STEVENSON, JAMES, office holder, militia officer, banker, and author; b. 21 May 1813 in Leith, Scotland, son of James Stevenson; m. 6 Jan. 1847 Harriet Harris, daughter of the Reverend Michael Harris, in Perth, Upper Canada, and they had at least two daughters; d. 10 Dec. 1894 at Quebec and was buried two days later in Mount Hermon Cemetery at Sillery.
James Stevenson received his elementary education in his home town and then went to Edinburgh, where he continued studying. An ambition to become a foreign correspondent led him to pursue his studies in France and later Germany, in particular at the university in Bonn. Around 1835 he went to work for a London firm in which his father had an interest. In 1836 he decided to follow his father to Upper Canada, where the latter had obtained an important position in the Crown Lands Department.
Not long after his arrival in York (Toronto), Stevenson was offered the position of assistant private secretary to Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head*. During the uprisings of 1837–38 he volunteered for service in the militia, and his regiment was sent to Bytown (Ottawa) to oversee military works connected with the Rideau Canal. Stevenson left army life in 1838 to look for a job. In the spring of 1839 he took employment in the office of the commissioner of Crown Lands at Quebec, a post that would bring him into frequent contact with the city’s lumber merchants and bankers.
During this period the directors of the Bank of Montreal were examining the possibility of opening a branch in Bytown, which was becoming an important centre for the lumber trade. The branch would provide local banking facilities for lumber merchants from Montreal, Quebec, and elsewhere. In 1842, on the strong recommendation of Benjamin Holmes*, the cashier (general manager) of the bank, and of Alexander Simpson, the cashier of its Quebec branch, Stevenson obtained the position of manager for the new branch in the Ottawa valley. The following year he was transferred to Brockville, Upper Canada. It was while he was living in this town that Stevenson married. He subsequently moved to the branches in Hamilton (1850–53) and Toronto (1853–56), before taking charge of the one at Quebec.
During the year 1863–64, several changes occurred in the board of the Quebec Bank, and cashier William Dunn submitted his resignation. Stevenson resigned from the Bank of Montreal in 1864 and in January 1865 he accepted the post of cashier of the Quebec Bank, a position he held until 1894. When he first came to it, the bank had a paid-up capital of less than $1,500,000, paper money in circulation worth $384,000, and assets and liabilities each amounting to slightly less than $3,000,000. By the time of his death, paid-up capital had risen to $2,500,000, bank notes in circulation totalled $654,630, and assets and liabilities were nearly $11,000,000 each, as a result of the bank’s high reputation and Stevenson’s powerful influence in the business world. He refused the chairmanship of the Canadian Bankers’ Association in 1893, on the grounds of age, but became honorary chairman the following year.
In addition to his professional career, Stevenson was active in various organizations. Having served as treasurer of the Canadian Institute at Toronto in 1854–55, he became secretary of the council of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, vice-president from 1874 to 1876, and president from 1876 to 1878. He delivered lectures and published several detailed works under its auspices. His literary tastes were varied; he was keenly interested in history, biography, and belles lettres. He also had a deep interest in philosophy and the abstract sciences.
Stevenson was an artist as well. He could paint and he appreciated fine engravings. His excellent taste was reflected in his collection. In his spare time he played golf and in 1874 he helped bring this sport to the Plains of Abraham. He was a member of the Quebec Golf Club and played many times with his old friend Charles Farquharson Smith, the manager for the Quebec branch of the Bank of British North America.
James Stevenson was a true friend to his acquaintances and a stimulating companion. Those who associated with him were never disappointed. His judgement was excellent and, if he declined to take part in a project, events proved him right. Highly respected in the field of banking and a connoisseur of the arts, he found enjoyment in everything he did.
Various lectures given by James Stevenson before the Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec have been published in its Trans.: “Currency, with reference to card money in Canada during the French domination,” new ser., 11 (1873–75); “Concluding remarks at the centenary celebration of 1775” and “The currency of Canada after the capitulation,” new ser., 12 (1876–77); “Opening address of the session,” new ser., 13 (1877–79); “The cause and commencement of the war between Great Britain and America in 1812,” new ser., 14 (1879–80); “The war of 1812 in connections with the army bills,” new ser., 21 (1891–92).
AC, Québec, État civil, Anglicans, Holy Trinity Cathedral (Quebec), 12 Dec. 1895. Canadian Bankers’ Assoc., Journal (Toronto), 2 (1894–95). Monetary Times, 3 Nov. 1893, 14 Dec. 1894. Morning Chronicle (Quebec), 11–13 Dec. 1894. Quebec Daily Mercury, 6 June 1865; 5 June, 11 Dec. 1894; 4 June 1895. Merrill Denison, Canada’s first bank: a history of the Bank of Montreal (2v., Toronto and Montreal, 1966–67), 2. Victor Ross and A. St L. Trigge, A history of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, with an account of the other banks which now form part of its organization (3v., Toronto, 1920–34), 2.