John A. Macdonald:
(published in the Wellington Business Digest,
Vol. 1, Issue 4, 1985)
Guelph's Most Famous Land Speculator
One of Guelph's early real estate developers
was none other than Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.
The great railway boom of the early 1850s sparked Macdonald's interest
Well placed to speculate in railway lands, Macdonald
had helped negotiate the amalgamation of the Guelph and Toronto Railway
Company with the newly chartered Grand Trunk Company. More significant
perhaps, Macdonald was legal advisor to C.S. Gzowski and Company, the
firm given the contract to build the Guelph to Toronto rail line. With
this inside track, Macdonald purchased land near the Market Square in
1851, before the choice of that location for the railway station was officially
Historians have largely ignored Macdonald's
considerable business activities; instead, they have preferred to dwell
on his extraordinary success as a politician. However, these two pursuits
of business and politics cannot be separated in considering the career
of this most famous of the Canadian "Fathers of Confederation."
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agree that one key to Macdonald's forty-year reign as Tory leader was
his control of political patronage. The Registrar for Wellington County
in the 1850s was one James Webster, formerly a member of the legislative
Assembly of the United Canadas. Webster had been appointed to his Guelph
post on the recommendation of Macdonald; he was also Macdonald's real
estate agent in Guelph. It was Webster who arranged a survey of Macdonald's
property and saw to its division into 175 city lots.
Macdonald was not a bit squeamish about his
business dealings. In Guelph on Nov. 30th, 1855 for his land auction -
he was Attorney General for Canada West in 1855 - he found the Scottish
inhabitants in the midst of their traditional St. Andrew's day festivities.
While proposing a toast to the town and trade of Guelph, Macdonald confessed
he had little anticipated the pleasure of the evening for he had come
into town thinking only of himself and his pocket.
Sir John was not particularly successful as
a land speculator. The railway bubble was gone by 1856 and the province
sunk in deep recession. In Guelph, Macdonald's agent sold only 40 lots
between 1855 and 1868.
Where exactly was Macdonald's property in Guelph?
Just across Allan's Bridge. Quite a sizable
chunk of land too. It included nearly the whole of what is now the inner
Ward. Folks in the area bounded by Arthur
St. South and the Eramosa and Speed Rivers, as well as those in the triangle
enclosed by Ontario Street, Neeve Street and York Road might be interested
to know that one of the people who has made money out of the land they
live or work on was the great man himself, John A. Macdonald, Canada's
first Prime Minister.