McKENZIE, JAMES, soldier, hotel-keeper, shipowner, and shipbuilder; b. 28 Dec. 1788 in Duthil, Scotland; m. 29 April 1814 Elizabeth Cameron at York (Toronto), and they had seven children; d. 20 April 1859 at Quebec.
Nothing is known of James McKenzie’s early years. He arrived in the Canadas, probably at Quebec in May 1813, as a private in the 2nd battalion of the 41st Foot, which took part in various battles in the Niagara region of Upper Canada until the end of the War of 1812. Back at Quebec in March 1815, the battalion was disbanded, and it was probably at this time that McKenzie settled at Pointe-Lévy (Lévis and Lauzon). At any rate it is certain that by the beginning of the 1820s he had become the keeper of the Hôtel Lauzon, then belonging to shipbuilder John Goudie*. In the spring of 1825, after Goudie’s death, McKenzie rented the hotel from the Goudie estate, along with the steamship Lauzon, which he began operating as a ferry. In June 1828 he put into ferry service his own steamboat, the New Lauzon, built during the preceding winter. On 23 October he bought the Hôtel Lauzon cheaply at a sheriff’s auction following its seizure. For some years thereafter McKenzie carried on the double undertaking of providing lodging and operating a ferry.
The Hôtel Lauzon, now known as the Hôtel McKenzie, was not only the most spacious on the south shore of the river across from Quebec but was also the best located. All the highways of Dorchester, Hertford, Devon, and Cornwallis counties converged at this spot and they were used by the farmers of some twenty neighbouring parishes to bring their supplies to the city of Quebec. In addition, in 1830 it also became the departure point for a road from Quebec to the United States via the Beauce region, and in the autumn of 1835 the Hôtel McKenzie was chosen as the terminus for a coach service linking Quebec and Boston.
Aware of the advantages of such a site, McKenzie had not hesitated in the summer of 1829 to invest in building a quay more than 100 feet long, adjoining the existing one on the land belonging to his newly acquired hotel. In September 1830 he had begun to operate a second ferry, the Britannia, which had paddle-wheels driven by horses. At this date three similar vessels were plying between Quebec and the south shore. The Britannia, however, had a distinct advantage over its competitors: the horses worked in a stationary fashion, walking on a drum rather than moving in a circle on the deck, so there was more space for passengers. Unquestionably, the combined undertaking of hotel trade and ferry service proved highly profitable for McKenzie.
But McKenzie was not content. In 1828, with his steamboat New Lauzon, he had also begun to tow to their moorings or anchorages the sailing ships which stopped at Quebec in ever-increasing numbers. He gradually concentrated his efforts on this new field, as well as on towing the lumber rafts that descended the river to Quebec, an enterprise that gave him the opportunity to transport goods as well as passengers. It was with this business in view that in 1837 he built for himself the new steamboat Lumber Merchant and rented his quay to another ferry owner, Jean Moreau. Three years later his new undertaking had grown sufficiently to worry its two most powerful Montreal competitors, the Molsons’ St Lawrence Steamboat Company [see William Molson*] and the Torrances’ St Lawrence Steam Tow Boat Company [see David Torrance*]. These companies in April 1840 undertook jointly to pay him £1,250 and to refrain from competing with him in towing timber rafts anywhere on the river, provided that McKenzie would refrain from using his steamboats and lighters on the Richelieu or on the river between Montreal and Quebec, or between the intermediary ports, for the transport of either foodstuffs or passengers. On the expiry of the agreement at the close of the 1840 shipping season, McKenzie proceeded to build a new steamboat, the Pointe Levi, which came into service the following spring. Subsequently he built two others, the James McKenzie in 1854 and the Lord Seaforth in 1855, to replace the Lumber Merchant and the Pointe Levi. In fact, until the end of his life, he maintained a fleet of four boats: two steamboats, normally under the command of his sons Charles and James, and two lighters. His decision not to increase the number may have stemmed from a judgement that he had attained an optimal level of profitability. He was not the sort of man to stake his capital on a single venture, however lucrative.
Thus, although he became involved in towing and river transport, McKenzie did not abandon the idea of using the crossing between Quebec and Pointe-Lévy to attract clients to his hotel. In 1842 he joined a partnership formed to operate a new steam ferry. When competition became stiffer, McKenzie and the others petitioned the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada in 1846 for the exclusive right to the crossing. Counting on a favourable reply, McKenzie had a new quay built in deep water near his hotel. Then in January 1847, with James Tibbits, Horatio Nelson Patton, James Motz, and Robert Buchanan, all directors of the Point Levy Steam Boat Ferry Company, he had a new steamship laid down, more powerful than those of his competitors. As the assembly had not, however, given a decision, McKenzie submitted a new petition in October 1852 which led to the enactment in June 1853 of a law regulating river crossings in Lower Canada. But McKenzie gained little from it because of the entry upon the scene of a new and much more powerful rival, the Grand Trunk.
