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FERRIE, ADAM, industrialist, merchant, shipowner, and politician; b. 15 April 1777 at Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, 16th child of James Faerrie and Jean Robertson; d. 24 Dec. 1863 at Hamilton, Canada West.

Unlike most of Montreal’s Scottish-born businessmen during the 19th century, Ferrie immigrated when middle-aged, after a highly successful commercial career in Glasgow. In his autobiography he describes the help given him by his father and elder brothers who had been trading successfully for many years to both the East and the West Indies and had interests in London and Liverpool sugar refineries. In 1792, at age 15, Ferrie opened a profitable cotton printing shop at Irvine; by 1799, when he moved to Glasgow, he had three factories in Scotland, and in 1811 he opened another in Manchester, England. His principal outlets were provided by ship captains, including several of his brothers, who accepted his goods on consignment for sale in their ports of call; many cargoes came to Quebec and Montreal. Ferrie himself occasionally visited foreign markets in Europe. By 1815 he had an estate of £70,000 and an annual trade of £100,000. He lost most of his fortune during the next few years, mainly through the failure of business associates whose notes he had endorsed, and he was forced to rebuild by augmenting his consignments to Canada, the Mediterranean, and Brazil. He spent some years in Jamaica attempting to re-establish himself.

In the hope of improving his sales to Canada and establishing his sons, Ferrie in 1824 set up his own firm in Montreal. He formed a partnership with William Cormack who had been associated for many years with Hector Russell and Company, a Montreal dry goods house. In 1825, with £35,000 capital supplied by Ferrie, the new firm, Ferrie, Cormack and Company, to which his son, Colin Campbell, was sent, began business in dry goods, hardware, groceries, and stationery on St Paul Street, Montreal’s commercial centre in the early 19th century. Ferrie even built a vessel for the firm’s trade, the 300-ton General Wolfe. Heavy initial losses forced him to take charge of the business himself; after a brief visit to Canada in 1826 he moved to Montreal with his family in May 1829.

Ferrie readily saw that western Upper Canada provided a rapidly increasing market for imported manufactured goods and, like a number of his competitors, he decided to establish a branch in that region. His sons Colin Campbell and Adam Jr, who had been in business with their father, chose Hamilton as the base for their Upper Canadian operations, which were now substantial, especially from York (Toronto) to Niagara. Ferrie conducted the Montreal end of the business, and his sons built up a profitable trade in the Hamilton area, establishing branch stores in nearby Preston (Cambridge), Brantford, Nelson, and Dundas during the early 1830s.

At Montreal, Ferrie, in addition to imports, was also involved heavily in exporting. He suffered enormous losses on flour, pork, beef, and butter shipments to Great Britain in 1842, but apparently recovered later to a level of considerable comfort. Suffering again through the bankruptcy of friends, Ferrie took an interest in revisions of bankruptcy legislation during the early 1840s. A supporter of the Montreal Committee of Trade, Ferrie took an active part in organizing it as the Board of Trade in 1842.

An outspoken radical reformer in Scotland, Ferrie eschewed any affiliation with Lower Canadian radicals during the troubled 1830s. In the organizations to which he belonged, such as the Constitutional Association, he counselled firm but balanced loyalism, to keep “the furiously loyal within moderate bounds as to their hatred of the French Canadians.” Most loyalists in Montreal, he later recalled, “were so prejudiced as to assert that [French Canadians] were all traitors in their hearts whatever they might pretend.” Ferrie earned little thanks for urging his friends to be less virulent and for the open contempt shown to the activities of the “set of silly puppies calling themselves the Doric Club.”

