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MORTON, GEORGE ELKANA, druggist, book-seller, publisher, and author; b. 25 March 1811 in Upper Dyke, N.S., eldest son of John Morton and Ann Cogswell, a sister of Henry Hezekiah Cogswell*; m. 26 May 1849 Martha Elizabeth Katzmann in Preston, N.S., and they had two children; d. 12 March 1892 in Halifax.

George Elkana Morton, the son of “one of the most distinguished of King’s County’s sons,” was a pupil of local Presbyterian clergyman William Forsyth. Going to Halifax at age 17, George began working in the city’s first “regular” drugstore, which had been opened on Granville Street in 1822 by Dr William Macara. He eventually succeeded Macara and in 1837 moved to Hollis Street, where he advertised for sale “a general assortment of drugs, genuine patent medicines, Spices, Perfumery, Garden and Flower Seeds.” Five years later Morton’s Medical Warehouse, a wholesale and retail drug business, was established on Granville Street; subsequently reported to have been the largest such business in the province in the 1850s, it may also have been the first to employ commercial travellers. At various times Morton was in partnership with his brother Lemuel James (dissolved in 1854), with Alexander Forsyth, and possibly with Leander Cogswell.

By 1856 G. E. Morton and Company was also acting as “Authorized Agents for the Illustrated London Newspapers, the Illustrated Times, and other pictorial publications.” About this time Morton seems to have got into financial difficulties that led to the mortgaging of his property. By 1865 his premises had been sold under foreclosure of the mortgage, and subsequently he appears to have operated out of rented quarters. Over the years the emphasis of his business shifted to the sale of books and stationery and by 1873 the company is listed only as a “books and news agency”; it continued as such until about 1890.

Morton had long been involved in the literary life of Halifax. In the 1850s he had assisted in the publication of the Provincial: or Halifax Monthly Magazine, edited by his sister-in-law Mary Jane Katzmann*, and he is said to have contributed articles to the Guardian, the British Colonist, and other newspapers. The Banter, a satirical magazine begun in 1874, was published at Morton’s news agency. His Halifax guide book, one of the earliest tourist guides to the city, appeared in 1878, and he may also have written a guide to Cape Breton some years later. Two unpublished diaries, for the years 1878 and 1880, contain his comments on political and social events.

Morton was a life member of the St George’s Society, serving as treasurer from 1848 to 1851 and as assistant vice-president from 1852 to 1854. Treasurer as well of the Micmac Missionary Society from 1850 to 1861, he sat on its management committee in 1863 and 1864 [see Silas Tertius Rand*]. On 2 Jan. 1878 Morton attended the organizational meeting of the Nova Scotia Historical Society at Province House in Halifax, and he was on the committee that made arrangements for the successful inaugural meeting on 21 June, Halifax Natal Day (the anniversary of the arrival of Edward Cornwallis* in 1749). Through the crucial early years, he sat on its council, and he continued to be a faithful member until his death.

Having always exhibited an interest in telegraphy, Morton had joined Samuel Cunard* and others as a director of the Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company. Incorporated in 1851, this company was formed to extend the province’s telegraph system to Sydney, Liverpool, and Yarmouth. Morton remained a director until 11 Jan. 1860, when at the annual meeting the stockholders and agents expressed their great dissatisfaction with the company’s management, and “the old hands, every one, got their walking ticket.” Morton was involved in other business ventures. In 1854 he was one of William Henry Pope*’s financial backers in the purchase of Charles Worrell*’s estate in Prince Edward Island. Following the discovery of gold in Nova Scotia in the 1860s, Morton held several mining claims in Halifax and Hants counties, and he was one of the original shareholders in the Nova Scotia Sugar Refinery Limited, incorporated in 1880.

For a generation George Elkana Morton took an active part in the public life of the city of Halifax and the province of Nova Scotia. A strong supporter of confederation, he was a personal friend of many Conservative leaders, including James William Johnston*, Sir Charles Tupper*, and Simon Hugh Holmes*. He died two weeks before his 81st birthday as a result of an accident in which his clothing caught fire. An obituary in the Halifax Herald recognized him as “a man of wide reading and cultivated literary taste,” and stated that, “possessing, as he did, a mind well stored with literary knowledge and a never failing supply of anecdote, his bookstore was long a favorite resort for those of kindred tastes.”

Phyllis R. Blakeley

PANS, MG 1, 315, no.2; MG 4, 18: 37; MG 20, 337–39; 642, no.1; 704, no.16; RG 5, P, 122, 1836, no.37. Micmac Missionary Soc., Annual report of the committee (Halifax), 1850–61, 1863–67. Provincial: or Halifax Monthly Magazine, 1 (1852)–2 (1853). Halifax Herald, 14 March 1892. Halifax Morning Sun, 18, 22 Jan. 1860. Morning Journal and Commercial Advertiser (Halifax), 13, 20 Jan. 1860. Novascotian, 23 March 1837, 4 June 1849. Belcher’s farmer’s almanack, 1850–77. Eaton, Hist. of Kings County. Halifax and its business: containing historical sketch, and description of the city and its institutions . . . (Halifax, 1876).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Phyllis R. Blakeley, “MORTON, GEORGE ELKANA,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/morton_george_elkana_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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/morton_george_elkana_12E.html
Author of Article:   Phyllis R. Blakeley
Title of Article:   MORTON, GEORGE ELKANA
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 21, 2024