GARDEN, GEORGE, businessman, militia officer, politician, and jp; b. c. 1772 in Scotland; m. Euphemia Forbes, and they had two sons; d. 15 Oct. 1828 in Montreal.
George Garden reached Quebec from Glasgow in July 1793. In the first decade of the 19th century he occasionally executed wills and administered estates in Montreal; in 1806 property administered by him was seized for debt at the suit of Alexander Auldjo and William Maitland. By June 1812 Garden was a partner of both in Auldjo, Maitland and Company, a wholesaling firm in Montreal which sold imported goods to merchants in Upper Canada and exported ashes, timber, and wheat. It became Maitland, Garden, and Auldjo after the departure for England of Alexander Auldjo in 1813 and the addition to its ranks of his nephew George Auldjo*. By 1815 the firm was the business agent for Lord Selkirk [Douglas*], with whom Garden and his wife became close friends; when, that spring, Selkirk feared that the settlement he had recently established on the Red River might be attacked by traders from the powerful North West Company of Montreal, Maitland, Garden, and Auldjo relayed to the administrator of Lower Canada, Sir Gordon Drummond*, his urgent requests for military aid. It appears that by 1822 Garden and George Auldjo were also partners in a firm called Garden, Auldjo and Company, with headquarters on Goudie’s Wharf at Quebec.
By 1818 Garden had become, with Auldjo, an agent of the Phoenix Assurance Company of London, a fire insurance firm operating in the Canadas through a Montreal agency established in 1804 by Alexander Auldjo. In 1808 Phoenix had provoked the anger of merchants at Quebec by cancelling most policies in Lower Town on the ground that the area was a fire-trap. Reversal of the decision and improvements in service – including an offer in 1816 of policies of up to £10,000 in one risk, with immediate payment in the colony – apparently had not removed all rancour. That year a number of Quebec businessmen had founded the Quebec Fire Assurance Company and a bitter rivalry ensued. When in 1818 Phoenix decided to contest a claim at Quebec, Garden and Auldjo became embroiled in a lively dispute with the new company, which sought to profit by the decision. In September, faced with the establishment of yet another firm, the Montreal Fire Insurance Company [see Horatio Gates], Phoenix attempted to regain its monopoly in the field by authorizing Garden and Auldjo to undersell all competitors by ten per cent, except in the cases of mills and wooden buildings crowded together, upon which Garden and Auldjo had “constantly been large losers.”
In 1817 Garden had become involved in launching another field of financial endeavour in Lower Canada, banking. With others, and on behalf of Maitland, Garden, and Auldjo, he had signed the articles of association of the Bank of Montreal and had petitioned for its incorporation. As a director from 1817 to 1826, and a vice-president from 1818 to 1822, he proved to be an energetic administrator. He was on a committee that chose a site for the bank on Rue Saint-Jacques; indeed, the bank’s first building seems to have been modelled on Maitland, Garden, and Auldjo’s austere Georgian edifice, constructed on Rue Saint-Paul according to plans by an English architect whom Garden had engaged. As well, Garden was a member of a committee that studied the possibilities of implanting the bank at Quebec [see Daniel Sutherland] and in Upper Canada. He was also a director of the Montreal Savings Bank, founded in 1819.
Maitland, Garden, and Auldjo’s interests in the Upper Canada trade stimulated Garden to work for improved communications with that colony and expanded markets for Upper Canadian produce. In May 1817 he received an appointment as a commissioner for improving and repairing the road from Montreal to Lachine, and in August 1818 another as a commissioner for improving communications between the Canadas on the St Lawrence and Ottawa rivers. The principal obstacle to water communications with Upper Canada being the Lachine rapids, a group of prominent Montreal businessmen, including Garden, formed the Company of Proprietors of the Lachine Canal, chartered in March 1819 [see François Desrivières]. Following its failure in 1821 he was appointed to a commission authorized by the Lower Canadian legislature to complete the project, which ultimately took five years and cost £107,000. When financial backing from the House of Assembly ceased briefly in 1823, Garden and another commissioner, John Richardson, drew on the Bank of Montreal for loans totalling £8,000. In August 1821 both men had been members of a committee of prominent merchants in the city formed to lobby the imperial government to open British and West Indian markets without restriction to wheat and flour from the Canadas, since the colonies’ agriculture and commerce were “in such a state of depression and distress as threatens ruin to those engaged therein, if relief be not speedily obtained.”
