BURR, ROWLAND, contractor and landowner; b. March 1798 in Pennsylvania, the son of Rheuben Burr and Elizabeth Cleever; m. in 1819 Hester Lamoreaux, and they had one son and five daughters; d. 6 Oct. 1865 at Toronto, Canada West.
Rowland Burr’s father, a farmer and carpenter, settled near Aurora, Upper Canada, in 1805. Rowland took over his father’s carpentry business at age 17, and three years later acquired farm land in Vaughan Township and built a grist mill and sawmill on it. In 1836 he sold a 100-acre farm on Yonge Street and the property in Vaughan Township. He moved to Toronto for a year and then bought a property on the Humber River. This land was subdivided, the village of Burrwick (Woodbridge) was established, and Burr had a sawmill, flour mill, and woollen factory built. Burr eventually sold these and other mills constructed later to John William Gamble*. Burr moved in 1846 to Weston, where he acquired more land. In 1851 he built a large house in Toronto, in which he lived for the rest of his life, and at this time also built other houses in Toronto which he rented or sold. He continued to acquire land in Lambton, York, and Simcoe counties, and by 1855 was expecting annual revenues of $3,700 from an estate he valued at $42,000. He gave up building in the mid 1850s, but mortgages, loans, rents, land trades, interest, and timber revenues kept him prosperous. William Lyon Mackenzie described him as “well to do” in 1857, at a time when Burr considered his worth at nearly $70,000.
Burr was best known for his advocacy of a canal linking Toronto with Georgian Bay via the Humber and Holland rivers, Lake Simcoe, and the Severn or Nottawasaga rivers. It was thought that the trade of the rapidly developing American western states and the undeveloped lands of the Hudson’s Bay Company would proceed by this route. Burr twice travelled the route on foot, committees composed of representatives from Canadian and American cities were formed in the mid 1850s to support the plan, and surveys of proposed routes were commissioned, but the project did not progress beyond a turning of the sod in 1859 because developmental capital was scarce owing to depression and the preference for investment in railways. Burr nevertheless maintained an interest in the canal. The Elora Observer described him in 1859 as “that inimitable Burr, who sticks, as a good Burr ought to do, to the Georgian Bay Canal, as a panacea for all evils. . . .”
A temperance advocate, Burr published in 1860 a pamphlet of extracts from an 1834 British parliamentary inquiry into intoxication, and in 1861 he petitioned the legislature for a “Prohibitory Liquor Law.” He also played a minor role in the Reform movement in Canada West, and at the Reform convention of 1859 stressed that the success of municipal government since 1849 augured well for the success of federation, should it occur. He urged reform of the operations of the Court of Chancery after becoming involved in cases concerning mill and water rights on his property, and after 1859 supported George Brown*’s suggestions for constitutional changes.
It was a source of pride to Burr that he “never saw the Ritious forsaken or his seed Beging Bread,” and he attributed his success to hard work, temperance, and the Proverbs of Solomon.
[Rowland Burr was the compiler of Minutes of proceedings in the House of Commons of the imperial parliament, in the session of 1834, relative to an inquiry into the extent, causes and consequences of the prevailing vice of intoxication (Toronto, 1860). His papers are among those of his son-in-law and executor, William Tyrrell*, in UTL-TF, ms Coll. 25. e.h.j.]
Elora Observer (Elora, [Ont.]), 16 Nov. 1859. History of Toronto and county of York, I. K. M. Lizars, The valley of the Humber, 1615–1913 (Toronto, 1913), 76. E. L. Morrison and J. E. Middleton, William Tyrrell of Weston (Toronto, 1937). G. E. Reaman, A history of Vaughan Township; two centuries of life in the township ([Toronto], 1971). C. B. Todd, A general history of the Burr family, with a genealogical record from 1193 to 1891 (2nd ed., New York, 1891).