McARTHUR, ALEXANDER, lumberman; b. 11 April 1839 in Williamstown, Upper Canada, son of John McArthur and Margaret McMartin; m. Mary Jane—, and they had three daughters and two sons, one of whom died in childhood; d. 23 Feb. 1895 in Asheville, N.C., and was buried in Toronto.
Alexander McArthur came to Toronto from Glengarry County about 1863, possibly as a bank teller. By 1872 he had joined his brothers John and Peter in John’s lumber business there, the partnership operating as McArthur Brothers. That year the cutting rights to more than 5,000 square miles of timber limits along the north shore of Lake Huron were auctioned. McArthur Brothers, in partnership with Cook and Brothers [see James William Cook*], obtained a total of 911 square miles, by far the largest single purchase of limits in comparison with those bought by others. Little lumbering took place on the north shore of Lake Huron during the ten years after the 1872 auction. In the mid 1880s, when pine had become scarce close to the large mills on southern Georgian Bay and in Michigan, the McArthurs and other major interests, including John Charlton*, John Waldie of the Victoria Harbour Lumber Company, and the Beck Manufacturing Company, turned their attention to the easily accessible north shore.
As was the case with many large lumber firms in the 19th century, McArthur Brothers acquired cutting rights on extensive limits throughout Canada and the United States, with interests in the Ottawa valley, around Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, and in western Canada. The firm’s headquarters were in Toronto, where Alexander was based as president, but it also operated in Michigan, first out of Cheboygan and later East Saginaw, under the supervision of Peter McArthur from about 1875. Incorporated in 1886, McArthur Brothers Company Limited shipped lumber and staves to the United Kingdom, for which purpose it maintained branches there, with a permanent office in London. The McArthur Export Company in Quebec City handled the export trade to Britain. According to Alexander’s obituary in the Globe, McArthur Brothers was “one of the largest exporters of lumber to foreign markets.” Like other entrepreneurs, the McArthurs seem to have held some timber limits for speculative purposes. In 1877 their firm had reputedly paid $75,000 for the cutting rights to 72 square miles on the Wahnapitae (Wanapitei) River, on Georgian Bay, and 15 years later sold them to an American firm for $550,000.
Other members of the McArthur family were also engaged in the lumber business. Archibald, the eldest brother, who lived on the homestead in Glengarry, participated with his son in the manufacture of lumber in Lancaster Township, but “in a smaller way of business than his brothers.” Walter James McArthur, whose relationship is uncertain, was in charge of the McArthur Brothers’ lake fleet carrying lumber.
Virtually nothing is known of Alexander McArthur’s business or personal interests beyond his devotion to lumbering. In an obituary the Canada Lumberman praised him as a “tireless worker” with an “indomitable will,” and noted that he had been interested “to no small extent” in mining operations in Canada. He died in 1895 in Asheville, N.C., where he had gone in a vain attempt to restore his health. A funeral service was conducted by the Reverend Daniel James Macdonnell at the family residence at 119 St George Street in Toronto, and McArthur was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. He left an estate valued at $188,000, and was succeeded as president of McArthur Brothers by Peter.
York County Surrogate Court (Toronto), no.10954 (mfm. at AO). Canada Lumberman (Peterborough, Ont.; Toronto), 6 (1886), no.13; 7 (1887), no.7; 11 (1890), no.8; 13 (1892), no.9; 15 (1894), no.1; 16 (1895), no.4. Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers, 1873, no.11 Globe, 26–27 Feb., 1 March 1895. Monetary Times, 8 Oct. 1886. Toronto directory, 1862–94. J. E. Defebaugh, History of the lumber industry of America (2v., Chicago, 1906–7). Toronto, Board of Trade, “A souvenir”.