CROOKSHANK, GEORGE, office holder, politician, and businessman; b. 23 July 1773 in New York City, son of George Crookshank and Catherine Norris; m. there 19 July 1821 Sarah Susanna (Susan) Lambert, and they had a daughter and two sons, one of whom died in infancy; d. 21 July 1859 in Toronto.
The Crookshanks came from the island of Hoy in the Orkneys, north of Scotland. The family became involved in mercantile ventures and George Crookshank Sr was the owner-captain of a merchantman sailing out of New York City during the American Revolutionary War. George Jr was educated at Shrewsbury, N.J., and then emigrated to Saint John, N.B., with his family after the war. He began his career as a supercargo on the ships of his uncle, John Colville, on the run to Jamaica, where he spent a winter for his health.
Following the appointment in 1796 of John McGill*, husband of his sister Catherine, as commissary general of Upper Canada, Crookshank and another sister, Rachel, who was to marry Dr James Macaulay*, also went to the colony. In December of that year he was appointed to the commissariat. Crookshank was highly regarded by Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe* and his wife, Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim*, and also by Simcoe’s Scottish successor, Peter Hunter*. Work in the commissariat involved organizing the military supplies for Fort York and other garrisons around the colony, making use of imports from England or local supplies. Crookshank was employed at York (Toronto), where he built his home about 1800, and was also commissary for such posts as Fort Erie. During the War of 1812 he was charged with building a road connecting Lake Simcoe with Georgian Bay at Penetanguishene. At the fall of York in April 1813 he accompanied the retreating British troops to Kingston and his looted house became American General Henry Dearborn’s headquarters and was used as a hospital.
In December 1814 Crookshank was promoted assistant commissary general. The next year he refused transfer to another colony, possibly Sierra Leone. In October 1816 he retired on half pay of 7s. 6d. per diem. New appointments had nevertheless followed his refusal to leave Upper Canada. In December 1815 he was gazetted one of the four commissioners to receive claims for war losses. In 1820–21 he was on the local committee to build a hospital in York (the beginnings of the Toronto General Hospital). His most important appointment was in 1819, as receiver general of the province succeeding McGill. This appointment was not confirmed by the Colonial Office; instead John Henry Dunn took over in October 1820. Crookshank was disappointed, but somewhat relieved for the responsibilities were great. Possibly as a compensation, he was appointed to the Legislative Council in January 1821, which gave him a designation as “Honourable,” and he remained a member until the union of Upper and Lower Canada in 1841.
Finance and investment already occupied much of his time and after his appointment to the council he concentrated on his business affairs. In 1822 he was elected one of the first directors of the Bank of Upper Canada and might have been elected president instead of William Allan had he not been out of the colony. Crookshank remained on the board until 1827, serving as president in 1825–26 and as a government appointee in 1826. He did not, however, find the bank a profitable enterprise; as he wrote in 1825, it was “a great deal of trouble with little thanks and less pay.”
Like most of the province’s élite, Crookshank engaged in land speculation from the time he came to Upper Canada. In 1797 he had received a crown grant of 1,200 acres, of which part became the Crookshank estate of some 330 acres west of Crookshank’s Lane (Bathurst Street). He owned another farm of about the same size at Thornhill, some 10 miles north of York, and a third still farther north at Newmarket. In York itself he purchased a large number of properties which he rented out.
