PRAT, JEAN-BAPTISTE (also known as John Pratt), businessman, industrialist, and financier; b. 20 July 1812 at Berthier (Berthier County), L.C., son of Jean-Baptiste Prat, a merchant, and Louise Paillé (Paillard); d. 22 July 1876 at Montreal, Que.
Jean-Baptiste Prat’s forefather Jean Duprat was originally from Agenais, France. In 1833, after attending a commercial school at Berthier, Jean-Baptiste Prat rejoined his elder brother Charles-Ferdinand, who was running a general store at Quebec. In the same year they went into partnership, and their firm took the name of C.-F. Pratt & Frère; Jean-Baptiste was also responsible for opening a branch at Trois-Rivières. In 1839 he established himself at Montreal, and launched a third firm there, which traded in wholesale leather under the name of John Pratt & Cie. Success was not long in coming. From then on the Prat brothers specialized in leather goods. They started a tannery, which employed several dozen men, at Roxton Falls (Shefford, Que.). Leather was widely used at that time, particularly for footwear, harnesses for draught-animals, parade-horses, the cavalry and the mounted police, and seats for cabs and carriages.
As time passed Jean-Baptiste, or John Pratt, closely involved as he was in the city’s business life, became a member of the boards of directors of several important companies, which were generally set up under English names, such as Canadian Rubber (today Dominion Rubber Company), Montreal Weaving, Citizens’ Insurance Company, Montreal Cotton, and finally Dominion Oilcloth and Linoleum. He was also president of the Banque du Peuple, a truly French Canadian institution, which was founded in 1833 and remained in operation until 1895, and presided over the destinies of the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company, which in 1913 became the Canada Steamship Lines [see Sincennes]. Jean-Baptiste Prat was a Montreal harbour commissioner in 1863, and again in 1874 under Alexander Mackenzie*’s government, and was still holding this office at the time of his death. He was a liberal in politics, and a loyal supporter of Antoine-Aimé Dorion* and his group.
Prat assigned part of his fortune to charitable institutions, and paid for the education of several young people. Thus he supported a school of elementary and industrial draughtsmanship, founded and directed by Abbé Joseph Chabert, a Frenchman who had taken refuge at Montreal and who, despite his title, was not a priest.
According to Le National, Prat’s opinion, in Canada, “enjoyed unquestioned authority wherever business dealings were involved. He was one of the most outstanding businessmen in his country and even in North America.” The journalists of the day said that he was a millionaire. However, the inventory of his possessions drawn up in November 1876 by the notary Léonard-Ovide Hétu shows that in reality his fortune amounted to $625,000; it was divided between real estate – more than a half – and shares in banks or commercial companies. Half of these shares were American securities, which were at that time devalued by two thirds because of “the prevalent commercial and financial crisis,” as the attesting notary recorded.
In 1840, at Montreal, Jean-Baptiste Prat had married Mathilde Roy, widow of the unfortunate Charles-Ovide Perrault, lawyer and assemblyman for Vaudreuil, who was killed in November 1837 at the battle of Saint-Denis. They had four daughters and three sons. In 1861 the eldest girl, Mathilde, married Désiré Girouard*, an eminent jurist.
AJM, Greffe de L.-O. Hétu, 27 nov. 1876 (inventory of John Pratt’s estate). Journal de Québec, 25 juill. 1876. L’Opinion publique (Montréal), 3 août 1876. Atherton, Montreal, III, 120–24. L.-A. Rivet, “John Pratt: artisan de l’essor économique des nôtres au siècle dernier,” La Presse (Montréal), 30 mars 1950.