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HARVIE (Harvey), JOHN, railway conductor and manager, businessman, and politician; b. 12 April 1833 in Campbeltown, Scotland, son of John Harvey, a maltster, and Jean Ferguson; m. 1 May 1861 Eliza Jane Creighton* in Aurora, Upper Canada, and they had a son and three daughters; d. 5 Sept. 1917 in Guelph, Ont.

John Harvey had a grammar school education, and at 13 he went to work, probably in a distillery. He next worked for a steamship line and a gas company, but the youth soon had enough of Campbeltown; family tradition holds that he was sickened by the drunkenness there. In 1851 he emigrated to Toledo, Ohio, where his mother’s family had connections. He joined the traffic department of the Michigan Southern Railroad, but after a year became ill. During a recuperative trip in 1852 he visited Toronto and a Campbeltown friend persuaded him to stay. By this time he had changed the spelling of his surname.

Early in 1853 Harvie joined the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Union Rail-road (later the Northern) as a freight conductor. When, on 16 May 1853, the American conductor engaged to take the railway’s first passenger train from Toronto to Machell’s Corners (Aurora) failed to appear, superintendent Alfred Brunel* put Harvie in charge. (This steam train was also the first to operate in Upper Canada.) Harvie continued as a conductor. The high point of his conducting career undoubtedly came on 11 Sept. 1860, when he ran the Prince of Wales’s special train on an outing to Georgian Bay. In return he received an inscribed silver basket, which remains in family hands.

Tall, with a big nose, high-cheek bones, and a beard, Harvie lived a Spartan life, constantly on the move. For all his observance of Sunday, teetotalism, and earnest involvement in the Presbyterian Church, he liked parties and dancing. He met his future wife, the daughter of the Methodist minister in the Newmarket-Aurora area, that way; following their marriage they settled in Toronto.

In 1867 Harvie became train and traffic manager for the Northern. During the 1870s, a period of economic hardship in Canada, he was presumably under pressure to contain costs. He was not successful enough: in 1878 the Northern appointed a new operating head and made Harvie its stationmaster at Toronto’s new Union Station. The demands of this position were apparently so great that by the end of the decade he was quite ill. In 1881 he retired.

With the recovery of the 1880s, Harvie turned to real estate development and politics. His major investments were in the Ontario Industrial Loan and Investment Company Limited, of which he was a director from 1882. Its assets included rental properties, land, mortgages, and the well-known Toronto Arcade building, erected in 1883. In 1884 Harvie served as an alderman for St Patrick’s Ward. The following year he became a trustee of the Toronto General Burial Ground Trust. By 1886 Harvie, a prominent member of Knox’s Church and since 1878 a lay director of the Upper Canada Bible Society, had also become the trust’s permanent secretary. He returned to civic life in 1887, when he topped the polls in St Patrick’s and ran unsuccessfully as a Reformer in the dominion election in Toronto Centre. Re-elected alderman in 1888, he did not serve his full term.

In the 1890s Harvie’s financial ventures soured. The Building and Loan Association, in which he held shares, cut its dividends as a result of the Winnipeg real estate collapse and in 1895 Ontario Industrial stopped paying dividends. His domestic life also changed. His remaining children left home (a daughter had died in 1874), and after many years of prominence in various charities, Eliza took a paid position in 1896, as the first visitor working out of the office of John Joseph Kelso*, provincial superintendent of neglected and dependent children. The Harvies subsequently left their house on Bedford Road and lived in a series of boarding-houses, because Eliza was travelling much of the time and John had no taste for housekeeping.

Harvie retired from the Bible Society in 1907, about the same time that Eliza stopped working for Kelso, and they moved again, into an apartment in the house of their daughter Jean Ferguson and her husband, Richard A. Donald, on fashionable Balmoral Avenue. Harvie held his cemetery trusteeship until mid 1915, but sometime after September 1916 he went into the Homewood Sanitarium for the insane in Guelph, where he died in 1917.

Philip Creighton

This biography is adapted from the author’s article on John Harvie in the York Pioneer (Toronto), 81 (1986): 1–15, for which he used Harvie papers in his own collection, as well as at MTRL, SC, and in the City of Toronto Arch., SC 347. Additional information is supplied in Harvie’s baptismal record in the General Register Office for Scotland, Edinburgh (Campbeltown, reg. of births and baptisms, 15 April 1833), his marriage and death registrations (AO, RG 80-27-2, 84: 365 and RG 80-8-0-645, no.33714), his estate file (AO, RG 22-305, no.34286), and F. N. Walker, Four whistles to wood-up: stories of the Northern Railway of Canada ([Toronto], 1953).

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Cite This Article

Philip Creighton, “HARVIE, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/harvie_john_14E.html.

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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/harvie_john_14E.html
Author of Article:   Philip Creighton
Title of Article:   HARVIE, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   May 25, 2024