Crookshank also made investments through the commercial house of his brother Robert William in Saint John, but his main involvement outside Upper Canada was in New York City. After the War of 1812 he made regular visits to deal with financial matters for himself and his sisters. It was in New York that he met his wife, whose brothers ran the house of Lambert and Company, headed by David Rogers Lambert. Crookshank was justly suspicious of their means of operation; as he wrote to Samuel F. Lambert in 1826, “I must say that my money concerns from the first with your House has been a great source of uneasiness and loss to me.” He attempted to cover his advances to the firm by securing mortgages on their properties in New York City and Harlem. However, when David Lambert was murdered in 1825 while returning from a party, the business folded quickly and, partly as a result of misappropriations by one of the other brothers, Crookshank became involved in litigation which lasted until at least 1830. This must have had the effect of removing him temporarily from Upper Canadian financial activities. By the time affairs were wound up he had acquired considerable holdings, some of which he did not want: property at Rochester, N.Y.; a marble quarry at Kingsbridge, N.Y.; considerable land and some houses at Wilton, Conn.; the Lambert home; and above all two valuable stores on Pearl Street in the commercial heart of New York City, which he rented out.
Basically a kindly man, whose quick temper blew itself out equally quickly, he assumed responsibility for the Lambert family and helped members of it when they needed assistance as he also helped his brother Robert after his fortune was lost. At York he lived on an opulent scale, enlarging his home after his marriage and employing eight servants to keep it up. He travelled constantly, often in his own carriage, to New York and Wilton, and he exchanged visits with Robert in Saint John. When his wife’s health began to fail, several years before her death in 1840, his sister-in-law, Julia Maria Lambert, came to manage his household; her letters tell us a great deal about Toronto society. Crookshank’s son, George, who trained in the law, seems to have been something of a man about town, owning an expensive yacht and leaving two illegitimate sons when he died suddenly in 1853. His daughter, Catherine, married Stephen Heward Jr, member of another old Toronto family.
Much of Crookshank’s time in his later years was spent in managing his Toronto properties and in sorting out the tangled estate of his friend Alexander Wood*, who died in 1844. He had also become one of the first directors of the City of Toronto and Lake Huron Rail Road in 1837 and when the Bank of British North America was established that year he was appointed to its Toronto directorate. A member of the Church of England, he supported St James’ Cathedral and in 1850 gave $500 towards founding Trinity College. During the last decade of his long life his health failed badly and he played little part in the city of which he was now the oldest inhabitant. By 1853, when westward expansion was reaching his Bathurst Street property and his son had died, he began to sell off lots for development. The probate of his will shows his property in Upper Canada, aside from real estate, as valued at £40,986.
Crookshank’s career demonstrates how a man of ability could make a fortune despite the economic fluctuations of the early 19th century. It shows, moreover, something of the world view of the élite of the era, who, far from being immersed in a provincial town, often had business and personal connections in other colonies, in the United States, and in Great Britain.
AO, MS 6; RG 22, ser.305, will of George Crookshank; will of J. M. Lambert. MTL, William Allan papers, letter-book recording letters written by Allan as commissioner of the Canada Company. PAC, RG 1, L3, 91: C3/27, 33; 93: C5/16; 99: C11/79; RG 8, I (C ser.), 115B–D, 116. Walter Barrett [J. A. Scoville], The old merchants of New York City (5v., New York, 1862), 2: 308–16. J. [M.] Lambert, “An American lady in old Toronto: the letters of Julia Lambert, 1821–1854,” ed. S. A. Heward and W. S. Wallace, RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 40 (1946), sect.ii: 101–42. Town of York, 1793–1815 (Firth), 220, 222, 314–15; 1815–34 (Firth), 45, 184. Globe, 22 July 1859. Patriot (Toronto), 21 Feb. 1837. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology. D. S. Macmillan, “The ‘new men’ in action: Scottish mercantile and shipping operations in the North American colonies, 1760–1825,” Canadian business history; selected studies, 1497–1971, ed. D. S. Macmillan (Toronto, 1972), 85, 93–94. Scadding, Toronto of old (1873), 62–63, 80, 148, 287, 356. T. W. Acheson, “The great merchant and economic development in St. John, 1820–1850,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 8 (1978–79), no.2: 3–27.
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Cite This Article
Frederick H. Armstrong, “CROOKSHANK, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/crookshank_george_8E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Frederick H. Armstrong|
|Title of Article:||CROOKSHANK, GEORGE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||June 8, 2023|