SCOTT, BENJAMIN ALEXANDER, clerk, timber contractor, businessman, politician, and militia officer, b. 30 Sept. 1859 at Quebec, son of James George Scott and Mary Ann Green; m. there 1 June 1886, in Notre-Dame cathedral, Joséphine Shehyn, daughter of Joseph Shehyn*, treasurer of the province of Quebec from 1887 to 1891, and they had five sons; d. 14 Dec. 1928 in Montreal.
Benjamin A. Scott’s paternal grandfather, a Presbyterian of Scottish ancestry, was born in Newfoundland and settled in Quebec City around 1820. After secondary studies at Quebec High School, young Benjamin assisted his father as an accounting clerk in the two sawmills run by Price Brothers and Company in Chicoutimi from the fall of 1875 until his father’s death on 14 March 1885. Scott Sr was manager of both mills; the larger was located at the mouth of the Chicoutimi, employed 300 men, and processed 100,000 sawlogs in 1881, which made it the most substantial establishment of its kind in the region at that time. Scott worked there until September 1887.
In 1888 the opening of the Quebec and Lake Saint John Railway, with its terminus at Roberval, made it possible to connect the region with other markets and gave Scott a chance to put to use the experience he had gained in the Price mill. In partnership with the railway’s builder, Horace Jansen Beemer*, he sought to take advantage of the region’s forest resources and potential for tourism. In 1888 the two men built the Hôtel Roberval in Roberval on the southwest shore of Lac Saint-Jean. Soon tourists from all over the world were coming to the hotel, attracted by such activities as fishing for freshwater salmon (ouananiche). After an extension was added in 1891, the establishment had 257 luxurious, spacious rooms, and offered a multitude of services. The coming of the railway also made it possible to ship lumber to European and American markets, where it was in great demand. Thus in 1888 Scott joined Ross, Beemer and Company, an enterprise founded by James Gibb Ross* and Beemer to exploit the local forest resources. Scott’s principal role was that of timber contractor. By autumn an immense two-storey sawmill, 120 feet by 40 feet, was in operation at the outlet of the Rivière Ouiatchouaniche, near the Hôtel Roberval. In 1889 over 11 million feet of boards and planks were shipped to England. To supply the sawmill, Scott, like Ross and Beemer, acquired vast cutting areas along the Mistassini and Péribonka rivers. From 1887 to 1893 his lumber camps produced more than 30 million feet of timber. At the end of the 19th century, his huge timber lands, covering nearly 1,500 square miles, provided employment for 600 men in lumber camps, and 250 others were engaged in rafting timber, working at the sawmill, and shipping. In 1901 Scott purchased the property rights to the mill from Francis Ross*, the brother and heir of J. G. Ross. In 1888 he had obtained from the parish municipality of Roberval a 20-year tax reduction for the sawmill and a 10-year reduction for the Hôtel Roberval.
Although the production of lumber declined in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region at the beginning of the 20th century, Scott and his partners found new outlets with the pulp mills, which were supplying the growing market of the newspaper industry. In 1908, despite a fire three years earlier, their sawmill was the largest of its kind in the region. It had a production capacity of 30 million board feet, while the second largest, that of Price Brothers and Company Limited, could supply only 11 million. To carry lumber, settlers, and tourists, Scott and Beemer set up a navigation system linked to the railway. Four steamboats were built between 1888 and 1894. In 1897, in cooperation with the Quebec and Lake Saint John Railway Company, Scott helped found the Société de Colonisation et de Rapatriement du Lac Saint-Jean, which from 1898 to 1905 brought 1,000 people a year to settle in the Lac-Saint-Jean region. Scott acquired two farms to supply his forest enterprises and encourage the establishment of new settlers. The first was an 800-acre farm in Péribonka, which he purchased in 1888, the second a 1,500-acre farm in Mistassini, which he leased in 1897 and bought six years later.
At the end of the first decade of the 20th century, however, the tourist boom in the Lac-Saint-Jean region came to an end. Fire had destroyed one of Scott and Beemer’s steamboats in 1907, the Hôtel Roberval in 1908, and Island House, a chalet of some 30 rooms that Beemer had built for fishermen, in 1909. In addition, the sawmill had to be closed in 1910 because of the prohibitive cost of transportation by water; the seasonal nature of navigation also made it unprofitable to transport logs. Some system of communication had to be found that would go right around Lac Saint-Jean and connect with the Quebec and Lake Saint John Railway. Scott consequently formed a partnership in 1911 with some local businessmen, led by Julien-Édouard-Alfred Dubuc*, to found the Roberval and Saguenay Railway Company. The following year a second firm, the Alma and Jonquière Railway Company, was founded to extend the network. In the end, the railway did not quite circle the lake. It reached Saint-Félicien in 1917 and Dolbeau in 1927.
