HUNT, CHARLES, miller and contractor; b. 5 March 1820, at Motcombe, Dorsetshire, Eng., eldest child of John Hunt and Mary Golpin; d. 2 Oct. 1871, at New York, U.S.A.
Charles Hunt received only one year’s formal education because of his father’s early death in 1827. He worked for a miller at Stalbridge and a grocer at Cranborne before emigrating. In 1842 he arrived in Windsor, Canada West, where he was employed in the provisions and shipping business of J. and J. Dougall until 1845. He next farmed at St Thomas for two years, and then returned to Windsor to begin a business career which, even for that period, was remarkable for its diversity.
In Windsor, Hunt rented the dock property of James Dougall* and began a forwarding and lumber business, later expanding into contracting and land speculation sometimes in partnership with Dougall. In 1854–55 Hunt built the Great Western Railway depot, including a dock, freight house, and some bridges. Then in 1856, in partnership with William Knight, he went into shipbuilding, contracting with the railway for the Union, a 750-ton ferry and icebreaker, which ran between Windsor and Detroit from 1857 to 1874. In 1857 he rebuilt the steamer Transit. When Windsor was incorporated as a village in 1854 he was elected to the first council.
Hunt decided, however, that London was the future commercial centre of western Ontario. He moved there in 1856 though he always retained interests in Windsor. In 1853 he had purchased land on the Thames River from John Kinder Labatt for a flour mill and, in 1854, he had begun to construct there the City Mills, which were operated by his descendants until 1957. The mill had four stones capable of grinding 123 barrels of flour a day. Grain was purchased at various Great Lakes centres and flour was supplied to western Ontario, the Great Lakes cities, New York, and Great Britain. Hunt also developed operations in commissions, coopering, groceries, lumber, wood, and coal (being the first London dealer in this last commodity, in 1868). In addition, he built the Bank of British North America in 1856 and his own block in 1866. Finally, in 1867 he added a 70,000-bushel grain elevator to his operation. His business flourished in spite of setbacks occasioned by floods, his backing of Dougall who ran into financial difficulties, and litigation over street closure.
In London Hunt also played a leading role in the financial and commercial community. He was president of the Board of Trade in 1861–63 and 1869–70, chairman of the group that briefly operated the London City Oil Refining Company in 1866–67, and from 1864 first president of the City Gas Company (now part of the Union Gas Company). He was a director of the Bank of British North America and of the Great Western Railway (1864–69), and was elected a director of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railway (later the Detroit, New Haven, and Milwaukee Railway) in 1863.
An Anglican, he was a warden of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1861–62 and 1864–65, and in 1861 agreed to support a missionary in the north of the diocese of Huron. He was well known for his charity in the city, providing flour for the poor and helping to arrange the shipment of cheap wood during a firewood shortage in 1867.
On 19 May 1845, at St Thomas, he married Emma Brewer, a native of England (c.1822–1909), and they had a large family. Two sons, Charles Brewer and John Inkerman Alexander, carried on the business. Charles Hunt died at New York City while travelling to the West Indies for his health. He “was one of the best known men in Western Ontario; and by his energy and enterprise did much to stimulate a development of its resources.”
St Mary’s Church (Motcombe, Dorsetshire, Eng.), Registers. [Charles Hunt], “Charles Hunt, 1820–1871,” ed. G. W. H. Bartram, Centennial review, 1967 (London and Middlesex Hist. Soc. pub., XVI, London, Ont., ), 55–85. London Free Press, 6 Oct. 1871, 15 March 1917. “London: its manufactures and general progress,” Western Ontario History Nuggets (London), no.13 (1947), 7. City of London and county of Middlesex general directory for 1868–9 . . . , ed. James Sutherland (Toronto, 1868), 277. [Archie Bremner], City of London, Ontario, Canada; the pioneer period and the London of today (2nd ed., London, Ont., 1900), 68, 143. History of the county of Middlesex, 251, 362–63, 369, 866–67. F. J. Holton et al., “History of the Windsor and Detroit ferries,” Ont. Hist., XVI (1918), 40–51.