ATWATER, EDWIN, landowner, businessman, alderman; b. 14 Sept. 1808 at Williston, Vt., son of Linus Atwater; d. 18 June 1874 at Montreal.
Edwin Atwater emigrated to Canada around 1830. He took up residence at Montreal and carried on his trade as a painter. Together with his elder brother Albert, he founded a business in paints, varnish, and plate-glass. The Atwater brothers were the first importers of glass in Canada, and their varnish factory was to reduce considerably the imports of this product on the national market. Edwin was active and enterprising, and soon rose to become one of the important figures of Montreal.
In 1846 he took part in the founding of the Montreal City and District Savings Bank [see Marc-Damase Masson]. Bishop Ignace Bourget* of Montreal deserves the credit for the idea of creating this mutual institution, dedicated to the best interests of the depositors. Edwin was an honorary director from 1846 to 1871, a director from 1848 to 1874, vice-president from 1852 to 1859, and president from 1859 to 1861. After a difficult beginning, the bank was obliged to close its doors from 1847 to 1849 because of local and international crises; it resumed its advance at the start of 1850. From 1850 to 1873 it held the confidence and esteem of the public by overcoming all the difficulties brought about by an unfavourable economic situation. In 1871 it received a new charter, under the jurisdiction of the Dominion of Canada.
To meet another pressing need, Atwater in 1846 went into partnership with some prominent people of Montreal to establish the Montreal Telegraph Company. Already, in 1844, the first telegraphic message had been transmitted from Baltimore to Washington, and Montreal, a great North American city, could not remain cut off from the rest of the world. In 1847 the company established a telegraph service between Montreal and Toronto and between Montreal and Quebec; on 17 April 1849 it received its official charter. In the same year Atwater took part in the founding of the Montreal and Troy Telegraph Company.
Not content with the services he gave to the Montreal community as a financier, Edwin Atwater entered municipal politics: he was elected to the city council of Montreal as a councillor (1850–51), then as an alderman (1852–57). He represented the Saint-Antoine ward, and stood out because of his energy and dynamism. He was a member of numerous committees created by the council to find solutions to the city’s problems. From 1851 to 1857 he was president of the aqueduct commission, and it was under his direction that a new, more modern service was established. In 1865, as a delegate from Montreal, he attended an important assembly of municipalities at Detroit, Michigan.
An ambitious and hard-working man, Atwater was made president of the Montreal Board of Trade in 1861, and thereby became a member ex officio of the Harbour Commission, according to the practice in force from 1855 to 1873. He was also on the board of directors of the Merchants’ Bank, which had been started by Hugh Allan* in 1861, and of the Citizens’ Insurance Company of Canada; he later became vice-president of both undertakings. He was in addition an active member of the American Presbyterian Church.
After an illness of some weeks, Edwin Atwater died on 18 June 1874, leaving one of the largest fortunes of Montreal, the fruit of 40 years of unremitting toil. In 1871, to thank him for his devotion to the progress of the Montreal community, the city council gave the name of Atwater to a street in Saint-Antoine ward. On 23 May 1833 Edwin Atwater had married Lucy Huntington Greene, of Vergennes, Vermont, who gave him four sons and four daughters.
Canada, Province of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1841–51. “The manufactures of Montreal,” RHAF, VI (1952–53), 138. La Minerve (Montréal), 19 juin 1874. E. J. Chambers, The book of Montreal; a souvenir of Canada’s commercial metropolis ([Montreal, 1903]), 63–65. Denison, Canada’s first bank, II, 73, 152, 175. T. T. Smyth, The first hundred years; history of the Montreal City and District Savings Bank, 1846–1946 (n.p., n.d.). Storied Quebec (Wood et al.), IV, 428–29. Toponymie (Service d’urbanisme de Montréal, Bulletin d’information, 4, [Montréal], 1966), 10. M.-C. Daveluy, “Un Canadien éminent: Raphaël Bellemare (1821–1906),” RHAF, XII (1958–59), 539-–40.