HARRIS, MICHAEL SPURR, lumberman, shipbuilder, and businessman; b. 22 Sept. 1804 in Annapolis Royal, N.S., son of Christopher Prince Harris and Elizabeth Spurr; m. 11 May 1826 Sarah Ann Troop, and they had five sons and three daughters; d. 26 Jan. 1866 at Moncton, N.B.
Michael Spurr Harris’ grandfather, Samuel Harris, came to Annapolis County with the first of the New England planters in 1761. Michael is thought to have been involved in the family lumber business in Annapolis, but in 1821 moved to Saint John, N.B., where, after a period of apprenticeship, he became a carriage maker. A few years later he moved to Norton in Kings County to carry on his trade. On 27 July 1836, at the small community on the Petitcodiac River known as The Bend (Moncton), Harris purchased about 11 acres of land including a section of marsh along Hall’s Creek. There he began farming, opened a store, built a wharf on the Petitcodiac about a quarter of a mile from his property, and began to export timber to Great Britain. In 1845 Harris built a fine new residence, which became Moncton’s first hospital more than 30 years after his death.
The profits from his lumber exports as well as his frequent visits to British ports made him a well-known New Brunswick figure. He was appointed deputy sheriff for Westmorland County on 30 Dec. 1845. Six years later Harris built his first ship in the yards on Hall’s Creek, the 782-ton Flora, first of five ships built for Joseph Salter, another prominent Moncton businessman. In 1859 he laid the keel of the brig Isabella, the last ship known to be launched from his yards. The collapse of Salter’s firm and setbacks in the Liverpool market brought to an end Moncton’s “golden age” of shipbuilding in the late 1850s.
Harris was a shareholder of the Westmorland Bank organized in 1854 and an active promoter of the Petitcodiac Wet Dock Company in 1855. The latter proposed to harness the great tides of the Bay of Fundy by a series of brick retaining walls built around a diverted channel of Hall’s Creek to enable a vessel to dock, load or unload cargo, and sail all on the same tide. Owing to lack of capital the plan was never implemented. Harris was a strong supporter of civic incorporation and his name appears among the citizens who signed a petition to the assembly 30 Jan. 1855, which resulted in the “Bend of the Petitcodiac” becoming the town of Moncton on 12 April 1855.
In 1861 Harris was elected the mayor of the town, and later served as a magistrate. He was a strong supporter of responsible government, an intercolonial railway, the union of the Maritime provinces, and eventually confederation of all the British North American provinces. He saw the economic potential of Moncton as an industrial centre with rail and shipping connections, which later came about partly as a result of the entrepreneurial capacity of two of his sons, John Leonard and Christopher Prince, and his son-in-law John Albert Humphrey. Although Harris spent only 30 years in Moncton, he became one of its leading citizens and his death in 1866, following a lingering illness, was widely mourned.
N.B. Museum, Edward Barron Chandler papers, 1821–70. PAC, RG 31, 1851 census, Moncton parish (mfm. at PANB). Westmorland County Registry Office (Dorchester, N.B.), libro O, ff.578–79 (deed 7149, 23 Aug. 1836). N.B., House of Assembly, Journals, 1854, 626–39; 1855, 100, 103–4, 256. Moncton Times (Moncton, N.B.), 11 Dec. 1889, June 1927. Cyclopaedia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1888). W. A. Calnek, History of the county of Annapolis, including old Port Royal and Acadia, with memoirs of its representatives in the provincial parliament, and biographical and genealogical sketches of its early English settlers and their families, ed. and completed by A. W. Savary (Toronto, 1897; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972), 523–24. E. W. Larracey, The first hundred: a story of the first 100 years of Moncton’s existence after the arrival in 1766 of the pioneer settlers from Philadelphia, Pa. (Moncton, N.B., 1970). C. A. Pincombe, “The history of Monckton Township (ca.1700–1875)” (unpublished ma thesis, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, 1969), 133–34, 158, 178, 181, 304–6. S. T. Spicer, Masters of sail: the era of square-rigged vessels in the Maritime provinces (Toronto, 1968), 83–84, 95–96.