Ferrie maintained the same independence and determined loyalism combined with a strong distrust of most politicians during his career in public life. In 1840 he was appointed by Lord Sydenham [Thomson*] to the municipal council governing Montreal and served on a number of committees until his resignation in 1843. Appointed also to the Legislative Council in 1841, he remained a member until his death. He seems to have regarded these honours more as duties, that of councillor, with its high costs of living away from home, being an expensive one. Despite his strong reform sympathies, Ferrie quickly developed a pronounced distaste for most Canadian Reformers. Reflecting later on the politics of the late 1840s and early 1850s, he remembered only “bickerings and low personalities between the place men and the place hunters, between the ‘ins’ and ‘outs.’” Francis Hincks* and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine were “pretended Liberals” and “base creatures” who “seemed so wholly corrupt as to be insensible to shame.”

Aside from his support of the St Andrew’s Society, which he helped to organize in 1834, Ferrie directed his philanthropic efforts into unusual projects. He assisted personally in helping cholera-stricken immigrants in 1832 and 1834; during the 1830s he took a leading part in attempting to relieve the city’s poor of high bread and fuel costs inflicted by combines of bakers and fuel dealers. From 1837 to 1840 he headed the committee managing the Montreal Public Bakery, a cooperative established to produce bread for sale “at the cheapest possible rate.” The bakers countered by selling at less than cost and forced the cooperative out of business. A woodyard he established on a similar basis also collapsed with Ferrie personally bearing a substantial loss.

Ferrie invested little in the Montreal railway schemes of that era, but had strong interests in banking. He was active in the formation of the City Bank of Montreal, was a large shareholder in Hamilton’s Gore Bank, and supported the City and District Savings Bank of Montreal. His other joint-stock ventures included the Ottawa and Rideau Forwarding Company, the Montreal Fire Assurance Company, and the Montreal Gas Company.

His wife, Rachel Campbell, had 12 children of whom six survived infancy. As most of them settled in Hamilton, Ferrie decided to retire there and in 1853, at age 76, he left Montreal, one suspects without much regret. He died in Hamilton on Christmas eve, 1863.

Gerald Tulchinsky

[Adam Ferrie], Autobiography, late Hon. Adam Ferrie (n.p.,n.d.); Letter to the RtHon. Earl Grey, one of her majesty’s most honorable Privy Council and secretary of state for colonial affairs; embracing a statement of facts in relation to emigration to Canada during the summer of 1847 (Montreal, 1847). General Register Office (Edinburgh), Register of births and baptisms for the parish of Irvine. HPL, Ferrie papers, inventory. McGill University Libraries, Dept. of Rare Books and Special Coll., ms coll., Ottawa and Rideau Forwarding Company, minutes of meeting, 29 March 1837. PAC, MG 24, B1, 11. Hamilton Spectator, 29 Dec. 1863. Montreal Gazette, 29 Dec. 1863. Montreal Transcript, 21 Jan. 1840. Morning Courier (Montreal), 20 June 1849. Montreal directory, 1841–53. Political appointments, 1841–65 (J.-O. Coté), 55. G. Turcotte, Cons. législatif de Québec, 132–33. Campbell, History of Scotch Presbyterian Church, 487. Hist. de la corporation de la cité de Montréal (Lamothe et al.), 204. Adrien Leblond de Brumath, Histoire populaire de Montréal depuis son origine jusqu’à nos jours (Montréal, 1890), 370. T. T. Smyth, The first hundred years; history of the Montreal City and District Savings Bank, 1846–1946 (n.p., n.d.), 14–15. F.-J. Audet, “1842,” Cahiers des Dix, 7 (1942), 241. “Origins of the Montreal Board of Trade,” Journal of Commerce (Gardenvale, Que.), 2nd ser., LV (April 1927), 28–29. Adam Shortt, “Founders of Canadian banking: the Hon. Adam Ferrie, reformer, merchant and financier,” Canadian Bankers’ Assoc., Journal (Toronto), XXXII (1924–25), 50–63.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gerald Tulchinsky, “FERRIE, ADAM (1777-1863),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ferrie_adam_1777_1863_9E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ferrie_adam_1777_1863_9E.html
Author of Article: Gerald Tulchinsky
Title of Article: FERRIE, ADAM (1777-1863)
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1976
Year of revision: 1976
Access Date: October 23, 2014