IRVINE, JAMES, businessman, jp, militia officer, office holder, and politician; b. 1766 in England, son of Adam Irvine and Elizabeth Irvine; m. 13 July 1801 at Quebec Ann Pyke, eldest daughter of John George Pyke of Halifax, and they had two sons, one of whom died in infancy; d. 27 Sept. 1829 at Quebec.
James Irvine was part of the little Scottish colony at Quebec late in the 18th century. His father had settled there shortly after the conquest, and died in an accident in 1776. Like many of his compatriots James Irvine went into business, forming a partnership with John Munro to engage in retailing. The firm of Munro and Irvine was dissolved by mutual consent in October 1797, and while Munro continued his business activity, Irvine went to England. It was probably after his return to Quebec the following spring that he went into partnership with John McNaught to found Irvine, McNaught and Company, a firm specializing in the import and export trade, with offices on Rue Saint-Pierre in Lower Town. In 1809 James Leslie* became a partner.
Irvine, McNaught and Company was one of the petitioners seeking repeal of the notorious act of 1805 for the construction of jails, one in the District of Quebec and the other in the District of Montreal. The dispute over how the prisons should be financed symbolized the struggle between Canadians and British for supremacy in Lower Canada and confirmed that there was a class of businessmen determined to take its interests in hand and make its demands heard even in England. The creation of the Quebec Committee of Trade in 1809 was not unconnected with this state of mind. Irvine was chairman of the committee from 1809 until 1822, and like the other members he had links with various sectors of the Lower Canadian economy. The Committee of Trade collaborated as well with several government services.
From 1805 to 1812 Irvine was warden of Trinity House of Quebec. In this capacity he was required to attend particularly to the mooring of ships, the building of wharfs and lighthouses, and the maintenance of the seaway. He could also make regulations concerning the safety of ships and recommend the admission of pilots. On 15 Aug. 1808 Governor Sir James Henry Craig* recommended to Lord Castlereagh, secretary of state for war and the colonies, that he be appointed to the Executive Council. Craig considered him a highly respectable merchant whose business experience would be of great value. Irvine sat from 17 Nov. 1808 to 1822, when he resigned. In June 1809 he stood as a candidate in the Lower Town riding for the House of Assembly. In a hotly contested election he was beaten by Pierre-Stanislas Bédard and John Jones*. He ran again the following year, however, and this time was successful in Upper Town; he sat until 22 March 1814. He ended his political career as a member of the Legislative Council, an office he held from 20 Feb. 1818 until his death.
In 1797 Irvine served on the jury in the Court of King’s Bench in Quebec that found David McLane* guilty of plotting revolution. He moved in the narrow circle of those benefiting from government patronage. Between 1799 and 1828 he held commissions of the peace for the districts of Quebec, Montreal, Gaspé, Three Rivers, and St Francis. In 1809 he was appointed commissioner to receive the oath of allegiance from members of the legislature. Nine years later he was on the board of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning. In 1822, in the absence of the chief justices of Montreal and Quebec, he became presiding judge of the Court of Appeal of the Executive Council. Lastly, in 1824 he was appointed an arbitrator for Lower Canada to take part in the apportioning of customs duties between Upper and Lower Canada.
Irvine also belonged to the Quebec Fire Society, and was its treasurer in 1800 and president in 1807. He was a member of the Agriculture Society in the District of Quebec, becoming its president in 1817. Irvine served in the militia as well. On 18 March 1812 he was promoted from lieutenant to captain in Quebec’s 3rd Militia Battalion, and later, in March 1813, he was transferred to the Île d’Orléans battalion. He retired in 1822 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
Irvine owned a number of properties in both Upper and Lower Town Quebec. In particular he was the owner of several pieces of land between Rue Saint-Pierre and the St Lawrence, as well as of some lots on Rue Sainte-Ursule. He lived on an estate at Sainte-Foy that he had named Belmont House, and owned a house on Rue Saint-Louis at Quebec.
James Irvine died on 27 Sept. 1829; his widow outlived him, surviving until 1847. The career of his son John George would be as full as his own had been.
ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 13 juill. 1801, 9 avril 1818, ler oct. 1829. PAC, MG 30, D1, 16: 342; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. Quebec Gazette, 4 Feb. 1790; 28 March 1793; 3 Aug., 5, 12 Oct. 1797; 10 April 1800; 29 March 1804; 12 Dec. 1805; 5 Feb. 1807; 6 April, 18 May, 8, 22 June, 26 Oct. 1809; 5, 26 April, 3 May 1810; 19 March, 23 July 1812; 8 April, 2 Sept. 1813; 29 May 1817; 12, 29 Nov. 1818; 6 Jan., 27 Nov. 1820. E. H. Dahl et al., La ville de Québec, 1800–1850: un inventaire de cartes et plans (Ottawa, 1975). Desjardins, Guide parl. P.-G. Roy, Fils de Québec; Les juges de la prov. de Québec. Turcotte, Le Conseil législatif. André Charbonneau et al., Québec ville fortifiée, du XVIIe au XIXe siècle (Québec, 1982). George Gale, Historic tales of old Quebec (Quebec, 1923). J. M. LeMoine, Quebec past and present, a history of Quebec, 1608–1876 (Quebec, 1876); Picturesque Quebec: a sequel to “Quebec past and present” (Montreal, 1882). Fernand Ouellet, Histoire de la Chambre de commerce de Québec, 1809–1959 (Québec, 1959). Wallot, Un Québec qui bougeait.