McDONALD, CHARLES, businessman, militia officer, jp, and office holder; b. 24 July 1784 in Blair Atholl, Scotland, third son of John McDonald and Amelia Cameron; m. 5 March 1811 Mary Stone, and they had three sons and two daughters; d. 7 Oct. 1826 in Gananoque, Upper Canada.
Charles McDonald’s parents emigrated in or before 1787, settling in Athol, N.Y. During the late spring of 1809 McDonald arrived in Upper Canada to join two friends working at Gananoque for Thomas F. Howland, a timber merchant and local agent for Sir John Johnson. Howland employed McDonald as well and by September proposed taking him on as a partner. In spite of McDonald’s favourable reception of the idea, it was apparently never put into effect. McDonald seems, however, to have continued working in the Gananoque area and in 1811 he married Mary, daughter of Joel Stone, a major landholder and merchant. By the outbreak of the War of 1812 McDonald had joined Stone’s business and the two men were operating a prosperous enterprise in lumber and local retailing. McDonald made the annual rafting trips to Quebec in the summer while Stone remained behind, tending to local business and fulfilling his duties as collector of customs and justice of the peace.
During the war McDonald served as an ensign in Stone’s regiment, the 2nd Leeds Militia. For the most part he spent these years quietly in Gananoque, although some historians credit him with building the blockhouses at Gananoque and Bridge (Chimney) Island. It was a period of general prosperity and the Stone–McDonald business proved no exception. In 1815 Stone seems to have retired, leasing his land on the west side of the Gananoque River to McDonald. That year McDonald set up a shop apart from his house and also planned a new sawmill as a replacement for Stone’s old mill. In operation by 1816, the mill was later described by Robert Gourlay* as “a very superior kind, supposed to be the best in two provinces.” In 1817 McDonald acquired the area’s only grist-mill, presumably from Thomas Howland or his brother.
McDonald needed help with his expanding business and on 17 Jan. 1818 admitted his brother John* as a full partner in the company, now known as C. and J. McDonald. Another brother, Collin, joined at the same time; when he became a partner in 1825, the name of the firm was changed to C. and J. McDonald and Company. The business expanded steadily from 1818 through the 1820s. Its inventory of mercantile goods grew in both volume and variety while its inventory of lumber in Gananoque and Montreal doubled between 1819 and 1822. During this period a second sawmill was acquired upriver on the Gananoque. In addition the firm purchased lots in Leeds and Lansdowne (Front of and Rear of Leeds and Lansdowne) and Pittsburgh townships.
A major development was the acquisition in 1825 of Johnson’s land on the east side of the river. This purchase gave the McDonalds control of all waterpower rights along the lower part of the Gananoque, thus making possible large-scale development of mills. With the extension of British tariff preferences to Canadian wheat and flour between 1825 and 1827, the McDonalds seized the opportunity to capitalize on the potential of the new trade. Heretofore lumbering had been the main thrust of the business but by December 1825 a new grist-mill was under construction. Plans were also under way for a new dam, an enlarged mill-race, and a new wharf. In operation by July 1826, the mill was, according to a local historian, the largest of its kind in the province. Charles McDonald did not, however, live to oversee its development; he died in October 1826.
McDonald’s life centred almost exclusively on business. The militia, the magistracy (he was appointed in 1821), and trusteeship of the Gananoque school were his only other activities and these were minor and strictly local. He seems to have had scant interest in, or possibly little time for, politics although he signed and helped to draft local responses to Gourlay’s famous questionnaire: they were, however, never returned to Gourlay. His personal life was somewhat tragic. Several children died in infancy and his wife suffered, as early as 1812, from what a family member described as “mental derangement at certain periods.” By December 1821 she had been taken to New York City for treatment and she returned in July 1822 when her health had improved. She survived her husband, living until 1838, and continued to require some care for the remainder of her days. Only one of McDonald’s three sons, William Stone, had a lasting connection with the firm; he joined it in 1833, became a partner the following year, and by 1851 had assumed control from his uncle John.
Charles McDonald left little to provide some measure of his character. At his funeral he was eulogized by William Smart*, the Presbyterian minister at Brockville, as a “kind husband and father, tender brother, warm friend and generous benefactor” as well as a “liberal contributor to the Sabbath and day school and public charities in the neighbourhood.”