This set-back, which was only a partial one, did not adversely affect the financial stability of McKenzie, who was both entrepreneur and shrewd investor. In fact he constantly reinvested the profits from his undertakings, making loans to people who offered sound guarantees or acquiring company shares and bonds. He advanced large sums to such prominent figures of the time as James Stuart, James Douglas*, John James Nesbitt, Augustin Cantin*, William Drum, William and David Bell, Henry Dinning*, and Elizabeth Johnston Taylor, the widow of Allison Davie*. As for the shares and bonds he accumulated, they presented few risks, having been issued by the Bank of Montreal, the Bank of British North America, the City Bank (at Montreal), the Quebec Gas Company, the Montreal Harbour Loan, and the Montreal Road Trust.
At the end of his life McKenzie, who had always devoted his energies to his business ventures and his family while eschewing social or political activities, was able to leave his heirs an enviable fortune. He owned £40,000 in shares, bonds, and accounts receivable, as well as property valued at £50–60,000: his hotel, his fleet of boats, a spacious dwelling he had built in 1850 in Upper Town, and a three-storey stone building in the heart of Lower Town which was occupied at the time by Trinity House of Quebec.
In the eyes of his contemporaries, James McKenzie was an example of personal success. At a distance of more than a century, he seems to embody the entrepreneurial spirit which spurred many Scottish immigrants who had come to Lower Canada at the beginning of the 19th century, and which enabled them to play a decisive role in the economic development of their adopted country.
AC, Québec, Minutiers, William Bignell, 2 mai, 28 sept. 1848; 16, 31 janv., 9, 16, 28 févr., 27 mars, 14, 25 juin 1850; 21 nov. 1851; 21 avril, 3 déc. 1852; 9 mai 1853; 20 mai, 13 août, 30 sept., 21, 28 nov. 1854; 19 janv., 20 févr., 1er mars, 11 mai, 16 juin, 9 juill., 14 déc. 1855; 10 juill., 4 oct. 1856; 14 janv., 24 févr., 3 mars, 15 mai, 8 oct. 1857; 18 janv., 1er, 3, 6 mars, 24 avril, 24 mai, 1er juin, 18 sept., 11 déc. 1858; 19, 25 févr., 4, 7, 9 mars 1859. ANQ-Q, CE1-66, 23 avril 1859; CN1-188, 21 sept. 1824; 24 mars, 10 août 1829; 21 juill. 1830; CN1-197, 22 mars, 30 juin 1825; 24 avril 1826; 22 nov. 1834; 30 mars, 18 avril, 22 sept. 1840; 23 mars 1841; 26 juin 1845; 23 avril, 8 mai, 30 nov. 1846; 19, 23 janv., 6 mars, 30 juin, 3 juill., 27 oct., 5, 26 nov., 27, 29 déc. 1847; 8, 17 juill., 26 déc. 1848; 11 mars 1854; 8 janv. 1855; 13 juin 1859; CN1-198, 7, 11 déc. 1848. PAC, RG 42, ser.I, 190: 108; 191: 194; 192: 97; 196: 148–50, 190; 198: 64–65; 267: 12. Ports Canada Arch. (Quebec), Trinity House of Quebec, minute-books, IV: 270–71. St James’ Cathedral Arch. (Anglican) (Toronto), St James’ Church, reg. of marriages, 29 April 1814. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, Journals, 1846. L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1830. Le Canadien, 28 janv. 1846. Le Journal de Québec, 21 avril 1859. Morning Chronicle, 23 April 1859. Quebec Gazette, 23 June 1828, 22 April 1859. Quebec Mercury, 13 Jan. 1846. P.-G. Roy, Dates lévisiennes (12v., Lévis, Qué., 1932–40), 1. Roger Bruneau, La petite histoire de la traverse de Lévis (Québec, 1983). Chouinard et al., La ville de Québec, vol.2. George Gale, Historic tales of old Quebec (Quebec, 1923). J.-E. Roy, Hist. de Lauzon, vols. 1–5. P.-G. Roy, Profils lévisiens (2 sér., Lévis, 1948); Toutes petites choses du Régime anglais (2 sér., Québec, 1946); La traverse entre Québec et Lévis (Lévis, 1942). “James McKenzie,” BRH, 42 (1936): 384.
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Cite This Article
Pierre Dufour and Marc Ouellet, “McKENZIE, JAMES (1788-1859),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 26, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mckenzie_james_1788_1859_8E.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:||Pierre Dufour and Marc Ouellet|
|Title of Article:||McKENZIE, JAMES (1788-1859)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||March 26, 2023|