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MONTOUR, NICHOLAS, fur trader, seigneur, politician, and office holder; b. 1756 and baptized on 31 October in the Dutch church at Albany, N.Y., son of Andrew Montour and Sarah Ainse*; d. 6 Aug. 1808 on the seigneury of Pointe-du-Lac and was buried two days later in Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada.

Nicholas Montour was descended from the family of Pierre Couc, dit Lafleur, of Trois-Rivières, one branch of which had become assimilated to the Indians of the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia regions in the 18th century. Grandson of Elizabeth Couc*, Nicholas was an English-speaking Protestant of mixed blood. Shortly before his birth, his parents had separated, their children had been placed in Philadelphia, and his mother, who is thought to have been an Oneida, had gone to live with Indian relatives near the Mohawk River, N.Y. In 1780 she was to acquire lands on the banks of the La Tranche (Thames River, Ont.) and give part of them to Nicholas, the only child left to her.

In 1774 Montour was acting as clerk for the brothers Joseph and Benjamin* Frobisher on the Churchill River (Man.). Three years later he was staying at Sturgeon River Fort (Sask.), with other fur traders: Booty Graves, Charles McCormick, William Bruce, Peter Pangman, Peter Pond, and Joseph-Barthélemy Blondeau. In March 1779 he was living on Pine Island Lake (Cumberland Lake, Sask.) in a house belonging to Blondeau, for whom he was serving as agent. While Montour was putting in his years of apprenticeship in the fur trade, the Frobishers and other seasoned traders were concentrating their efforts at Grand Portage (near Grand Portage, Minn.) in order to set up a trading organization which was to become known as the North West Company.

In August 1782 Montour, who was working as a clerk for the Frobishers, was boarding in Montreal, Que., in the home of the lawyer Antoine Foucher; four months later Foucher accused him of seducing and abducting his 26-year-old daughter with a promise of marriage. He asked Governor Haldimand to force Montour to marry his daughter or to pay her an allowance for the rest of her life and take care “of the fruit of his fornication.”

Under the NWC agreement of 1783–84, Montour, George McBeath, Robert Grant, and Patrick Small are thought to have each received two shares in the company, Pond and William Holmes* one, the Frobishers three, and Simon McTavish three. At that time Montour was working primarily on the Saskatchewan River. After a period of ruinous competition [see John Gregory; Simon McTavish], the NWC merged with Gregory, MacLeod and Company in 1787. Of the 20 shares that then made up the capital of the NWC, Montour, Grant, and Small each held two; John Gregory, Pangman, Alexander Mackenzie, Normand MacLeod*, Pond, McBeath, and Holmes held one apiece; and McTavish, Frobisher and Company owned the remaining seven.

The NWC, which was contending with steadily rising production costs and extremely fierce competition from the Hudson’s Bay Company and from independent traders, was going through a difficult period. In 1790, under a new NWC agreement, Montour was to receive 2 of 20 shares. That year he and Pangman wintered at Fort des Prairies (Fort-à-la-Corne, Sask.), representing the NWC. For unknown reasons Montour decided around 1792 to retire and settle in Montreal. There he became a member of the Beaver Club, a select group of merchants to which he had been admitted in 1790.

Unlike others who were investing their liquid assets in new commercial endeavours, Montour seems primarily to have wanted to enjoy life and to put his money away safely. He made two trips to London, England, one in 1792–93, the other in 1794–95. On 16 Oct. 1794 he bought from Isaac Todd and his partners the Montreal Distillery Company, an enterprise consisting of several disused buildings for which he paid £1,166. Then he decided to invest in landed property. He paid £550 for a house on Rue Notre-Dame in Montreal on 2 July 1795 and resold it in 1800. At an auction sale in October 1795 he paid £3,740 to the sheriff of Trois-Rivières, Antoine-Isidore Badeaux, to purchase the seigneuries of Pointe-du-Lac (or Normanville, also called Tonnancour) and Gastineau, which had until then both belonged to Thomas Coffin*. Montour paid £2,000 for a four-storey stone house on Rue Saint-Paul in Montreal on 12 Jan. 1797. On 15 May, in joint ownership with David Alexander Grant and Quebec merchant William Grant (1744–1805), he purchased the seigneury of Pierreville, for which he rendered fealty and homage in 1798. Judging that the seigneury could not be divided easily, he sold his share to David Alexander Grant for £610 on 2 Dec. 1799. On 25 June 1798 he had paid £1,150 for the seigneury of Rivière-David (also called Deguire), which he sold three years later to William Grant for £1,271. Finally, in August 1802 he bought 11,500 acres of land in Wolfestown Township through the system of township leader and associates [see James Caldwell].

