HOULISTON, GEORGE BAILLIE, businessman, lawyer, and politician; b. c. 1834, probably in Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada, son of John Houliston and Agnes Mercer; m. Isabella Baptist, daughter of George Baptist*, and they had six children; d. 23 Jan. 1891 in Edinburgh.
George Baillie Houliston’s career was not unlike that of many men in small Canadian towns of the second half of the 19th century. Although his business interests never extended far beyond Trois-Rivières, his impact upon local development was considerable. His business career began in the early 1850s. While employed in his father’s general store he served as agent for the Bank of Montreal in Trois-Rivières. On 6 April 1857 he was admitted to the bar. By 1857 he had taken over the family business in partnership with his brother Thomas and was acting as agent for several insurance companies. That same year Houliston headed an unsuccessful movement to collect $100,000 for the establishment of a locally controlled bank capable of fostering regional development.
During the 1860s Houliston continued to display a capacity for involving himself in a variety of activities. He practised law in partnership with William McDougall, continued to represent several insurance companies, and served on the city council in 1863–64. He sat on the board of directors of the Three Rivers Gas Company and, in a futile effort to bolster the local economy, was one of the promoters behind the Compagnie de Coton des Trois-Rivières. This firm never developed beyond the promotional stage.
In 1871 Houliston established himself as a private banker under the title of G. B. Houliston and Company. Private banks were quite common in Canada during the last quarter of the 19th century. Unlike chartered banks, they were not authorized to issue notes. Relatively free of government regulation, they could collect deposits, grant loans, and conduct business such as loans on mortgage that was prohibited to chartered banks under the terms of the Bank Act. In 1871 the financial services that Houliston provided were desperately needed in Trois-Rivières, which was served only by branches of the Quebec Bank and the Banque Nationale. It was this lack of financial institutions that had prompted the attempt in 1857 to found a local bank, and it was to lead to the incorporation in 1873 of the Three Rivers Bank by a group of local businessmen including Houliston’s father-in-law and brother-in-law, George and Alexander Baptist. Houliston was not among the promoters of this venture, obviously not interested in weakening his own banking business. Unable to attract the necessary capital, the Three Rivers Bank never opened its doors.
During the last 20 years of his life Houliston concentrated his efforts largely on his banking activities, although in the late 1870s and the 1880s his political attachment to the Liberal party prompted him to become involved in the local press. With Alexander Baptist, Joseph Rayncer, Ezekiel Moses Hart, Louis-Joseph-Onésime Brunelle, and Henry Hart, Houliston set up the Three Rivers Printing Company to publish La Concorde (1879–84) [see Ernest Pacaud*; Henri-René-Arthur Turcotte*] and an English counterpart the Loop Line (1882–84). Unable to weather the unfavourable political situation dominated by the Conservatives under Sir John A. Macdonald in Ottawa and Joseph-Adolphe Chapleau (1879–82), Joseph-Alfred Mousseau* (1882–84), and John Jones Ross* (1884–87) in Quebec, both papers were forced to close because of financial difficulties in 1884. Two months later Houliston joined Georges-Isidore Barthe and René Barthe to resurrect an earlier Liberal newspaper, L’Ère nouvelle. Once again, financial difficulties plagued the publishers and the paper ceased publication in December 1885.
In late January 1891, while on the first leg of a trip around the world, George Baillie Houliston died suddenly of heart failure in Edinburgh. As merchant, promoter, lawyer, local politician, and newspaper publisher, he had played an important role in the development of Trois-Rivières.
ANQ-MBF, CE1-50, 1837. Arch. du séminaire de Trois-Rivières (Trois-Rivières, Qué.), 0125 (fonds G. B. Houliston). NA, RG 31, C1, 1851, 1861, 1871, Trois-Rivières. Can., Statutes, 1873, c.14. Gazette (Montreal), 26 Jan. 1891. Canada directory, 1851, 1857–58, 1864–65, 1871. Guide de la cité des Trois-Rivières ([Trois-Rivières]), 1880–81. J. Hamelin et al., La presse québécoise, 2: 58, 104–5, 292–93. Maréchal Nantel, “Les avocats admis au Barreau de 1849 à 1868,” BRH, 41 (1935): 691.