BELL, JOSHUA, shoe manufacturer and retailer; b. c. 1812 in Ireland; d. 24 Dec. 1863 at his home in Hochelaga (Montreal, Que.), without issue.
Joshua Bell and his brother Thomas immigrated to Canada probably between 1815 and 1825 with their father Alexander, a shoemaker by trade. Joshua was one of nine children. At an unknown date, he married the daughter of the Reverend John Hutchinson; she died before 1861.
Joshua Bell’s career is difficult to trace. The name is known particularly through a brief account in Ægidius Fauteux*’s Patriotes de 1837–1838. Fauteux states that Bell, at the age of 44, took part in the rebellion, sought refuge in the United States, and returned to Montreal “before the proclamation of the general amnesty, for in 1845 he and his brother Thomas took over the management of the firm founded in 1824 by their father Alexander.” There were, however, two Joshua Bells, both shoemakers, and the Joshua Bell who took part in the uprising had no connection with the footwear establishment of J. and T. Bell Boot and Shoe Manufacturers.
The Joshua Bell who died in 1863 at the age of 51 was a partner in this firm; in his will of 1861 the two brothers were called “Boot and Shoe Merchants.” Moreover, in the 1861 census the household of Joshua Bell is listed as including himself, aged 48 and born in Ireland, his brothers Thomas, 46, and Samuel, 30, his widowed sister and her two sons, a niece, and a servant. Except for the latter, who was a Catholic, they all gave their religion as Wesleyan Methodist. The three brothers stated their trade was footwear. The 1842 census mentions a Joshua Bell, a shoemaker from Ireland, then between 21 and 30 years of age, who was married and a Methodist. So far everything fits.
The Joshua Bell who took part in the rebellion and is mentioned by Fauteux is probably the man listed in the 1825 and 1831 censuses. The latter gives him as a shoemaker and a Baptist. The ages shown in both censuses do not agree with the age Joshua Bell, manufacturer, would have been at this time, but do agree with Fauteux’s mention of 44 years of age at the time of the rebellion. In addition a series of transactions between 1822 and 1834 relating to a house on Rue Saint-Paul show it as being rented originally to a Joshua Bell who identified himself at first as a shoemaker and later as a leather merchant. Fauteux also quotes a letter written by the Patriote Joshua Bell in 1838, in which he informed Ludger Duvernay* of his intention to leave for the western United States and of the possibility “that he might not return.” This Joshua Bell may indeed never have returned. Our Joshua Bell was in business for himself in 1842 as a manufacturer of footwear. The first Montreal directory of 1842–43 contains the following entry: “Bell, Joshua, Boots and Shoes, 209 St. Paul Street.” Two years later the directory notes that he also had a stock of imported footwear, and a private fitting room for his female clientele.
In 1847–48 the firm of Joshua and Thomas Bell, manufacturers of boots and shoes, was on Rue Notre-Dame. The partnership of the two brothers is thought to date from 1845, but it is unlikely that at that date Joshua and Thomas took over from their father Alexander. According to some sources Alexander founded the establishment in 1824, or in 1819 according to one. Certainly Joshua owned the business before 1845, but no trace of a footwear factory owned by Alexander Bell has been found; all that is certain is that on 6 May 1825 an Alexander Bell, shoemaker, had a protest drawn up to enable him to enter into possession of a house on Rue Saint-Paul. To further complicate matters, there are death certificates for two Alexander Bells, both shoemakers (one is styled shoemaker and the other cordwainer), whose deaths occurred on 5 June 1838 and 28 Aug. 1839. It is probable that the latter was Joshua Bell’s father, since his certificate bears the signatures of two witnesses, Joshua and Thomas Bell. In any case the dates 1819 or 1824 at which the Bell firm is presumed to have been founded both derive from late 19th century promotional notices (1893 and 1894), and are unreliable; it was a well-accepted practice for a business house to claim its establishment at the earliest date possible. These dates no doubt correspond approximately to the arrival of the Bell family in Montreal, and conceivably to the opening of a small cobbler’s workshop, but certainly not to the starting of a mechanized boot and shoe factory.
At the time of Joshua Bell’s death, however, J. and T. Bell was one of the larger footwear factories in Montreal. In the 1861 census it listed 70 employees (50 men and 20 women) and an annual production worth $60,000. William John Patterson*’s report for the year 1863 gives the annual production of the city of Montreal as nearly $2,000,000; thus the Bell firm would represent more than three per cent of the total city production, a proportion that seems correct. Indeed, in 1871 the enterprise ranked as a medium-sized factory. In addition to his share in the factory, Joshua Bell owned a 28-acre farm in the parish of Sainte-Marguerite-de-Blairfindie (L’Acadie).
Joshua Bell’s career gives a glimpse of the beginnings of the mechanized footwear industry in Montreal; although we cannot affirm that he was the first to take an interest in it, he was certainly a pioneer.
ANQ-M, État civil, Méthodistes, New Connection, 1839; St James. 1838–39, 1863; Greffe de Joseph Belle, 13 févr. 1861, 8 janv. 1864; Greffe de Peter Lukin, fils, 28 févr. 1822, 3 avril 1823, 6 mai 1825, 15 janv. 1828, 12 mars 1833, 15 févr. 1834; Testaments, Register of wills probated, no.679. ASQ, Fonds Viger-Verreau, 015-A. Bibliothèque de la ville de Montréal, Salle Gagnon, Fonds Ægidius Fauteux. PAC, MG 17, A7-2-3, sér.II, 13; RG 31, 1825 census, Montreal County; 1842 census, Montreal City; 1861 census, Montreal Centre Ward; 1871 census, Montreal. “Papiers de Ludger Duvernay,” Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal (Montreal), 3rd ser., VI (1909), 127–28. W. J. Patterson, Report on the trade and commerce of the city of Montreal for 1863 . . . (Montreal, 1864). L’Ami du peuple, de l’ordre et des lois (Montréal), 23 déc, 1837. Montreal Gazette, 26 Dec. 1863. Montreal Herald, 28 Dec. 1863. Ivanhoë Caron, “Papiers Duvernay conservés aux Archives de la province de Québec,” ANQ Rapport, 1926–27, 145–258. Fauteux, Patriotes, 106–7. Montreal directory, 1842–63. Montreal illustrated, its growth, resources, commerce, manufacturing interests, financial institutions, educational advantages and prospects . . . (Montreal, 1894). Montreal in 1856; a sketch prepared for the celebration of the opening of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (Montreal, 1856), 45. F. W. Terrill, A chronology of Montreal and of Canada from A.D. 1752 to A.D. 1893, including commercial statistics, historical sketches of commercial corporations and firms and advertisements . . . (Montreal, 1893), 96. P.-A. Linteau, “Les Patriotes de 1837–1838 d’après les documents J.-J. Girouard,” RHAF, XXI (1967–68), 281–311.