McINTYRE, DUNCAN, businessman; b. 23 Dec. 1834 in Callander, Scotland; m. 6 June 1861 Jane Allan Cassils in Montreal, and they had two sons; d. there 13 June 1894.
Duncan McIntyre came to Upper Canada with his family in 1849. He apprenticed in his father’s country shop in Renfrew and then joined his uncle Robert McIntyre in the Montreal firm of Stuart, McIntyre and Company, dry-goods merchants and wholesale importers. Stuart, McIntyre and Company was one of the best business houses in Montreal, and young Duncan prospered as a clerk and bookkeeper, and then as junior partner. During the depression of the mid 1850s, he learned the toughness, stubbornness, and practicality that typified the Montreal Scots merchant of the day. He succeeded his uncle as president in 1864, and the firm was known successively as McIntyre, Denoon, and Henderson, McIntyre, Denoon, and French, and McIntyre, French and Company before finally becoming McIntyre, Son and Company in 1884. Two years earlier it had moved into the new McIntyre Block on Victoria Square.
The McIntyre firm had extended its reach up the St Lawrence and Ottawa valleys and into the Eastern Townships. In the early 1860s McIntyre began to invest in two railways which supplied many of his best customers, the Brockville and Ottawa Railway and the Canada Central Railway. This move brought him into contact with the chief contractor for the roads, Asa Belknap Foster*, a Vermont-born railwayman from the Eastern Townships who wanted to forge links between Boston railway interests and the Ottawa valley. The Canada Central, chartered in 1861 by promoters of the Ottawa valley to be part of a railway from Quebec to Lake Huron, operated one engine from its main depot at Carleton Place, Upper Canada, where it joined the Brockville and Ottawa. Because of its pivotal geographical position and its steady business supplying settlers and drawing lumber out of the rich Ottawa valley, the Canada Central was seen as a linchpin in a future transcontinental railway. By 1870 Hugh Allan* had invested heavily in it, hoping to amalgamate it with the Montreal Northern Colonization Railway, which ran along the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. In 1871–72 Allan pulled together a syndicate and obtained the contract to build a transcontinental line from the Conservative government of Sir John A. Macdonald. Allan’s work was undone, however, by the Pacific Scandal, provoked in part by revelations made by Foster.
As the scandal unfolded, McIntyre lay low and worked on increasing his wholesale business in the Ottawa valley. After the defeat of the Macdonald government, however, he supported Alexander Mackenzie’s Liberals. The scandal led to the election of a Mackenzie government, but McIntyre’s candidate in Renfrew South, Ont., was defeated after an investigation. A friend of the new prime minister and a major investor in the Canada Central, McIntyre was invited in 1874 to join its board of directors. He helped Foster to oust Allan and Allan’s lawyer, John Joseph Caldwell Abbott, and was soon elected president of the line. The moment was inauspicious. The effects of an American stock market crash were soon felt in Canada, and the railway’s business fell off sharply as depression set in. Soon the line was over $2,000,000 in debt. Enthusiasm for a transcontinental railway waned with the economic decline. The Mackenzie government decided to build the line by stages. It gave McIntyre and Foster a contract to extend the Canada Central from Douglas to the terminus of the railway’s Georgian Bay branch and granted them a subsidy of $12,000 a mile, which covered one-half to two-thirds of the cost.
McIntyre knew how to survive a depression and had the capital to ride out the storm, but Foster became overextended. In 1877 he went bankrupt, and he died after a short stint for bad debts in a Vermont prison. McIntyre, with subsidies from Ontario, finished the line. In late 1877 he took control of the Canada Central, astutely acquiring it from the English creditors for $1,000,000, or 50 cents on the dollar. By 1878 business was reviving. The Canada Central and the Brockville and Ottawa were prospering just as Macdonald returned to power, determined to push ahead with his project of a transcontinental railway. McIntyre stood directly in his path, holding the key to the west. Macdonald and Sir Charles Tupper* induced McIntyre’s former adversary Abbott to act as a catalyst in resolving the problem. By June 1880 a syndicate had been formed that included McIntyre and a group of investors from the Bank of Montreal and the Hudson’s Bay Company led by cousins George Stephen* and Donald Alexander Smith*. McIntyre made arrangements with his British backers and contracted to sell the Canada Central to the syndicate for $3,000,000. As president of the Canada Central, he officially initiated the syndicate’s negotiations with the government, proposing to build a transcontinental line in return for a land grant of 35,000,000 acres and a subsidy of $26,500,000. In July 1880 Macdonald and two ministers sailed for England to seek other offers. McIntyre went on the same ship. When no other group persisted in showing interest, Macdonald and McIntyre met for two weeks with the financier and former Canadian cabinet minister Sir John Rose*. On 4 September, after obtaining agreement from Stephen in Montreal, they settled on a government subsidy of 25,000,000 acres and $25,000,000. On 21 October, after Macdonald and McIntyre had returned to Canada, a contract was signed, creating the Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate. McIntyre and Stephen deposited a bond of $1,000,000 with the minister of finance, Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, on 16 Feb. 1881.
