CRAWFORD, GEORGE, businessman and politician; b. 1793 at Manor Hamilton, County Leitrim (Republic of Ireland), the son of Patrick Crawford, a farmer, and Jane Munse; m. first, in Ireland, Margaret Brown, by whom he had six children, and secondly, Caroline Sherwood, by whom he had 14 children; d. 4 July 1870 at Brockville, Ont.
George Crawford, who received little education, became a cloth merchant. He immigrated to Upper Canada with some capital in the early 1820s and farmed in the counties of Halton and then of York. After “a few seasons” he gave up agriculture and moved to York (Toronto), where he became a contractor. According to a later report he “rapidly accumulated a large fortune” through construction contracts on the Rideau, Cornwall, and Beauharnois canals. He was also a director of the Provincial Mutual and General Insurance Company, a director of the Grand Trunk Railway, and president of the Brockville and Ottawa Railway Company. A member of the militia in 1837, Crawford was later promoted lieutenant-colonel of the 3rd battalion of Leeds militia. He also served as a warden of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Brockville.
Crawford moved from Toronto to Brockville in the mid 1844s. Although he curtailed his business activities at this time, he remained an important businessman and in Brockville was at the centre of a complex of family relationships which linked him to prominent businessmen and to both Tory and Reform politicians. His second wife was the daughter of Adiel Sherwood*, a prominent Conservative; his brother John, also a contractor, was an alderman and mayor of Brockville; his son John Willoughby* married a daughter of Levius Peters Sherwood* and sister of the Tory leader Henry Sherwood*; and a daughter married John Ross*, a prominent Reformer and president of the Grand Trunk Railway.
In 1845 Crawford was appointed a commissioner for settling rebellion losses claims in Upper Canada, and from 1845 to 1847 was a member of the Brockville Board of Police. In 1849 he began a brief sojourn in agitational politics when he joined the first branch of the British American League to be established, at Brockville. The league was formed mainly by Tories to consider the effects on Canada of Britain’s dismantling of the mercantile system. When the league endorsed British North American union in July 1849 it appointed a committee which included Crawford, John William Gamble*, George Moffatt, and Ogle Robert Gowan* to confer with leaders from the Maritime provinces concerning the matter. At a “Great Demonstration” of Tories in Brockville in September of that year Crawford supported a Canadian protective tariff. At a meeting in Toronto in November, however, after the appearance of the Annexation Manifesto in Montreal, Crawford changed his position, and with Hugh Bowlby Willson* endorsed the annexation of Canada to the United States. In December 1849 he wrote to Edward Goff Penny*: “I have no doubt of a large increase in the number of those who will be in favour of a peaceable separation from the mother country before another year goes over our heads . . . .”
Crawford was one of few Upper Canadian Tories to support annexation; no evidence indicates he supported the cause for long. He quickly overcame the stigma of disloyalty and entered politics as a reliable Conservative, defeating George Sherwood in Brockville in elections for the assembly in 1851. He was re-elected in 1854 but did not stand in 1857. In 1858 he narrowly defeated William Henry Brouse* in St Lawrence division in elections for the Legislative Council; he served continuously until 1867, when he was appointed to the federal Senate.
A 19th century biographical work commented that as a legislator Crawford “did but very little talking, being known as a worker.” This is a fair assessment. His rare interventions in debate were terse and often concerned minor business matters. At the same time he was in regular communication with Conservative leaders about problems related to patronage, elections, his town and region. Crawford was sympathetic towards the aspirations of French Canadians and an enthusiastic supporter of Montreal, arguing in 1859 that Ottawa be made the capital because that location would inevitably benefit Montreal.
Three of Crawford’s sons became influential in their own right – John Willoughby as a financier, manufacturer, railway promoter, and Conservative politician; James as a contractor and Conservative mp for Brockville from 1867 to 1872; and Edward Patrick as rector of Trinity Church in Brockville.
ANQ-Q, AP-G-203, lettre no.8. PAC, MG 24, B40; MG 26, A, 337, 507–8, 511–13, 516–18. Elgin-Grey papers (Doughty). “Parliamentary debates” (Canadian Library Assoc. mfm. Project of the debates in the legislature of the Province of Canada and the parliament of Canada for 1846–74), 1846–65. Brockville Recorder (Brockville, Ont.), 1849, 1870. Globe, 1870. Thompson’s Mirror of Parl. . . . (Quebec), 1860. Canadian biographical dictionary, I. Canadian directory of parl. (Johnson). CPC, 1867. Political appointments, 1841–65 (J.-O. Coté). Political appointments and judicial bench (N.-O. Coté). Cornell, Alignment of political groups. T. W. H. Leavitt, History of Leeds and Grenville, Ontario, from 1749 to 1879, with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers (Brockville, Ont., 1879). W. N. T. Wylie, “Toronto and the Montreal annexation crisis of 1849–1850; ideologies, loyalties and considerations of personal gain” (unpublished ma thesis, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont., 1971). C. D. Allin, “The British North American League, 1849,” OH, XIII (1915), 74–115. “The annexation movement, 1849–50,” ed. A. G. Penny, CHR, V (1924), 236–61. G. A. Hallowell, “The reaction of the Upper Canadian Tories to the adversity of 1849: annexation and the British American League,” OH, LXII (1970), 41–56. D. [W.] Swainson, “Business and politics: the career of John Willoughby Crawford,” OH, LXI (1969), 225–36.