Scott’s interest in the development of Roberval had also led him to play an important role on the municipal scene. As mayor of the parish municipality of Roberval from 1893 to 1906, a time when it was experiencing rapid growth, he set up committees to improve or create municipal infrastructure (streets, water mains, electric street lighting) and put into effect measures that would attract industries. He presided over the merger of the parish and the village which gave birth to the town of Roberval in 1903, and he was its mayor in 1906 and 1907. During this period he produced a budgetary surplus and he put through council a plan for the construction of a town hall. At the same time, as warden of the county council from 1896 to 1899 and from 1903 to 1905, Scott worked to promote coordination and consultation in the activities of the other municipalities in Lac-Saint-Jean county. He was also one of the founders of the Compagnie Électrique de Roberval in 1897, co-founder of the Compagnie de Téléphone de Roberval in 1898, and owner of the weekly Le Lac Saint-Jean (Roberval) from 1907 to 1917. In 1907 he helped establish the Saguenay Chamber of Commerce, where he championed the projects dear to his heart, such as the construction of a dam on the Rivière Grande Décharge at Lac Saint-Jean to facilitate navigation by maintaining the water level of the lake, but also to further his own plans.
Scott was well aware of the potential water-power to be found at the point where Lac Saint-Jean empties into the Rivière Saguenay. On 22 June 1900, through his political connections, he had been able to purchase from the provincial government development rights to a part of the Rivière Grande Décharge, from Île Maligne to Chute-à-Caron, for $6,000. Another concession, downstream from the waterfall, had been granted to Ontario developer Thomas Leopold Willson*, while the American financier Louis Terah Haggin had obtained the part between the island and Lac Saint-Jean. Since substantial capital would have to be invested to develop these energy resources, Scott formed a partnership in 1901 with Haggin and his father. Their goal was major industrial developments, but first they had to be sure they would find purchasers for the electricity that would be generated. In 1913 the American tobacco magnate James Buchanan Duke, who was looking for new sources of energy for his factories, persuaded the Haggins and Willson to sell him their concessions, while he negotiated an agreement with Scott for the latter’s rights. Scott received 25 per cent of the shares of the new Quebec Development Company Limited, which was incorporated in October 1913. Duke and his brother Benjamin Newton were his partners in this enterprise. In return, he had to obtain from the provincial government the right to raise the level of Lac Saint-Jean by building dams. This right was granted in April on condition that the dams be completed within five years and that Scott invest at least a million dollars in the work during this period. Construction was halted, however, by the lack of customers for electricity and by World War I. It was resumed during the 1920s, but Duke then decided to go into partnership with Sir William Price and tried to buy up Scott’s shares, which Scott refused to sell. There was prolonged litigation before the Superior Court. In the end Scott did not receive the compensation to which his contribution to the company entitled him.
Along with his career as an industrialist and lumber merchant, Scott had also, from the age of 24, shown an interest in the militia. He had obtained a diploma from the Royal School of Artillery on 12 June 1885 and had been promoted to the rank of major on 12 June 1895. He had also received a diploma in cavalry on 4 June 1899. Since there was no regiment in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, Scott and two other officers raised the 18th (Saguenay) Battalion of Infantry, which was given official recognition on 1 Feb. 1900. Consisting of 32 officers and 342 non-commissioned officers and men, plus a band of 24 musicians, the new regiment was commanded by Scott, who received the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He remained in command until 1903. On 1 May 1907 he was given command of the 10th Brigade, which included, besides the 18th (Saguenay) Regiment, the 4th Regiment (Chasseurs Canadiens), the 17th (Lévis) Regiment and the 55th Regiment (Megantic Light Infantry). A number of members of the brigade were called up to serve in the Canadian Expeditionary Corps during World War I, but Scott was not among them. He retired officially from the militia on 31 Jan.1924, and he was ill at that time. His last years were spent in Montreal. In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were cast into Lac Saint-Jean.
For 35 years Benjamin A. Scott was the leading figure in the development of the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region. A far-sighted entrepreneur, he had grasped the full economic potential of the hydraulic resources of the Saguenay and of Lac Saint-Jean and he devoted himself to their development with the zeal of a pioneer. The hydroelectric stations of L’Isle-Maligne (Alma) and Chute-à-Caron still bear witness today to the soundness of his views. They have given rise to the construction of paper mills and a large aluminum plant, which in turn have led to the birth of some towns and the growth of others. Scott may rightly be considered the “father” of the industrialization of the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region. The Commission de Toponymie du Québec named a mountain in his honour on 22 Aug. 2001.
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