The following day – the first day of business for the CPR – McIntyre assumed the duties of vice-president. His job was to extend the Canada Central to Sault Ste Marie, Ont., and put steamers on Lake Superior to Thunder Bay; by autumn 1882 he had built as far as North Bay. More and more, however, he was spending his time in New York and London dealing with the CPR’s increasingly shaky finances. In May 1884, wearied by the work and by Stephen’s personality, and tired of pledging his personal fortune and the firm of McIntyre, Son and Company to back Stephen’s desperate financing, he sold his 20,000 shares to Stephen and Smith. His place as vice-president was taken by a professional railwayman, William Cornelius Van Horne*. Stephen was happy to see McIntyre go. He later wrote to Macdonald that McIntyre had been “coarsely selfish and cowardly all through these 5 years, [and] ruthless in regarding the interests of others whenever he could advance his own.” “When McIntyre deserted the Company,” Stephen added, “he made up his mind that it would ‘burst’ and that Smith and I would lose every dollar we had, in the collapse.” Indeed, a few months after retiring, McIntyre turned the screws on Stephen, threatening a lawsuit unless the CPR paid its overdue accounts to McIntyre, Son and Company. Stephen paid and thereafter refused to have anything to do with McIntyre, telling everybody who would listen that he could not stand to be in the same room with the man. For his part, McIntyre had, in the words of a contemporary, “the placid contempt that all good business men have for schemes of visionary-minded men.” He believed in “system,” and Stephen’s financing no doubt lacked it in his estimation.
McIntyre lived for a time in a house on Rue Dorchester (Boulevard René-Lévesque). He then sold it to his neighbour Smith and moved into a romantic French-Scotch Gothic mansion farther up Mount Royal. In 1891 he began to purchase large blocks of Grand Trunk stock in London in an effort to gain control of the railway and move its head office from there to Montreal. He was elected a director that year, but failed to transfer the board to Canada. He did, however, help to prevent a war over rates and running rights between the Grand Trunk and the CPR; the action annoyed the public but improved the credit of both lines with the British bondholders.
Over the course of his career McIntyre had invested time and money in spheres of business other than railways. He was among the founders of the Royal Canadian Insurance Company (1873) and the Bell Telephone Company of Canada (1880), and he invested in the Canada North-West Land Company, Allis Chalmers, the Dominion Bridge Company Limited [see Job Abbott], Amalgamated Asbestos, the Canadian Light and Power Company, and the Windsor Hotel, of which he was president until his death in 1894. His sons, William Cassils and John Malcolm, succeeded him at the head of McIntyre, Son and Company.
McIntyre had been one of the great Scots barons of Montreal. He was a founder of the Caledonian Society in 1857 and competed in its games. Twice president of the St Andrew’s Society, he took pride in wearing the kilt at the society’s ball. According to one writer, he had “much of the Carlyle brusqueness in his manner” and divided people into two categories: those “who were ready to admire him” and were his personal friends and those who “bucked” him and whom “he counted as his enemies to be fought to the death.” Shrewd and secretive, his talents tempered by economic depression, McIntyre always had a good store of capital and was always in the right place at the right time. He was nicknamed the “Canadian Napoleon of finance”; a year before his death his fortune was estimated at between $2,000,000 and $5,000,000, which according to a contemporary evaluation made him one of the five richest men in Canada.
ANQ-M, CE1-121, 15 juin 1894; CE1-130, 6 juin 1861. NA, MG 26, A. Monetary Times, 15 June 1894. Montreal Daily Star, 13 June 1894. Saskatchewan Herald, 22 June 1894. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). A. W. Currie, The Grand Trunk Railway of Canada (Toronto, 1957). H. A. Innis, A history of the Canadian Pacific Railway (2nd ed., Toronto, 1971).
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Cite This Article
Alastair Sweeny, “McINTYRE, DUNCAN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcintyre_duncan_12E.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:
|Author of Article:||Alastair Sweeny|
|Title of Article:||McINTYRE, DUNCAN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1990|
|Year of revision:||1990|
|Access Date:||May 30, 2023|