GILMOUR, JOHN, timber merchant, shipbuilder; b. 31 Oct. 1812, at Craigton, Mearns, in Renfrewshire, near Glasgow, Scotland, fourth child of John Gilmour (d. 1841–42) and Margaret Urie; d. 25 Feb. 1877 in Montreal, Que.
John Gilmour came with his brother David (b. 20 Aug. 1815) to Quebec about 1832 to work for the Glasgow timber firm of Pollok, Gilmour and Company. The three partners who made up this firm, John and Arthur Pollok and Allan Gilmour Sr (1775–1849), all of whom came from Mearns and lived in Glasgow, had started in 1804 as importers of timber, tar, hemp, and flax from the Baltic. When Napoleon forced the British timber trade to shift from the Continent, Allan Gilmour* Jr, a nephew and namesake of the partner in the firm, was sent to British North America and established the family business in New Brunswick, first on the Miramichi and then at Saint John. Allan Jr, the older brother of John and David, came to Lower Canada in 1828 to tap the timber trade coming down the St Lawrence and managed the office in Quebec.
John and David Gilmour were put to work at the booms of the timber storage ground and pond, or at the company shipyard, all located at Wolfe’s Cove (Anse au Foulon); they also worked in the office. In the winter they went up the river valleys on snowshoes, to inspect the camps of the timbercutters on the lands leased by the firm on the Ottawa River and its tributaries. Of wiry constitution, they adapted quickly to Canada, became great hunters, particularly of moose, and could sleep in the snow in the coldest weather. In the 1830s and 1840s the firm had an expanding timber business and some 130 ships were built for the trade. When Allan Gilmour Sr retired in 1838 his namesake left the Quebec business in the hands of John and David Gilmour and moved to Glasgow; the latter two were admitted into the firm. John married Caroline White and David married her sister Matilda. About 1856, David Gilmour died suddenly in Rutland, Vt., on his way to New York, and John became the resident partner in Quebec the next year. The other partners in 1857 were Allan Gilmour Jr of Glasgow – the Polloks had retired in 1852 – Robert Rankin* of Liverpool and a third Allan Gilmour* (1816–1895), known as “Shotts Allan,” of Ottawa, another nephew of Allan Gilmour Sr.
John Gilmour was elected to the council of the Board of Trade of Quebec in 1843 and re-elected in 1844, 1845, and 1846; in 1848 he was elected to its board of arbitration and in 1849 again to the council. He remained a member of the board, but without holding office.
John Gilmour was a reserved man, a “good-humoured, honest farmer type.” In July 1848 he bought a residence “Marchmont” with property on the high ground just above the Gilmour timber depot at Wolfe’s Cove; it became the Maison Généralice of the Ursulines of Quebec. John Gilmour was active from 1847 with the St Andrew’s Society and he was founder of the Mount Hermon Cemetery in 1848; his wife was a director of the Quebec Protestant Ladies’ Asylum in 1859. Otherwise Gilmour “immersed himself in his work,” which centred on the Rue Saint-Pierre office in the Lower Town; there he “seemed somewhat careworn, severe and suspicious,” according to the reminiscences of an employee.
The Gilmour shipyard was active in the 1850s and continued to produce until 1870; among the more notable vessels built there were the Advance, 1,466 tons, and in 1855 the Illustrious, a clipper of 1,200 tons. As many as four ships at a time were often on the stocks and over a thousand men were employed in the shipyards and at the timber-handling. A shipping-point was established at Indian Cove (Anse aux Sauvages) on the Lévis side, to which timbers were towed from Wolfe’s Cove. Prominent employees of the shipyard were naval architects Robert McCord, James Dodds, and Captain John Dick, and the woodcarver John Penney. Two paintings of the timberyard and ships by Robert Clow Todd* survive in the possession of a relative in England.
John Gilmour of Quebec received a severe blow when Thomas McDuff of Edinburgh, who had taken over the family interests in Montreal from a younger brother James Gilmour (b. 1818), abused his trust, speculated in pork, lost large sums of money, and absconded. Deeply affected by this event, John disappeared early in 1877. His body was found under the ice in Montreal harbour in the spring. The date of his death is recorded as 25 February. Liquidation of his former business interests in Quebec followed quickly. John’s sons and their cousin, David’s son, were to continue the family tradition in their timber interests on the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers.
ANQ, Quebec Board of Trade, minute book, 5, 6. PAC, MG 28, III, 6 (Gilmour and Hughson Limited). Quebec Daily Mercury, 3 May 1832, 12 June 1838, 1 March 1877. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer. George Gale, Quebec twixt old . . . and. . . new (Quebec, 1915), 45, 64, 66, 68, 230, 241–42. J. W. Hughson and C. C. J. Bond, Hurling down the pine; the story of the Wright, Gilmour and Hughson families, timber and lumber manufacturers in the Hull and Ottawa region and on the Gatineau River, 1800–1920 (Historical Society of the Gatineau pub., Old Chelsea, Que., 1964). John Rankin, A history of our firm; being some account of the firm of Pollok, Gilmour and Co., and its offshoots and connections, 1804–1920 (2nd ed., Liverpool, Eng., 1921), 12–40, 90, 94, 103–5, 245, 254, 287, 303.