On 17 Feb. 1798 in Christ Church, Montreal, Montour had married a 21-year-old woman from Quebec, Geneviève Wills, the daughter of Meredith Wills, a merchant, and Geneviève Dunière. The marriage contract acknowledged the separation of property, accorded the wife a jointure of 40,000 shillings, and made provision for a life annuity of 4,000 shillings a year upon the husband’s death. Through his marriage Montour became linked to some great Canadian families: the Le Moyne de Longueuils, the Panets, and the Dunières, who at that time counted in their ranks a judge, one member of the Legislative Council, and three of the House of Assembly.

Shortly after their son Henry Isaac Horatio was baptized in Montreal on 7 Feb. 1799 the Montours took up residence at Pointe-du-Lac. There Montour lived like a great seigneur on his domain of Woodlands. He built a manor-house, a flour-mill, and a sawmill, and then had a race-track laid out for horse-racing. He enjoyed this life of luxury and always received his friends hospitably. In 1806 he formed a company to exploit iron ore on his estate, but the scheme seems to have come to nothing.

Montour also took part in public life. On 20 July 1796 he was elected to the assembly as member for Saint-Maurice, a seat he held until the dissolution of the legislature on 4 June 1800. He voted for the English party’s candidate for speaker, John Young, who was beaten by Jean-Antoine Panet. On 9 May 1799 he was appointed a justice of the peace for the District of Three Rivers, and his commission was regularly renewed. Not much is known about his private life, but it is clear that he has a bad reputation with the historians who have studied him. Father Alexandre Dugré observed: “He was a sad fellow, anglicized, a Protestant, a drinker and high-liver.”

Having resided for some time in a house on Rue du Fleuve in Trois-Rivières, Montour died in his manor-house. His will, dated 13 April 1805, left to his wife, the executrix, and then to his four children, the enjoyment and usufruct of his property; Henry Isaac Horatio was to receive a two-fifths share. Only the grandchildren would be entitled to full ownership. A codicil dated 10 June 1808 authorized his wife to sell properties belonging to him in Montreal to take care of the debts on his estate, which amounted to £2,771. To repay them she had to sell a house on Rue Saint-Paul and put most of his personal estate up for public auction on 28 and 29 Nov. 1808 and again on 3 May 1809. She then went to live at Quebec. Around 1810 she returned to Pointe-du-Lac, where she died on 2 March 1832. The seigneury became the property of her son-in-law, Charles-Christophe Malhiot*.

While Montour was in the west he had had a son, also called Nicholas, who spent his entire life in that region. In 1804 he was working for the NWC at Fort des Prairies, and he became an employee of the HBC after the fusion of the two firms in March 1821.

François Béland

ANQ-M, CE1-63, 17 Feb. 1798, 7 Feb. 1799; CN1-29, 2 July 1795, 12 Jan. 1797, 15 April 1800; CN1-74, 29 mai 1801; CN1-184, 16 Oct. 1794; CN1-313, 17 févr. 1798. ANQ-MBF, CE1-50, 8 Aug. 1808; CN1-6, 2 déc. 1799, 1er déc. 1801, 20 août 1802, 13 avril 1805, 10 juin 1808. ANQ-Q, CN1-16, 1er juin 1810; CN1-256, 17 April 1795; CN1-262, 25 juin 1798. BL, Add. mss 21879: ff.80–90 (copy at PAC). Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace), 3. John McLoughlin, The letters of John McLoughlin from Fort Vancouver to the governor and committee, first series, 1825–38, ed. E. E. Rich, intro. W. K. Lamb (London, 1941), 350–51. Quebec Gazette, 27 April 1797, 19 Feb. 1798, 22 May 1806, 25 Aug. 1808. F.-J. Audet et Édouard Fabre Surveyer, Les députés de Saint-Maurice et de Buckinghamshire, 1792–1808 (Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1934), 19–25. Desjardins, Guide parl. P.-G. Roy, lnv. concessions, 2: 48–50; 3: 248–49; 5: 79, 254–55. Emmanuel Brissette, Pointe-du-Lac; au pays des Tonnancour (s.l., s.d). F. C. Hamil, Sally Ainse, fur trader (Detroit, 1939). C. A. Hanna, The wilderness trail; or, the ventures and adventures of the Pennsylvania traders on the Allegheny path . . . (2v., New York and London, 1911; repr. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1967). Innis, Fur trade in Canada (1956), 196, 198, 200, 256. Rumilly, La compagnie du Nord-Ouest, 1: 86, 88, 101–2, 127–28, 138–39, 149, 152, 166, 181. Sœur Marie du Rédempteur, “La Pointe-du-Lac au 19e et 18e siècles,” BRH, 38 (1932): 301–15. Albert Tessier, “Deux enrichis: Aaron Hart et Nicolas Montour,” Cahiers des Dix, 3 (1938): 217–42.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

François Béland, “MONTOUR, NICHOLAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 18, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/montour_nicholas_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/montour_nicholas_5E.html
Author of Article: François Béland
Title of Article: MONTOUR, NICHOLAS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: December 18, 2014