CANNON, EDWARD, master mason and businessman; b. probably in 1739 in Ireland; m. Helena (Eleanor) Murphy, probably in 1764, and they had 11 children; d. 28 July 1814 at Quebec, Lower Canada, and was buried two days later in the Cimetière des Picotés.
Little is known of Edward Cannon’s youth. He seems to have received a good education, which is reflected in his correspondence by a firm hand, legible characters, and a precise style. By 1774 he had left his native land and was living at St John’s, Nfld, where he followed his trade as a mason. During the 20 years or so that he spent in Newfoundland he worked on the fortifications and other government buildings. At the time of the American revolution he was in a corps of independent volunteers [see Robert Pringle*]. In 1792 he made a request for land, but received no response, and this may have been the reason for his leaving Newfoundland and going to Quebec.
The Cannon family took up residence at Quebec in 1795. Edward entrusted his daughters to the Ursulines’ care and then began to practise his trade with his older sons, Ambrose and Laurence, who were joined by John* in 1800. It was at this period that his career branched out. On 30 April 1800 William Vondenvelden, surveyor of the highways, streets, and lanes for the town, ordered 700 to 800 square toises of paving stones for Rue Saint-Pierre. Cannon was to receive “the sum of five shillings and ten pence in legal currency” per toise for his work, and agreed to complete the paving job by August if the materials were supplied and the rubbish littering the ground cleaned up. The work was finished on 19 June, although some appraisers thought that it did not fully conform to the order. Subsequently Cannon undertook to do the masonry for the Anglican church at Quebec; the foundation stone having been blessed on 11 Aug. 1800, this major piece of work was finished in 1804.
In the period when the church was being built, Cannon began investing in real estate. He bought pieces of land from Thomas Reddy, Augustin Paradis, Richard W. Jones, and Hugh Hogan’s widow in 1801, and from Robert Dees in 1802. In addition he petitioned the crown for land and received several hundred acres. All these properties were in Aston, Milton, and Clifton townships. Cannon did not live on his lands and as a result suffered one particular set-back. In 1809 he lost the 200 acres bought from Paradis for 23 shillings; it went to John Doty, who also claimed to have bought this land from Paradis. Cannon was interested in acquiring properties in town as well, and on 21 June 1803 bought from Pierre-Édouard Desbarats* a two-storey stone house with stable and shed on Rue Sainte-Geneviève.
When the assignment for the Anglican church was finished, Cannon made an agreement with the fabrique of Baie-Saint-Paul to add an extension including two chapels and a sacristy in stone to the parish church. This kind of contract was divided into sections: Cannon undertook to provide and pay the masons and to put up the scaffolding; the churchwardens were to supply the materials and labourers and also to look after feeding, lodging, and transporting the masons. Payment for the work was made daily according to its progress measured in toises; the churchwardens were to make supplementary payments if they required cut stone for the openings.
Cannon and his sons took on other big projects. The Union Company of Quebec, which had been incorporated on 25 March 1805 and which wanted to provide the town with a fine hotel, awarded the building contract to Cannon. The cornerstone was laid on 14 August and the work must have been carried out rapidly, since the hotel opened on 1 November. Located on Rue Sainte-Anne, it had three storeys, and Cannon received £1,427 14s. 6d. for the work. The following year Trinity House at Quebec commissioned him to build a round lighthouse on Île Verte. In 1808, still working with his sons, he undertook construction of the Quebec prison, using plans by François Baillairgé*. In October he hired three masons for the job, paying a monthly wage of ten Spanish piastres for the duration of their contract. Moreover, the growth in population that the town experienced at the turn of the century stimulated a great deal of other construction. Cannon was consequently entrusted with building shops and residences for the leading citizens. Like all the masons of the period he also did a certain number of expert appraisals. Until his death, Cannon kept up his regular activity, signing a final contract in August 1813.
As a result, although he had been late setting up in business, Cannon was able to take advantage of the unprecedented and swift expansion of the town of Quebec to demonstrate his competence in undertaking building jobs and thus to acquire an excellent reputation and a good clientele. He was not, however, a creator; since there were architects such as François Baillairgé on the Quebec scene, he was restricted to carrying out other people’s ideas.
Living in Upper Town, Cannon shared the life of those prominent in Quebec. In 1799 and 1813 he signed addresses to governors Prescott and Prevost; from 1803 he subscribed to the Quebec Fire Society. He mingled with people who were in his own or related professions, such as Charles Jourdain*, dit Labrosse, and François Baillairgé.
Edward Cannon was active, energetic, and enterprising. A shrewd businessman, he was able to fit his sons quickly into his operations and to prepare a successor. His third son, John, inherited his clientele and also won the confidence of both English-and French-speaking clients.
ANQ-Q, CN1-16, 29 mars 1809, 10 déc. 1820; CN1-26, 9 sept. 1802, 15 août 1805, 25 févr. 1806, 11 juin 1808, 8 juill. 1809, 3 mai 1810, 10 juin 1812, 10 janv. 1814; CN1-27, 6 déc. 1813; CN1-145, 21 juin, 18 sept. 1801; 21 juin 1806; CN1-171, 27 juin 1808; CN1-178, 1er juin 1804; 25, 26 oct. 1808; 3 oct. 1810; 8, 9 févr. 1814; CN1-230, 30 avril, 19 juin 1800; 28 déc. 1804; 7 juin 1814; CN1-253, 21 avril 1813, 21 juill. 1814; CN1-256, 13 mars 1800; CN1-262, 6 mai 1801, 9 août 1813; CN1-284, 21 juin 1803, 3 juill. 1813; CN1-285, 1er déc. 1800; 15, 17 févr. 1801; 11 mai 1802; 24 mai 1804; 3 août 1809. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, C226/E25.5/1. “Les dénombrements de Québec” (Plessis), ANQ Rapport, 1948–49: 174. Geneviève G. Bastien et al., Inventaire des marchés de construction des archives civiles de Québec, 1800–1870 (3v., Ottawa, 1975). E. H. Dahl et al., La ville de Québec, 1800–1850: un inventaire de cartes et plans (Ottawa, 1975). Jacques Bernier, “La construction domiciliaire à Québec, 1810–1820,” RHAF, 31 (1977–78): 547–61. Robert Cannon, “Edward Cannon, 1739–1814,” CCHA Report, 1935–36: 11–22. P.-G. Roy, “L’Hôtel Union ou Saint-George, à Québec,” BRH, 43 (1937):3–17. F. C. Würtele, “The English cathedral of Quebec,” Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, Trans. (Quebec), new ser., 20 (1891): 63–132.