HIBBARD, ASHLEY, manufacturer, importer, railway contractor, and militia officer; b. 27 March 1827 at Stanstead, Lower Canada, son of Pliny V. Hibbard and Hannah Labaree; d. 23 March 1886 at his home near Frelighsburg, Que.
Although originally from New England, Ashley Hibbard’s family was one of the oldest at Stanstead, his grandparents having arrived in the region from New Hampshire by 1807. About his education and early pursuits little is known.
During the first half of the 19th century the Stanstead area experienced rapid economic development – commercial operations expanded at an increasing rate and numerous industries, unusually specialized for the time, were established. These developments led to an initial accumulation of capital which was often diverted away from regional channels of circulation. Thus by 1849, when Ashley Hibbard is first known to have been in Montreal, he already owned a hardware business. Five years later he invested £6,000 in a rubber footware factory, an enterprise in which he was involved with two partners, William Brown and George Bourn, in the firm of Brown, Hibbard, Bourn and Company. In 1856 their factory consisted of six buildings and was equipped with complex machinery driven by a steam engine; 158 workers produced daily more than 1,500 pairs of boots and shoes and half a ton of springs (for vehicles) and straps. These goods, intended partly for a local market, were also periodically shipped on the Sarah Sands, a steamship belonging to the company, to customers in Canada West, the Maritimes, the United States, and England.
In 1862, for reasons that are still obscure, Hibbard left the enterprise, then known as the British American Manufacturing Company (in 1910 it was to merge with other rubber manufacturers to form the Dominion Rubber Company Limited), and settled in England where he set up a large rubber factory in Manchester. Following his departure from Canada charges of embezzlement appear to have been brought against him. He returned to Canada in 1865, and the following year was indicted in Montreal by a grand jury in the Court of Queen’s Bench. At this time he published the only pamphlet that he is known to have written, A narrative and exposure of the evil of secret indictments, by grand juries. The Montreal directories of 1866 to 1869 describe Hibbard as a merchant engaged in importing rubber, with offices on Rue Saint-Paul near the harbour.
In the ensuing years Hibbard became involved in railway construction. His name is listed in 1871 as one of the directors of the Montreal, Chambly and Sorel Railway Company, which in 1875 became the Montreal, Portland and Boston Railway Company. After this reorganization the company awarded the contract for the construction of the section between Saint-Lambert and Farnham to Francis A. Hibbard, a civil engineer. He gave Ashley power of attorney by notarial act, and the latter in fact became the builder of this section, which was to open in 1877. Meanwhile, the journeymen on this part of the road protested against the despotic measures being used by the company which was refusing to pay their outstanding wages even though it had obtained subsidies from the provincial government. But by 1877 the Montreal, Portland and Boston Railway Company was in bankruptcy and two different boards of directors were struggling to get possession of the line. Early in 1878 Hibbard appealed to the Quebec government to intervene to save the railway. He had borrowed $75,000 from the Bank of Montreal to finance the building of the section between Saint-Lambert and Farnham-Ouest and had also endorsed a loan of $2,000 obtained by the former president of the railway company. During the summer of 1878 the provincial government transferred $20,419 to the Bank of Montreal to cover part of the advance made to Hibbard. Late in 1878 and again early in 1879 Hibbard submitted reports to the government on the state of the company. By means of additional subsidies the section from Farnham-Ouest to Stanbridge was finished in 1879 and Hibbard continued to operate it until 1883. However, the Montreal, Portland and Boston Railway project was never completed, and the sections actually constructed were gradually abandoned by their respective owners. The Saint-Lambert to Farnham section built by Hibbard was closed by the government as too dangerous; in 1878 it ended up as part of the Grand Trunk.
Hibbard also dabbled in public affairs during the course of his career. In 1849 he signed the Annexation Manifesto [see Luther Hamilton Holton*] and in 1858 he ran for election to the Legislative Council in the division of Alma but was defeated by Joseph-François Armand. In 1863, two years after the Trent affair [see Charles Hastings Doyle], Hibbard formed the 6th Battalion of militia (Hochelaga Light Infantry), and commanded it as lieutenant-colonel until his death. In 1870 this battalion was called up to counter the Fenian invasion at Eccles Hill, Quebec [see John O’Neill*].
Hibbard was reputed to be wealthy at the time of his death in 1886. He was then living on the family estate, Commeston, near Frelighsburg in the Eastern Townships. Early in the 1860s he had married Sarah Ann Lane, a native of Manchester, England, and later there was a second marriage. From these two marriages, 16 children survived him.
Ashley Hibbard was the author of A narrative and exposure of the evil of secret indictments, by grand juries (Montreal, ), and of a report on the Montreal, Portland and Boston Railway Company at ANQ-Q, PQ, TP, Bureau des chemins de fer.
PAC, RG 30, 2790–93. Débats de l’Assemblée législative (M. Hamelin), [III], 2: 51. Montreal in 1856; a sketch prepared for the celebration of the opening of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (Montreal, 1856). Gazette (Montreal), 25 March 1886. Atherton, Montreal, III: 198–99. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan, 1912), 531. Dominion annual register, 1886: 271. Montreal directory, 1842–71. P.-G. Roy, Les juges de la prov. de Québec, 569. Gaétan Gervais, “L’expansion du réseau ferroviaire québécois (1875–1895)” (thèse de phd, univ. Laval, Québec, 1978). M. Hamelin, Premières années du parlementarisme québécois, 195–96. B. F. Hubbard, Forests and clearings; the history of Stanstead County, province of Quebec, with sketches of more than five hundred families, ed. John Lawrence (2nd ed., Montreal, 1963), 91–92, 96, 120–21. Leslie Roberts, From three men (n.p., 1954). G. F. G. Stanley, Canada’s soldiers; the military history of an unmilitary people (rev. ed., Toronto, 1960), 229–30.