McMARTIN, ALEXANDER, militia officer, businessman, politician, justice of the peace, and office holder; b. 1788 in Charlottenburgh Township (Ont.), son of Malcolm McMartin and Margaret McIntyre; m. 14 Jan. 1834 Mary Carlyle of Dumfriesshire, Scotland, and they had four sons and two daughters; d. 12 July 1853 in Martintown, Upper Canada.
Alexander McMartin’s loyalist father settled in Charlottenburgh Township and in 1789 began acquiring land along the banks of the Raisin River. There he erected the mills from which the surrounding settlement would take its name. Alexander grew up in MacMartin’s Mills (later known as Martintown) and by 1811 was running his father’s general store. An ensign in the 2nd Glengarry Militia at the outbreak of the War of 1812, he was promoted lieutenant the following year and given command of a work party constructing a road from Long Sault in Stormont County through the interior of Glengarry County to the Lower Canadian border. McMartin remained active in the militia throughout his life. During the rebellion, as a lieutenant-colonel in the 1st Regiment of Glengarry militia, he was on duty in Lower Canada in February and March 1838 and that November helped disperse the Patriotes led by the Chevalier de Lorimier* at Beauharnois. When the regiment of the Eastern District was formed in 1846, McMartin was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the 3rd Battalion of Glengarry militia.
McMartin had taken over his father’s growing sawmill, grist-mill, and carding-mill operations at Martintown in the 1820s. In 1827 he and a partner became involved in the construction of the Rideau Canal. Unsuccessful with their initial government tender, they later assumed Walter Welsh Fenlon’s contract to clear a stretch of land 500 feet wide and 2 miles long, extending from the proposed site of the eighth lock to the rapids at Hogs Back. As work progressed, it became apparent that their costs were exceeding the project bid. McMartin confronted superintendent of works Colonel John By*, who, according to McMartin, admitted that the bid had been too low but advised him to continue the work. On the strength of By’s verbal assurances that he would in the end sustain no loss, McMartin went ahead and mortgaged his entire property holdings to raise the money needed to meet the mounting costs. By 1830 the work was completed; saddled with debts in excess of £1,600, he submitted his claims to By, who denied that he had held forth any prospect of relief. Petitions for redress to the administrator of Lower Canada, Sir James Kempt, and Colonial Secretary Sir George Murray* were dismissed. During the 1830s McMartin was pursued by his creditors, principally Peter Russell and Company and John Redpath*. By 1837, however, owing to a series of shrewd land deals, his fortunes had improved.
In 1812 McMartin had been elected to the House of Assembly for Glengarry along with John Macdonell* (Greenfield). A man of solidly conservative political views, he continued to serve in the house until 1824 when he lost to Duncan Cameron*. McMartin was returned in 1828 and again in 1830 but lost the general election of 1834 to Alexander Chisholm. Because of his standing in the community and his staunch support of the provincial government, McMartin also held numerous local public offices. He had received his first of several commissions as justice of the peace in 1820 and with Neil McLean* and Joseph Anderson administered the oath of allegiance during the 1820s in the Eastern District. He was appointed bailiff in 1827, postmaster of Martintown in 1828, and a commissioner of the district Court of Requests in 1833. Appointments to these offices were often hotly pursued and contested. In the winter of 1836–37 the position of county registrar which McMartin had coveted went instead to Alexander Fraser of Fraserfield. The following year, however, he was chosen to replace Donald Macdonell* (Greenfield) as sheriff of the Eastern District with the support of Philip VanKoughnet* and of Fraser, who remarked that “hardly an individual in the District . . . would not hail his appointment with satisfaction.” McMartin remained sheriff until 1847 when he was prevailed upon by William Morris and other conservatives to give up the post in order to oppose John Sandfield Macdonald* in the general election. McMartin ran and lost.
A pillar of the Presbyterian community, McMartin was a ruling elder of the congregation at Martintown and served for a time as president of the Bible Society and as a commissioner of the clergy reserve fund. When he died in 1853, he was eulogized in the local newspaper as a man “whose urbanity and warmth of heart endeared him to his fellow-men of all creeds and political opinions, and . . . whose place in society it will be difficult to fill.”
AO, MU 1967–73, 3389–90; RG 22, ser.155, administration of Alexander McMartin estate. PAC, RG 5, A1: 94785, 110229–30, 110254–56. Presbyterian, 6 (1853): 130. R. C. M. Grant, The story of Martintown ([Gardenvale, Que., 1974]). W. L. Scott, “Glengarry’s representatives in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada,” CCHA Report, 7 (1939–40): 27–28.