ARMOUR, ROBERT, businessman, militia officer, and office holder; b. 13 June 1781 in Kilmarnock, Scotland, son of Robert Armour, a shoemaker, and Jean Shaw; m. 1806 Elizabeth Harvie of Kilmarnock, and they had five children; d. 16 April 1857 in Montreal.
Arriving in Montreal in 1798, probably with his brothers Hugh and Shaw, Robert Armour became an auctioneer, and then, at least until 1816, was a partner in the firm Henderson, Armour and Company, general merchants. In 1815 he was appointed a warden of Trinity House, Montreal, an organization which regulated shipping on the St Lawrence. The following year he was named a commissioner for improving inland navigation and also became a partner in the Quebec Steamboat Company which built the Lauzon, the first steamboat to ply between Quebec and Pointe-Lévy (Lauzon and Lévis). By 1820 he owned shares in another vessel, the steamboat Car of Commerce, travelling between Quebec and Montreal.
In May 1816 Armour had formed a partnership with George Davis (Davies). In June of the following year, together with eight others including George Moffatt*, James Leslie*, and Augustin Cuvillier*, he was a founder of the Bank of Montreal. The bank opened the following December on premises originally owned by Armour and his partner, but then in receivership. Their merchandising business was in serious financial difficulty; Armour had misused £5,024 in public funds with which he had been entrusted and the government had begun to take legal action. Although the outcome of his financial problem is not known, Armour seems to have recovered. Two years later he was cashier (general manager) of the short-lived Bank of Canada. By the late 1820s he was selling dry goods and insurance in Montreal.
Armour became involved in numerous activities outside of his business interests. He was a lieutenant in Montreal’s 1st Militia Battalion from at least 1815 to 1821. He served as treasurer of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, later known as the St Gabriel Street Church, from 1815 to 1817 and was ordained elder in 1819. When the congregation split in 1832 between the conservative Reverend Henry Esson and the evangelical Reverend Edward Black*, the Armours went with Black to form St Paul’s Church, but Robert, Esson’s friend, helped to calm the dispute.
In April 1827 Armour obtained the office of king’s printer for the district of Montreal, a post he held until his dismissal on 1 Dec. 1832. Using money from the estate of his late wife which was to have been held in trust for their children, he purchased the languishing Montreal Gazette from his friend Thomas Andrew Turner in May 1827 for £750 and invested another £1,150 in the printing and publishing company. Late in the next year, he transferred ownership to his children as security for the gradual repayment of the £1,900. He would continue to operate the business in trust, paying an annual rent of £100, and was to assume complete control upon the full repayment of the sum due the estate. Under his direction, the refurbished Montreal Gazette had a handsome format, was enlarged from four to five columns per page, and by the mid 1830s appeared three times a week. It also fostered local literary and cultural activities. In the growing political unrest after 1828, the Gazette, as the leading tory newspaper in Lower Canada, espoused the merchants’ complaints about the restrictions of the Constitutional Act of 1791 and even sanctioned the annexation of Montreal to Upper Canada. The newspaper pressed for increased immigration from Britain to the Canadas and urged a larger role for the St Lawrence as a route for American and Canadian produce to Britain, accusing the assembly, which was dominated by French-speaking members, of being anti-trade for refusing to go into debt to improve the waterways. Critical of Louis-Joseph Papineau*, the Gazette opposed French Canadian nationalism for its “republicanism,” “feudalism,” and “corruption.” It openly supported the tory constitutionalists and gave its blessing to paramilitary organizations formed by the British population. In March 1836 the paper even predicted “civil warfare” and in June, angry over the attempts of Governor Gosford [Acheson*] to court members of the Patriote party in order to achieve political reconciliation, insisted that he leave the country.
During the 1830s there were numerous changes at the Gazette. In May 1831 Armour formed a partnership with his son Andrew Harvie (1809–59) and the printing and publishing firm became known as Andrew H. Armour and Company. Robert Armour may then have taken a less direct role in the business, although he continued to operate his dry goods firm and acted as a real estate and fire insurance agent. From 1828 to 1831 his eldest son, Robert Jr (1806–45), edited The Montreal almanack, or Lower Canada register . . . , founded and published by the father. Robert Jr was also “principal Editor” of the Gazette “for several years” until 1836. He had attended the University of Edinburgh and read law under Samuel Gale*, receiving his commission as a lawyer in 1829. Robert Jr was appointed registrar and clerk of Trinity House in 1832. In September 1837 he purchased the Farmer’s Advocate and Townships Gazette (Sherbrooke) and, changing its name to the Sherbrooke Gazette and Townships Advertiser, turned the newspaper into a tory organ. The paper ceased publication in 1839. He then served as school visitor for 1839–40 and as law clerk and translator to the Legislative Council from 1841 until his death in 1845.
