ERMATINGER (also Ermintinger, Armitinger), LAWRENCE, merchant; baptized 29 Oct. 1736 at Schaffhausen, Switzerland, son of Laurenz Ermatinger, gunsmith, and Anna Maria Buhl; d. 6 Oct. 1789 in Montreal (Que.).
Lawrence Ermatinger, a partner in the firm Trye and Ermatinger, merchants of London, England, arrived in Montreal soon after the British conquest and quickly became involved in trade. His first recorded business transaction in Montreal was on 16 Feb. 1762. On 15 Oct. 1763 he signed an article of agreement with Forrest Oakes for a term of three years. After the expiration of this agreement, Ermatinger continued to furnish trade goods to Oakes and also to other partnerships for their fur trade ventures. He sent these goods to Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.) and Grand Portage (near Grand Portage, Minn.). He also acted as an agent for the transport of goods and passengers to England.
In 1767 Ermatinger’s partner, James Trye, died in England, and Ermatinger attempted unsuccessfully to settle the affairs of the firm. He was obliged to return to England in November 1769 and declare bankruptcy, but he was able to salvage some of his business and with the aid of friends and creditors returned to Montreal in June 1770. He rented a house, got his store ready for retail trade, and had his goods landed. On 10 July 1770 a fire destroyed the house and his offices, but with the goods he rescued and others not yet arrived he returned to business. His premises were burned again on 19 Nov. 1772. On 7 Nov. 1774 Ermatinger purchased a house on Rue Saint-Paul, which he insured for £400 in London and intended to make fireproof with iron plates imported from England. During the occupation of Montreal (1775–76), the American administrator of the town ordered the arrest of Ermatinger and nine other prominent supporters of the crown when he heard of Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery’s defeat at Quebec. His arbitrary action drew a strong protest from Montrealers and the prisoners were released. Ermatinger was obliged to store his goods and go to the country to avoid the Americans. He suffered some financial loss but was soon involved in the trade in military supplies for the British army.
Despite adversity Ermatinger managed to continue his fur trading activities. His name appears regularly among the recipients of fur trade licences from 1769 to 1778. He was also involved in the financing of partnerships such as that of Forrest Oakes and Charles Boyer. In 1779 a short-lived North West Company consisting of 16 shares held by nine different partnerships was organized; one share was held by Oakes and Company, a partnership between Ermatinger and Forrest Oakes.
Ermatinger acted also as an agent for several London merchants throughout most of his business career in Montreal. He kept his principals informed of the state of the Canadian market and with this advice goods were shipped to him on consignment. He sold these and purchased cargoes to be shipped back to England or sent direct to some foreign market. He was sometimes sent instructions about the disposal of goods but his principals relied largely on his judgement in both buying and selling. While acting as an agent Ermatinger sometimes also worked on a commission basis for London merchants; he was engaged in commerce on his own account as well. Prior to 1773 he imported goods for his own business directly from the English manufacturers but because of their many irregularities he found it more profitable to pay a commission and have all his stock shipped from one firm.
Ermatinger’s prosperity did not endure. He amassed large debts and in August 1783 was forced to mortgage all his real property and personal estate to a London merchant firm. He felt obliged to sell his property and his house on Rue Saint-Paul. From 1783 until his death Ermatinger was no longer active in the business community of Montreal. He died intestate on 6 Oct. 1789.
During his active years Ermatinger had been a member of the community of English merchants who sought to benefit from the trade of Canada after the conquest, and who formed committees, wrote petitions, passed resolutions, and generally sought to influence political and economic events in Canada. He was also one of the first members of a Masonic organization in Montreal, along with his wife’s brother-in-law Edward William Gray*.
Within a few years of his arrival in Canada Ermatinger had married Jemima Oakes, the sister of Forrest. They had eight children, including Frederick William*, sheriff of Montreal and one of the first directors of the Bank of Montreal, Charles Oakes*, fur-trader, and Lawrence Edward, assistant commissary-general in the British army.
ANQ-M, État civil, Anglicans, Christ Church (Montréal), 8 Oct. 1789; Greffe d’E. W. Gray, 18 août 1783; Greffe de J. A. Gray, 25 août 1809. PAC, MG 19, A2, ser.1, 1, 3; ser.3, 31, 63, 192, 193, 199, 201, 203; ser.4, 1; MG 30, D1, 12; RG 4,B28, 24–25. PRO, B 4/20, f.11; B 6/4, f.66. Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace). Quebec Gazette, 20 June, 25 July 1765, 16 March 1767, 23 July, 3 Dec. 1772, 9 Sept. 1779, 25 Sept. 1783. E. H. Capp, The story of Baw-a-ting, being the annals of Sault Sainte Marie (Sault Sainte Marie, Ont., 1904; repr. 1907). Isabel Craig, “Economic conditions in Canada, 1763–1783” (unpublished ma thesis, McGill University, Montreal, 1937). D. B. Miquelon, “The Baby family in the trade of Canada, 1750–1820” (unpublished ma thesis, Carleton University, Ottawa, ). A. S. Morton, “Forrest Oakes, Charles Boyer, Joseph Fulton, and Peter Pangman in the north-west, 1765–1793,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., XXXI (1937), sect.ii, 87–100.