McKENZIE, GEORGE ROGERS, shipbuilder, sea captain, and politician; b. at Halifax, N.S., 12 Dec. 1798, son of John McKenzie and Elizabeth Grant; m. Sarah McGregor, daughter of Dr James McGregor*; they had two daughters; d. at New Glasgow, N.S., 12 March 1876.
Captain George Rogers McKenzie was a prominent shipbuilder in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. He started in a small way in 1821 at Boat Harbour, N.S., with a 45-ton schooner, named James William in honour of his nephew James William Carmichael*. Later he moved his yards to New Glasgow where he began to build much larger vessels, notably the 1,444-ton Hamilton Campbell Kidston and the 1,465-ton Magna Charta. Initially, his brother-in-law, the New Glasgow merchant James Carmichael, helped provide the capital required for McKenzie’s shipbuilding and shared in the profits when the ships were sold. George McKenzie was known as the “father of shipbuilding” in Pictou County for he led the way in constructing vessels of a superior class which he owned and usually sailed himself. His business flourished during the 1850s and 1860s when wooden vessels from the Maritimes were needed for the timber trade to Great Britain, for the coal trade from Pictou to the United States, and for supplying the British and American armies during the Crimean War and the American Civil War.
An energetic and courageous man, Captain McKenzie divided his time between shipbuilding and seafaring; he was noted as the instructor of many skilful captains who sailed Nova Scotian ships on the seven seas. When the Hamilton Campbell Kidston made a voyage to Glasgow in the spring of 1852, Captain McKenzie sailed the ship up the narrow Clyde to the city. The arrival of this large vessel caused a sensation among Glasgow merchants who marked the event on 14 April 1852 with a presentation to the captain of a silver tea and coffee service.
McKenzie soon gained the attention of Joseph Howe, who referred to his prowess as a shipbuilder in a speech on “The organization of the empire” delivered in the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia on 21 Feb. 1854. The following year McKenzie followed Howe into politics and was elected to the assembly as a Reform member for Pictou County. Although the two men shared the same political outlook, McKenzie was content to remain on the sideline in debate, but served on committees for trade and navigation. Despite the fact that he had decided views on many controversial issues, he won the respect and friendship of his political opponents. He was re-elected to the assembly in 1859 and represented Pictou County Eastern Division until 1863 when he retired from politics. McKenzie died 13 years later leaving an estate of $34,864 in property, notes, and shares in two ships.
[Joseph Howe], Speeches and letters (Chisholm), II, 274–75. J. P. MacPhie, Pictonians at home and abroad (Boston, 1914). G. G. Patterson, A history of the county of Pictou, N.S. (Montreal, Pictou, N.S., Halifax, Saint John, N.B., and Toronto, 1877). J. H. Sinclair, Capt. George McKenzie: an appreciation (n.p., n.d., copy at Acadia University Library, Wolfville, N.S.). Wallace, Wooden ships and iron men.