RYAN, JOHN B., shipowner and Patriote; b. 1792 in St John’s, Nfld; d. 13 Feb. 1863 in Quebec City.
About 1822 or 1823 John B. Ryan came to Quebec City where he engaged mainly in the steamship business on the St Lawrence. He made an important contribution to the improvement of travel on the river with the creation of a “People’s Line” which, running in successful competition to the first established steamboats on the St Lawrence, particularly those of the Molsons, brought about a reduction in the cost of passenger travel. Quebec being at that time Canada’s principal seaport, where many of the thousands of immigrants who landed every summer sought passage to Montreal, there was scope for business competition. Ryan also became one of the vibrant group of Irish in the trades and in commerce who were building for themselves a place in the political life of the city. A respected businessman, he was frequently called upon by friends and acquaintances to act for them as attorney or agent in money matters.
In politics Ryan was a reformer. As early as 1832, he wanted the recall of the governor general, Lord Aylmer [Whitworth-Aylmer*], and the institution of a civil governor for Canada. Ryan’s circle of friends included members of the Patriote party such as Dr Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan*, Michael Connolly, and John Teed; he corresponded with Ludger Duvernay* before, during, and after the rebellion, acting as his agent in Quebec City. As a result of his activities, Ryan was forced to flee to the United States in 1837, along with his son John. He took up residence first in Vermont, living at one time or another in Chelsea or in Montpelier, and corresponded with rebel leaders in the United States; in January 1838 he offered to purchase guns, powder, and shot in Chelsea “to further the Sacred Cause . . . of opposing British misrule and British oppression in our native Country.” He and his son John also tried to obtain printing supplies for Ludger Duvernay, then in Swanton, Vt. His first attempt to return to Canada in the spring of 1838 was blocked. In 1839 he was apparently living in New York City, for a son was born there that year. By 1844, however, he was back in Quebec City, and he was listed in a directory as agent for the steamship Charlevoix which he also owned.
The census of 1851 shows John Ryan and his Newfoundland-born wife, Deborah, as having a son and a daughter born in Quebec, as well as the son born in New York City; no mention is made of John Jr. It also stated “No religion” for Mr Ryan and Protestant for Mrs Ryan.
When John Ryan died in Quebec City, at the age of 71, obituary notices in rival papers either praised his noblemindedness (according to the Quebec Daily Mercury he had been “indifferent to money and devoted to projects of a public character”) or condemned his political and religious ideas, but could agree that “Mr. Ryan lived long enough to witness the elevation of almost every one of his companions in trouble without sharing in their prosperity.”
ANQ-Q, AP-G-68, nos.149, 159, 375, 544; Greffe de Louis Panet, 4 févr. 1837, 13 août 1842, 24 juin 1848. PAC, RG 31, 1851 census, Quebec (mfm. at ANQ-Q). “Papiers de Ludger Duvernay,” Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal (Montreal), 3rd ser., V (1908), 167–68; VI (1909), 7–9, 108. Morning Chronicle (Quebec), 13 Feb. 1863. Quebec Daily Mercury, 14 Feb. 1863. Fauteux, Patriotes, 58. Quebec directory, 1844–45. Quebec pocket almanac . . . , 1849.