Meanwhile, in May 1835 Andrew Harvie terminated the partnership with his father and formed another with his brother-in-law, bookseller and publisher Hew Ramsay. The firm Armour and Ramsay acquired Robert Armour’s interest in the Montreal Gazette in May 1836, publishing it until 1 Aug. 1843. With editors such as David Chisholme* and David Kinnear*, both anti-French and possessing extensive knowledge of constitutional law, the Gazette continued to represent British and tory interests in Montreal. The paper was opposed to the establishment of responsible government, which it perceived as a loosening of imperial control over Canadian affairs and an invitation to party corruption and rule by demagogues. It attacked Robert Baldwin and the entry of the French Canadians, led by Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine*, into the Executive Council in 1842. For the Gazette, this was the loss of everything the tories had gained after 1837, since it signalled the end of attempts to assimilate French Canadians.
Armour and Ramsay were queen’s printers to the Special Council from 1838 to 1840. When they sold the Montreal Gazette to Robert Abraham in 1843, it was appearing as a daily in the summer months. During the 1840s Armour and Ramsay were the leading booksellers in the Province of Canada, with branches in Kingston and Hamilton, and their business extended into the United States. They countered the growing flood of pirated books and periodicals from the United States by importing cheap “colonial editions” of standard British works, and published reprint editions of the Irish National Series of school-books to meet the increasing demand for textbooks. To publicize these activities they issued Armour and Ramsay’s literary news-letter, and general record of British literature (1845). In addition, they manufactured ledgers, journals, and cash-books and published the Presbyterian, established in 1848 as the organ of the Presbyterian Church of Canada in connection with the Church of Scotland. Earlier, their 1840 publication of John Richardson’s historical romance, The Canadian brothers; or, the prophecy fulfilled, spurred hopes for a native literature. After their partnership dissolved in 1850, Ramsay conducted the Montreal business until his death in 1857. Andrew Harvie conducted a Toronto bookstore until his death in 1859.
Robert Armour Sr continued his career in the dry goods business. By 1843, apart from his firm Robert Armour and Company, he seems to have formed a partnership with William Whiteford in another wholesale dry goods firm, Armour, Whiteford and Company. During the 1840s Armour also served as director of various businesses including the Montreal Gas Light Company, the Montreal Fire Assurance Company, the City Bank, and the Montreal Provident and Savings Bank. He had withdrawn from the dry goods business by 1850 and probably retired shortly afterwards. He nevertheless continued to hold the position of master of Trinity House, to which he had been appointed in 1834, until his death in 1857.
Robert Armour and his sons Robert Jr and Andrew Harvie were among that group of Scottish businessmen in Montreal whose commercial and political activities clashed with the nationalistic aspirations of the French Canadians. The Armours came to prominence in the final decades of the old British mercantile system. Their successes in business, journalism, and bookselling were undoubtedly due to their own astuteness, but they also gave eloquent voice to the tory views which sustained the British merchant class in the Canadas. Unfortunately for this group, by 1850 their vision of a colonial community was shattered by a combination of local and international changes in politics and trade.
ANQ-M, CN1-7, 13 nov., 30 déc. 1828; CN1-87, 5 juin 1822. GRO (Edinburgh), Kilmarnock, reg. of births and baptisms, 13 June 1781. PAC, MG 24, B2: 858–59, 1612; D8: 8898; L3: 9143 (copies); RG 4, A1, 144: 88; 256: 13, 58; 264: 133; 574: 244–45; RG 7, G20, 2, no.101; 4, no.403; RG 8, I (C ser.), 168: 91–92; 688D: 92. Chronicle & Gazette, 9 Dec. 1843. Montreal Gazette, 12 Oct. 1813, 3 May 1827–1 Aug. 1843, 6 Oct. 1845, 24 Feb. 1857. Montreal Herald, 11 May 1816. Montreal Transcript, 17 April 1857. Beaulieu et Hamelin, La presse québécoise, 1: 4–7, 71. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer. Montreal directory, 1843–58. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 12. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church, 265–67. D. [G.] Creighton, The empire of the St. Lawrence (Toronto, 1956). Denison, Canada’s first bank. Labarrère-Paulé, Les instituteurs laïques. André Lefebvre, La “Montreal Gazette” et le nationalisme canadien (1835–1842) (Montréal, 1970). J.-E. Roy, Hist. de Lauzon, 4: 59. G. L. Parker, “The British North American book trade in the 1840s: the first crisis,” Biblio. Soc. of Canada, Papers (Toronto), 12 (1973): 82–99.
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Cite This Article
George L. Parker, “ARMOUR, ROBERT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/armour_robert_8E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||George L. Parker|
|Title of Article:||ARMOUR, ROBERT|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||April 1, 2023|