Garden’s rising prominence in business was reflected socially. He was a founder of the Montreal Curling Club in 1807. From ensign in the British Militia of the Town and Banlieu of Montreal in 1799, he had risen by 1812 to captain in Montreal’s 1st Militia Battalion, a British unit, and he served in that rank in 1812–13 with the Montreal Incorporated Volunteers. A leading member of the Scotch Presbyterian Church (later called St Gabriel Street Church), he served on its temporal committee – as president in 1812 – and was ordained an elder in 1819. He was a governor of the Montreal General Hospital, founded in 1819 [see William Caldwell]. He represented Montreal West in the House of Assembly from 1820 to 1824, along with Louis-Joseph Papineau*, and often acted as a spokesman for business interests. A justice of the peace for Montreal from 28 June 1821, he was foreman of a grand jury that in May 1823 denounced interference in the administration of justice by the Executive Council. In the name of austerity, the council had been quietly reducing funds allotted to defray the expenses of witnesses in criminal trials and restricting jury duty to inhabitants of the city. In 1824 and 1827 Garden received commissions of oyer and terminer and general jail delivery.
In the early 1820s Maitland, Garden, and Auldjo, having borrowed heavily in Britain, found itself in increasing financial difficulty at a time when the British money market was tightening. About July 1825, in order to meet the demands of British creditors, it obtained from the Bank of Montreal, through the bank’s president, Samuel Gerrard*, advances that in total far exceeded the limit of £10,000 per customer established by the bank’s rules. As a result, Gerrard was accused of favouritism by a director of the bank, George Moffatt*, and the board divided into camps; Garden supported Gerrard. The resounding crash of Maitland, Garden, and Auldjo in 1825 [see George Auldjo] rocked a Montreal business community already weakened by economic depression and, combined with the subsequent failures of two other major firms, brought the removal of Gerrard as president of the Bank of Montreal.
Garden had gone to Britain in 1825; he had previously sojourned there in 1809–10 and 1821–22. In 1827 he returned to Montreal, probably to try to retrieve his personal condition through the renewal of his firm. He failed, and in October 1828 he died a ruined man at about age 56. The inventory of his estate, which showed assets of only £375 against debts of £698 11s 11d., was a sad financial epitaph for one of Montreal’s early commercial tycoons.
ANQ-M, CN1-187, 16 mars 1829. PAC, RG 4, B46: 19–23, 31–32, 1400–4; RG 43, CIII, 1, vol.2453, 31 July 1819; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 96, 196, 212, 349. L. C., Statutes, 1820–21, c.6. Quebec Gazette, 23 July 1799; 22 Dec. 1803; 9 Jan. 1806; 4 June 1812; 22 May 1817; 25 June, 17 Sept., 5 Dec. 1818; 1 April 1819; 20 March, 20 April, 18 May, 3, 20 July, 2 Nov. 1820. Quebec almanac, 1800: 104; 1805: 47; 1815: 90. F.-J. Audet, Les députés de Montréal, 228–29. Caron, “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Plessis,” ANQ Rapport, 1927–28: 141. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving), 164. R. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church, 318–19. Denison, Canada’s first bank, 1: 72–73, 84–85, 103–4, 117–20, 122, 132, 161–63, 171, 188, 193, 207–8, 215, 219–20, 225, 228, 238. J. M. Gray, Lord Selkirk of Red River (Toronto, 1963), 122, 180, 195, 248–49. G. J. J. Tulchinsky, “The construction of the first Lachine Canal, 1815–1826” (ma thesis, McGill Univ., Montreal, 1960), 37.