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PATERSON, JOHN, businessman and politician; b. 19 April 1805 at Blantyre Works (Blantyre), near Glasgow, son of Peter Paterson and Jean Frazer; m. 28 July 1831 in Dundas, Upper Canada, Grace Lesslie, sister of James Lesslie*, and they had no children; d. 1856, probably in Dundas.

In 1819 John Paterson settled with his family in York (Toronto), Upper Canada, where two years later his father established a hardware trade. John and a brother, Peter*, were apparently employed in the business as early as 1823, but were not admitted to partnership until 1833. John had been granted a lot on the waterfront at Coote’s Paradise (Dundas) in 1823 and within six years had opened a store there, probably as a branch of the family business. One of the hamlet’s earliest industrialists, he began building a brewery in 1830; a year later he sold his store to Thomas Stinson. Paterson also operated a glue factory and in 1845 established the Dundas Woolen Factory in partnership with Walter Gorham, whom he bought out in December 1846. The following year Paterson hired an experienced miller, William Slingsby, to manage this factory, which was renamed the Elgin Woolen Mills.

As a member of the Gore District Agricultural Association, Paterson diligently promoted the development of a vigorous frontier economy at the head of Lake Ontario. At the same time he attempted to advance his own interests through newspaper advertisements which urged potential customers to patronize “Home Manufactures,” since a Canadian producer could best understand the needs of the domestic market. Although the woollens produced by Paterson and other Canadians drew praise in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London, England, the home market was not well developed. Despite weaknesses in demand and distribution (indicated by the firm’s reliance on custom work, its barter of finished products for wool, and its sale of retail products directly from the factory), Elgin Mills doubled its raw wool requirements in the first year of production.

Paterson’s other major business interest was the Desjardins Canal Company, of which he was an original promoter in 1826. The canal was designed to link Dundas to Burlington Bay (Hamilton Harbour) and thus enhance the village’s commercial position. The death in 1827 of Peter Desjardins*, the company’s chief organizer, resulted in the suspension of construction. When work resumed in 1830 progress was too slow for Dundas’s boosters. In 1833 Paterson headed a petition which resulted in a provincial investigation into the affairs of the company and the conduct of its president, Allan Napier MacNab*. At issue was a £5,000 government loan arranged in 1832 for the completion of the canal. Having mortgaged a large block of his own property as security, MacNab applied the loan instead to reducing the company’s indebtedness. Although this action was not illegal and the inquiry exonerated MacNab, Paterson replaced him as president in 1834 and saw the canal through to completion in 1837.

Financial problems continued to plague both the company and Paterson. The canal’s original capitalization was low and, rather than increase it, Paterson and the directors preferred to borrow more funds from the government in the vain hope that it would take over the project as it had done in 1843 with the Welland Canal [see William Hamilton Merritt*]. By 1846 £42,000 had been borrowed and within a few years Paterson’s presidency would end, as it began, in controversy. In 1847 he was elected president of Dundas’s first town council and, as head of the canal company, he authorized the loan of £1,500 to his municipal office for the construction of a town hall and market. During this transaction £500 disappeared. In February 1849 the company’s shareholders initiated legal proceedings against the directors and Paterson, whom they charged with appropriating funds without properly consulting them. The personal property he was forced to convey to the company in trust was eventually signed back to him but, although the dénouement of the case is obscure, he was not re-elected president of either the canal company or the town council, being succeeded in the latter by James Bell Ewart in 1849. The records of Paterson’s land holdings suggest that, by the time of his death, his affairs were in disarray. In 1855 he had entrusted property to his brothers, David and Peter, a tactic occasionally employed in business to prevent dissatisfied creditors from forcing liquidation.

During his years as a prominent businessman, Paterson took an active part in the social and political life of Dundas. In 1829 he was a member of a committee formed to organize the Dundas Union Sabbath School, a cooperative effort of a number of local Protestant churches, and in 1831 he served as secretary of the Dundas Free Church. For several years prior to his election to town council, Paterson was a central figure in Dundas’s municipal growth. With others, he had sought unsuccessfully to have it established as a police village in 1836 but the renewal of efforts in 1845 led to its incorporation as a town two years later. Paterson also maintained an interest in provincial politics at the local level. In 1836, during the tumultuous constitutional crisis within the Upper Canadian government, he had chaired a public meeting in Dundas which adopted a resolution proclaiming the loyalty of local citizens to Great Britain and to the British connection [see Sir Francis Bond Head*]. He eventually became a supporter of Robert Baldwin and in the late 1840s helped to organize the Wentworth County Reform Association.

David G. Burley

AO, RG 1, C-I-3, 43, warrant 2660. GRO (Edinburgh), Blantyre, reg. of births and baptisms, 19 April 1805. PAC, RG 1, L3, 404a: P13/37; RG 5, A1: 96972–74. Wentworth Regional Assessment Office (Hamilton, Ont.), Dundas town assessment and collectors’ rolls, 185457 (mfm. at AO, GS 1437). Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1841, app.RR. Debates of the Legislative Assembly of United Canada (Abbott Gibbs et al.), 4: 902, 1051; 5: 344, 121819, 1450. U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, 183334, app., “Report of committee on Desjardins Canal affairs,” 110; “Memorial of the inhabitants of Dundas,” 215. Colonial Advocate, 11 Aug. 1831. Dundas Warder (Dundas, [Ont.]), 5 June, 13 Nov. 1846; 2 July 1847; 7 April 1848; 2, 9 Feb., 21 Aug. 1849. Dundas Weekly Post, 19 Jan., 5 April 1836. Western Mercury (Hamilton), 27 Jan. 1831. Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, Official descriptive and illustrated catalogue (3v., London, 1851), 3: 95758, 966. The history of the town of Dundas, comp. T. R. Woodhouse (3v., [Dundas], 196568). C. M. Johnston, Head of the Lake (1967), 123, 127, 131. Ontarian Genealogist and Family Historian (Toronto), 1 (18981901): 8.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

David G. Burley, “PATERSON, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/paterson_john_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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/paterson_john_8E.html
Author of Article:   David G. Burley
Title of Article:   PATERSON, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   December 4, 2023