McMILLAN, JOHN, bookseller, stationer, and publisher; b. 9 Nov. 1833 in Madison, Ind., only child of James McMillan and Rachel Griscom Murray; m. 14 April 1862 Dorothea Jack in Saint John, N.B., and they had eight children; d. there 25 May 1905.
John McMillan’s grandfather and namesake, a bookseller from Belfast, immigrated with his family to New Brunswick after the Napoleonic wars and in 1822 established a bookselling house in Saint John. His son James worked as a journeyman printer in the United States from the late 1820s and later operated a bookstore in Indiana, where John was born and where he received his early education. In the mid 1840s James McMillan returned to Saint John to assist his ailing father, his brother Alexander, and his invalid brother David in the family business, which by this time had added a bindery and a printing-office. James and Alexander renamed the firm J. and A. McMillan in 1845.
On his father’s return to New Brunswick John had been enrolled in the Saint John Grammar School, and after completing his education in the late 1840s he went back to the United States, where he eventually joined the navy. McMillan served two or three years as secretary to Captain Samuel Francis Du Pont on the frigate Minnesota, and he was reportedly present when Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry opened Japan to American commerce in 1853–54. After leaving the navy McMillan returned to Saint John. Most likely he worked in the family business for a few years before formally joining as a partner in May 1866. Unlike his father, who had extensive experience in several American publishing and bookselling ventures, John appears to have learned his trade almost exclusively from his father.
By the 1850s J. and A. McMillan had become one of the most important publishers in the Maritimes, and author George L. Parker has claimed that in the period from about 1860 to 1885 “the McMillan list of publications was the largest and the most distinguished of any nineteenth-century Maritimes firm.” Among the items printed were papers of various types, textbooks, and other works such as the Maritime Monthly, a literary magazine produced in collaboration with A. and W. MacKinlay [see Andrew MacKinlay*] of Halifax and issued from 1873 to 1875. The McMillans’ premises burned in the great fire of 1877, and the business probably suffered a set-back. By the mid 1880s their publishing profile had begun to diminish. Population growth in the Saint John region had slowed because of out-migration and reduced immigration; the publishing trade had begun to feel the effect of the cheaply printed dime novels; and, like other Maritime publishers, J. and A. McMillan did not have a large enough immediate market in which to sell works published even in limited quantities. Lastly, James McMillan, the most experienced publisher and printer of the firm, had retired from active management in the early 1880s. Although the firm continued to publish works of local interest in the late 19th century, such as William Franklin Bunting*’s compendium of freemasonry in New Brunswick in 1895 and others by James Hannay and David Russell Jack*, by then its involvement with publishing was practically finished. In the 20th century J. and A. McMillan had to content itself with developing its printing business and its trade in general office supplies.
It may be significant that John McMillan’s importance in the local business community began to increase only after he had become head of the firm on his father’s retirement. Elected a member of the Saint John Board of Trade in 1878, he sat continuously on that body from 1881 to 1895, and was again elected to it in 1898. McMillan was appointed registrar of probate for Saint John County in 1894, and served in this position until his death. He was also active in the Liberal party and a prominent member of Saint John’s leading businessmen’s association, the Union Club.
On his death John McMillan was succeeded as head of J. and A. McMillan by his son Alexander, the last family member to manage the firm. Alexander died in 1929, and when John’s widow passed away in the early 1930s the senior employees of J. and A. McMillan assumed control of the company.
Daily Telegraph (Saint John, N.B.), 25 May 1905. Saint John Globe, 25 May 1905. St. John Daily Sun, 26 May 1905. Canadian biog. dict. E. W. McGahan, “The port in the city: Saint John, N.B. (1867–1911), and the process of integration” (phd thesis, Univ. of N.B., Fredericton, 1979), 762, 765, 767, 770. G. L. Parker, The beginnings of the book trade in Canada (Toronto, 1985), 119–20. “The wind . . . the flames . . . and the silver spoon,” Canadian Office Products and Stationery (Toronto), September/October 1972: 13.