FISHER, DUNCAN, shoemaker; b. c. 1753 in the parish of Little Dunkeld, Scotland, probably the son of Duncan Fisher, a farmer, and Christian (Christen) Creighten; d. 5 July 1820 in Montreal, Lower Canada.

Duncan Fisher settled as a farmer near Argyle, N.Y., in 1773. In July 1777 he was recruited to transmit verbal dispatches to Major-General John Burgoyne* at Skenesborough (Whitehall) and continued as a volunteer without pay until the convention signed near Saratoga (Schuylerville) on 17 October after the campaign. He then came to Montreal, probably joining his brother James, a fur trader. Their brothers John, a merchant, and Alexander, a hosteller, as well as their cousins Finlay Fisher, a schoolmaster, and Alexander Fisher, apparently established themselves in the city about the same time. By 1783 Duncan was in business as a shoemaker. The following year he and Finlay were among the signatories to a petition asking that Quebec be granted an assembly. Duncan and his brothers Alexander and John were described in the early 1790s as “Gentlemen of the Northwest.” No other evidence has been found to indicate that Duncan participated directly in the fur trade; in 1799, however, he was a supplier of goods to the fur-trade firm of McTavish, Frobisher and Company [see Simon McTavish; Joseph Frobisher]. Fisher’s business evidently prospered, since in June 1793 he paid the impressive sum of 18,000 livres (about £900, Halifax currency) for a house on Rue Saint-Paul belonging to the estate of Marie-Anne Hervieux, widow of the merchant Jean-Baptiste Le Comte* Dupré. From 1792 to 1803 Fisher made many applications as a loyalist for land in different parts of the province, and was supported by such prominent figures as Alexander Auldjo*, James McGill, John Richardson*, and Sir John Johnson*; in 1802 he received 1,200 acres in Roxton Township, Lower Canada.

After his arrival in Montreal Fisher supported the English “Protestant Congregation,” in which many Scots worshipped [see David Chabrand* Delisle]. As early as 1785, however, he was subscribing funds for a Presbyterian congregation, which was to hold its first service on 12 March 1786 following the arrival of the Reverend John Bethune. In 1787 Bethune left Montreal, and the Presbyterians appear to have attended services at the English Church (Christ Church) until 1791, when Presbyterianism was put on a permanent footing after the arrival from New York State of the Reverend John Young*. A congregation called the Society of Presbyterians was formed, and on 8 May 1791 Fisher was elected, along with Richard Dobie and 16 others, to the first temporal committee. Fisher that year began conducting correspondence with the Presbytery of Albany to secure Young’s services as “stated supply;” that is to have Young fill the position of pastor without, however, his being officially called and inducted into the post. In 1791 as well the temporal committee charged Fisher with the task of locating and negotiating the purchase of a lot on which a church could be built. In April 1792 ground was finally acquired on Rue Saint-Philippe (Rue Saint-Gabriel) and the construction of a church begun, Fisher being a member of the building committee. In the mean time the congregation worshipped, following the service of the Church of Scotland, in a church on Rue Notre-Dame placed at its disposal by the Recollets. On 7 Oct. 1792 Young was able to conduct divine service for the first time in the new Scotch Presbyterian Church, later known as St Gabriel Street Church, which had cost £850 and could seat 650 people; however, construction would not be completed until 25 years later, at a total cost of £2,268. Fisher was appointed one of ten trustees, to hold property on behalf of the congregation, and he helped to administer its mortgage discharge fund. He was elected among the congregation’s first elders, a post he held until his death, and was for a time clerk of the session, the most important lay office in the congregation.

In 1802 Young, who was an alcoholic, was obliged to resign his position, and Fisher, along with most of the leading Scottish merchants, supported a call to James Somerville*. Since Somerville was still a licentiate, the Presbytery of Montreal was reestablished in September 1803 to ordain him; it consisted of Bethune, Alexander Spark, minister at Quebec, and Fisher, who represented the Scotch Presbyterian Church. Somerville then became the congregation’s first regularly inducted minister. However the “American party” in the church, which had preferred another candidate, Robert Forrest, formed a new congregation, keeping the keys to the church. Fisher was one of those appointed by the “Scotch party” to secure its rights, and the delegates were able to recover the keys.

On 27 Feb. 1783, in a Presbyterian ceremony at Montreal, Duncan had married Catherine Embury, daughter of Philip, the founder of Methodism in the United States. Catherine appears to have been as strongly Methodist as her husband was Presbyterian, and she brought up their children with Methodist leanings. She helped establish her denomination in Montreal and was a member of the Wesleyan Methodist congregation (St James Street Methodist Church) after its foundation in 1809. The Fishers had five daughters, one of whom died in infancy, and four sons. Their daughters were noted for their beauty, and since Duncan had apparently acquired a reasonable fortune, and he and Catherine had become socially prominent in their respective denominations, the girls were able to make excellent marriages. The eldest, Jannet, married the Reverend John Hick, who helped organize Methodism in the city; another, Margaret, married successively the merchants William Hutchison and William Lunn*; the third, Elizabeth, married another merchant, John Torrance*; and Nancy, the youngest, married John Mackenzie, also a businessman. Nancy’s daughters married the Reverend Alexander Mathieson* and the merchant Robert Esdaile. The Fishers’ son Duncan became a prominent lawyer in Montreal, and married the widow Budden, mother of Edwin Henry King*, president of the Bank of Montreal. Duncan’s descendants moved into some of the most important places in Montreal, and Fisher stands as a founder of some of the city’s leading 19th-century families.

Frederick H. Armstrong

ANQ-Q, CN1-83, 5 oct. 1793. PAC, MG 23, GIII, 32; RG 1, L3L: 417, 5243, 21086, 41917–18. PCA, St Gabriel Street Church (Montreal), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 5 July 1820 (mfm. at ANQ-M). St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (Williamstown, Ont.), Reg. of baptisms and marriages, 27 Feb. 1783, 13 March 1785 (mfm. at PAC). “United Empire Loyalists: enquiry into losses and services,” AO Report, 1904: 1106–7. Montreal Gazette, 12 July 1820. Montreal Herald, 8 July 1820. DAB (entry for Philip Embury). W. H. Atherton, Montreal, 1535–1914 (3v., Montreal and Vancouver, 1914), 2: 93–94. R. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church, 69–70, 72–75, 77, 81, 126. J. S. Moir, Enduring witness; a history of the Presbyterian Church in Canada ([Hamilton, Ont., 1974?]), 49–50, 64–65.

Cite This Article

Frederick H. Armstrong, “FISHER, DUNCAN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 23, 2024,

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:   FISHER, DUNCAN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   July 23, 2024