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MOFFATT, LEWIS, businessman and politician; b. 1809 or 1810 probably in Rupert’s Land, son of George Moffatt*; m. 17 Jan. 1842 Caroline Covert, daughter of John Covert*, in Cobourg, Upper Canada, and they had at least two sons and three daughters; d. 7 Oct. 1892 in Toronto.

Lewis Moffatt was said in 1885 to have been “born in Montreal in 1810, of English parentage,” but the fact that his father, a wintering partner in the fur trade, was married in 1809 à la façon du pays suggests that he was born in the northwest. After living for a time in Cobourg in the 1830s, in 1837 he joined his father’s firm, Gillespie, Moffatt and Company, which was then at the head of Montreal’s commercial world [see Robert Gillespie*]. It had had a branch in Toronto and it supplied the firm there of Murray, Newbigging and Company. In May 1842 Lewis joined with Alexander Murray, who had continued that business following James Newbigging*’s death in 1838, forming a new Toronto branch of Gillespie, Moffatt, known initially as Moffatts, Murray and Company and later as Moffatt, Murray and Company. A general wholesale business, supplying imported dry goods, hardware, and groceries, this was one of the three or four largest wholesale houses in Toronto. It also acted there for the Phoenix Assurance Company of London, for which the Montreal house held the Canadian agency.

Moffatt moved immediately to commercial and considerable social prominence in Toronto. Through the Gillespies, he became one of two local directors for the Toronto branch of the Bank of British North America. He was a charter member of Toronto’s Board of Trade in 1844, a director from 1846 to 1852 of the city’s first building society (the Toronto Building Society), and a director in 1855–56 of the Toronto Exchange. He held shares in the city’s principal railway companies, the Toronto and Guelph as well as the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron (later named the Northern); he was a director of the former until its absorption into the Grand Trunk in 1853 [see Sir Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski] and of the latter through most of the 1860s [see Frederic William Cumberland*]. From 1871 to 1876 he served also as a director of the Dominion Telegraph Company.

Like his father, Moffatt sought in the late 1840s to reorient Canadian conservatism from compact toryism to moderate, responsible government, and in 1849 he became founding chairman of Toronto’s British Constitutional Society. Everything about his political activity suggests the sincerity of his declaration in 1855 that he was “proud to feel myself a Briton, a subject of that Empire on which the sun never sets.” This was a normal enough view in Toronto, but it is indicative of his place there that he was one of the few given the chance to speak it at the great local celebration of the British victory at Sevastopol (U.S.S.R.). He stood for public office once, serving as an alderman for St George’s Ward in 1871–72. Of all his interests, the longest sustained was the Church of England, which he served as auditor and later treasurer of the Church Society of the diocese of Toronto, as a churchwarden at St James’ Cathedral, and for the last 41 years of his life as a member of the council of Trinity College.

The late 1850s brought a sharp depression, signalled by severe credit stringency and numerous bankruptcies in Toronto and its hinterland. Moffatt was prominently engaged in the city’s efforts to respond. He was the founding president of a mortgage company, the Canada Landed Credit Company, launched in 1858 “to encourage the flow of capital to the soil of this Province”; he retained this position for more than a decade, during which period the business gradually built up its capital, deposits, and loans. Moffatt was the founding vice-president in 1858 of the North-West Transportation, Navigation and Railway Company, which aimed to foster links to the northwest [see Allan Macdonell*], and he was briefly president of it in 1860 before a new group, nominally headed by Sir Allan Napier MacNab*, took it over. In 1858 he was brought onto the board of the financially troubled Provincial Mutual and General Insurance Company, which was then considering winding up its affairs; he served it as vice-president in the mid and late 1860s. In 1859 he was vice-chairman of an apparently short-lived credit-reporting and bill-collecting agency, the Canada Trade Protection Society.

After 1857 all the province’s large general wholesale firms were hampered by heavy debts due them and were forced entirely from business or into greater specialization. Moffatt’s business dropped hardware and, in the mid 1860s, groceries. In 1868 John Beattie, a merchant in London, Ont., brought some capital to the firm, which became Moffatt, Murray, and Beattie. Murray died in 1870 and, following Beattie’s withdrawal in January 1871, the business became known as Moffatt Brothers and Company, the brother being Lewis’s half-brother Kenneth MacKenzie Moffatt, a former army officer who at first acted for the firm in Montreal and then moved to Toronto. Finally, in 1875, it failed. Lewis and his son Lewis Henry continued as Toronto agents for the Phoenix company. Although this agency business yielded a comfortable living, for the last 15 years of his life Moffatt was far removed from the wealth and prominence of his first decades in the city. It is appropriate to see his career in key respects as an extension of his father’s, but with a Toronto rather than a Montreal perspective.

Douglas McCalla

Baker Library, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 26: 338; 27: 235 (mfm. at NA). CTA, RG 5, F, 1851, 1855, 1859, 1880. NA, MG 24, I8, 40: 202–77. Toronto City Council, Minutes of proc., 1871–72. The town of York, 1815–1834: a further collection of documents of early Toronto, ed. E. G. Firth (Toronto, 1966), 70, 75. Globe, 1850–60. Toronto Daily Mail, 10 Oct. 1892. Marriage notices of Ont. (Reid), 256. Mercantile agency reference book, 1864: 384. Toronto directory, 1833–90. B. D. Dyster, “Toronto, 1840–1860: making it in a British Protestant town” ({{phd}} thesis, 1v. in 2, Univ. of Toronto, 1970), 223, 315. Hist. of Toronto, 1: 344–45. Clive Trebilcock, Phoenix Assurance and the development of British insurance . . . (1v. to date, Cambridge, Eng., and New York, 1985–  ), 1: 245–47, 254–55, 264–67, 292–307. Tulchinsky, River barons, 76–77, 108, 133–34, 140–41, 149–50.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Douglas McCalla, “MOFFATT, LEWIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 30, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/moffatt_lewis_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/moffatt_lewis_12E.html
Author of Article: Douglas McCalla
Title of Article: MOFFATT, LEWIS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: July 30, 2014