay Association of Montreal in connection with the Church of Scotland, Chairman of the St. Lawrence and Champlain Railroad Company, from its commencement to its completion 1835, when he declined re-election; President of the Board of Trade in Montreal, in 1848; Director of the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada, President of the British and Canadian School Society of Montreal, and a Trustee of the University of Queen's College, Kingston. We must not omit to state that he was President of the Constitutional Society from 1836 to 1839.

In 1820 he was promoted to the rank of captain in the Militia; in 1830 he was gazetted as major of Artillery, and on the 14th September, 1849, he was placed on the unattached list as lieut. colonel. His political offices, though less numerous, were necessarily more important than the local or military ones to which we have referred. He was a member of the Legislative Council of Lower Canada, having been summoned thereto by His Excellency Viscount Aylmer, on the 8th June, 1832. On the 2nd of November, 1838, he was appointed, and on the 19th January, 1839, re-appointed a member of the Special Council for Lower Canada. On the 4th July of the last mentioned year, he received from the Governor General a communication accompanying a mandamus under the Royal Signet, of which the following is a copy:

To our trusty and well beloved Sir John Colborno, G. C. B., Lieutenant-General in our army, our Captain General and Governor in Chief, in and over our Province of Lower Canada; or, in his absence, to our Lieutenant-Governor, or the Officer administering the Government of our said Province for the time being


Trusty and well beloved, we greet you well. We being well satisfied of the loyalty, integrity and ability of our trusty and well beloved Peter McGill, Esq., have thought fit hereby to signify our will and pleasure, that forthwith, upon the receipt of those presents, you swear and admit him, the said Peter McGill, to be of our Executive Council of our Province of Lower Canada, and for so doing this will be your warrant.

Given at our Court at Buckingham Palace, this fourth day of May, 1839, in the second year of our reign.

By Her Majesty's Command,


Peter McGill, Esq.,
To be of the Executive Council,
Lower Canada.

On the 9th June, 1841, he was summoned by His Excellency, Baron Sydenham, to a seat in the Legislative Council of Canada. In 1843 he declined, for private reasons, the office of Speaker, though pressed on his acceptance by the Honorable Messrs. Vigor and Quesnel, the former of whom was, at the time, the chief Lower Canadian adviser of Lord Metcalfe. On the 21st of May, 1847, the offer being repeated by His Excellency the Earl of Elgin, it was accepted by Mr. McGill, who was at the same time sworn in of the Executive Council. Personally, there was no more popular member of the Legislative Council than Mr. McGill. Probably no one could have presided with more dignity, and, so it is stated, no one has dispensed the hospitalities which are inseparable from the office with better taste, greater discernment or equal frequency. Unfortunately for Mr. McGill, the peculiar state of the Province appeared to counteract the grace which lent attraction to his presidency. Until then the office had not been regarded as a ministerial appointment; successive changes had taken place in the administration, government had succeeded government, reformers had displaced moderates, and conservatives reformers. But the Speakership of the Legislative Council, like a judicial appointment, had remained undisturbed, being, as it was supposed, beyond the reach of those influences which regulate the tenure of political offices. But it was not the application of the principle of ministerial responsibility which constituted the chief difficulty of the unlooked for proceeding. The differences between Lord Metcalfe and his Executive Council, which resulted in the resignation of the latter, on 30th September, 1843, were followed by the general estrangement of the French Canadian party. This estrangement, Mr. Draper, and subsequently Mr. Cayley, sought very earnestly to overcome. On both occasions Mr. Caron, at that time the Speaker of the Legislative Council, was selected as the negotiator. That he did not succeed must be attributed rather to the difficulty of the duty than to any want of effort on his part to make it successful. But the penalty of failure appeared to be visited upon him. The administrations which he had sought to serve discovered that the public interests would be advanced by cancelling Mr. Caron's commission, and making his office as unstable as their own. "Since you have failed to conciliate your countrymen, you shall no longer preside in the Legislative Council," were not the words in which Mr. Caron's removal was signified, but they expressed, as was alleged, the ministerial reason. That act increased the difficulties of the situation; for the substitution of a gentleman of British origin for one of French descent added force to their grievances, who complained of the exclusion of the latter from power. Thus it chanced that Mr. McGill's personal popularity weighed but little against the political necessities of the government. It was ineffectual to repair a mistake, which was apparently more nearly related to resentment than to sagacity. The error was fatal, for it caused the waverers of the French Canadian party to unite as a compact body, and take service under the flag of Mr. Lafontaine. The natural result speedily followed, for on the 10th of March, 1848, the administration, of which Mr. McGill was one of the most popular members, resigned. Though he continued to give his occasional attendance in Parliament from then till the time of his death, his political career may be said to have closed on the last mentioned day.

Mr. McGill was not a man of marked genius or of conspicuous learning, or of striking originality, but he was a man of nice honor, great sagacity, and sound common sense. He possessed the qualities for which Cicero recommended Pompey to the Romans for their general; he was a "man of courage, conduct, and good fortune." Moreover, he was a frank opponent, a fair partisan, and a fast friend. If he was not always consistent, he was always conscientious. He did not care to balance the logic of argument against the logic of facts. He was more anxious that his acts should be separately wise than that they should be collectively symmetrical; hence he took no pains to dovetail a vote of one period with a speech of another. No political designation with which we are acquainted very accurately describes his school of politics. At times he was a conservative, and at times a reformer, but he was always a royalist, and always an enthusiastic supporter of the Queen's government. He was passionately so, when that government was disturbed by rebellion or menaced with democracy.

A Scotsman by birth, he could, on any festive occasion, talk in exhilarating tones of the "blue hills" of his native land, and express at least a poetic affection for their hazy accompaniments of mist and drizzle. But though he had neither the wish nor the ability to forget his native land, we incline to think that his greater love was for the country of his adoption. His constant hope and earnest endeavors were to unite in one bond of fellowship and concord, of union and strength, the different races with which it is peopled. Baptized and brought up in the Church of Scotland, he continued to be, as we learn from a sermon preached on the occasion of his death, a member of that establishment to the last. The disease of which he died was enlargement of the heart. It was of long standing. His robust constitution had wrestled with it for twenty years, and did not give way until the 28th of September, 1860, when he had entered his seventy-second year. Many regrets were expressed at his death, and many mourners followed his remains to the grave. Moreover the place of usefulness which he filled, we incline to think, is still empty. No successor has arisen in the Montreal community who unites in his character and his policy the kindliness and generosity, the tact influence and temper, of the Honorable Peter McGill.

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