Globe, 2 Oct 1860 page 3
Death of the Hon Peter McGill
Death has been busy of late among the leading men of Montreal. Within a few months the Hon John Molson and Sir George Simpson have been borne to their last resting place, and to-day we have to perform the mournful duty of announcing the decease of the Hon Peter McGill. Few men have been longer in business in Montreal, few have occupied a more prominent position among her public men, and none, we venture to say, have been more beloved. Mr McGill was born in Galloway – at Newton Stewart we believe, in August 1789, and was consequently in his 72nd year at the time of his decease. He came to this country in the year 1808 and has consequently been a resident here for fifty-two years. He then bore the name of McCutchon. He became a clerk in the counting house of Messrs Parker, Gerrard, Ogilvy & Co. Later he entered business on his own account as member of the firm Porteous, Hancox, McCutchon & Cringan. In 1819 he became a director of the Bank of Montreal. In 1824 upon the decease of his uncle, the Hon John McGill, a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada, he became heir to his large estates in the Western Province and assumed his name. About the same time he formed a new business connection with Mr Dowie of Liverpool, and with him carried on business for some years as McGill & Dowie, the name of the firm being subsequently changed to Peter McGill & Co. the disastrous times succeeding 1847, followed by the failure of a friend and business correspondent for a large amount, brought its share of evil to this great house, though its resources were always more than ample to meet all claims. During the last eight or nine years, however, its business has been limited to an adjustment of old affairs. In good or bad times alike the credit of the house was unimpeachable. In 1830 Mr McGill became vice-president of the Bank of Montreal, and in 1834 President, an office which he held for 26 years – until June last. In 1832 he was called to the Legislative council of Lower Canada, and later, 1838, became an Executive Councillor for United Canada. In 1843 he was offered the Speakership of that body by Lord Metcalfe. The Hon Messrs Viger and Quesnel waited upon him at the time and stated his acceptance would be received with favour by the French Canadian members of the Council. The offer was then declined for private reasons, but was accepted in 1847 when offered by Lord Elgin with a seat in the Cabinet, and was held till 1848 when Mr McGill retired with his colleagues of the Conservative government. In 1836 he was elected President of the Constitutional Society, and continued to serve in that capacity during the years of strife which followed. During the rebellion, in his capacity of Executive Councillor and magistrate, he was in constant communication with the government respecting the measures to be pursued, and was an active promoter of the subsequent union of the Provinces. In 1840 a new city charter was granted to Montreal, under which the mayor was appointed by the Crown. Mr McGill being urged to accept the office, at first declined, upon which the then Governor General Mr CP Thompson, wrote to him as follows:
Government House, Aug 17, 1840
My Dear Sir – I am very unwilling to press you, after the very handsome manner in which you met my proposal this morning; but if upon reflection you can undertake the duties of Mayor, I should be certainly obliged to you, as I think it would give the Corporation a start which would ensure its success.
Very Truly Yours,
He finally accepted the office, and served in it till December 1842, when the office was made elective by council. During his term of office many great improvements were made in the city, and on his retirement the following resolution was passed:-
“On the motion of Alderman Bleury, seconded by Councillor Bourret, it was unanimously resolved,-
“That, whereas the present council will from and after tomorrow, cease to exist, the present is a fitting moment to convey to His Worship the Mayor, the Hon Peter McGill, the most sincere and unanimous thanks of the members of this Council, for the very gentlemanly and courteous manner in which he has at all times conducted and performed the high and important duties connected with his office as Mayor of this city; and it is with deep regret they have learned that he is determined not to be put in nomination at the ensuing municipal election, to sit again at this board, where his acknowledged ability and services have been so pre-eminently useful, and that the loss of such invaluable services cannot fail to be felt by the citizens generally.
In 1834 he was elected Chairman of the St Lawrence and Champlain Railway Company, and served in that capacity until the completion of the road between Laprairie and St John’s, in 1838.
In 1835 the Montreal St Andrew’s Society was formed and Mr McGill elected its first President, and annually re-elected till 1842 when he declined re-election. The Society passed him a vote of thanks for services and regret that he declined to continue to serve. He was, however, re-elected by acclamation in 1845, again declining re-election in 1846. Mr McGill was a warmly attached member of the Scottish National Church and had been president of the Lay Association of Montreal, annually re-elected since 1845.
He was elected President of the Montreal Auxillary Bible Society in 1834, and served as such till 1844, when, declining re-election, a vote of thanks, and regrets was passed by the Society and he was made the first Honorary Life Governor.
He was for 16 years a Governor of the University of McGill College, Montreal, and was also a trustee of the University of Queen’s College, Kingston. He had been for many years a Governor of the Montreal General Hospital; and was a President of the British and Canadian School Society of Montreal. He was a director of the Grand Trunk Railway Company, and Chairman of the Canada Branch of the Colonial Life Assurance Company. He served for one year, 1848, as President of the Montreal Board of Trade, declining re-election in 1849.
Mr McGill was for many years a zealous Free Mason, and in 1846 was appointed, by the Earl of Zetland, Grand Master of England, Provincial Grand Master for Montreal, and William Henry, and in 1847 Provincial Grand Superintendent of Royal Arch Masonry in the Province of Canada. He resigned the former appointment in February 1850, in consequence of impaired health that he brethren manifesting on the occasion much fraternal regard and regret.
For several years past Mr McGill had been suffering from diseased action and enlargement of the heart. Within the last three years the disease had so impaired his strength as to unfit him for active business. In June last he finally retired from the position he had so long and ably filled in the bank. A few days ago it became evident that the end of his sufferings was approaching. On Thursday evening the Rev Mr Snodgrass was within him offering the consolation of religion. He was in full possession of his faculties up to the last, and at about one o’clock yesterday am he passed peacefully resignedly and hopefully away to his final rest.
The brief record we have given above will tell readers who were strangers to him how much of the esteem and confidence of his fellow-citizens and of the government of the country he possessed, but it cannot tell them what all who enjoyed his acquaintance knew – how kindhearted and benevolent he was. No one ever solicited his aid to a good cause and went away rebuffed. One who knew him long and well used to say of his – his only fault is that he cannot say no to those people. An evening contemporary (the Witness) truly says of him:-
“Of unsullied honour and integrity in all his transactions, Mr McGill was one of those merchants of whom it is emphatically said, their word is as good as their bond. And his expenditures and subscriptions on all occasions were characteristic of a Merchant Prince. Mr McGill always cherished a deep respect for sacred things, and at a time when working on the Lord’s day was common in almost every counting house in Montreal, he would not give in to pernicious custom, but took his place in the little Presbyterian church, of which he was a member, and we believe, an elder.”
There are none in Montreal who would not at any time have rejoiced at any accession of good fortune to Mr McGill – none who will not hear of his death today with deep regret. He was bound up with the interests of the city by almost innumerable ties. His active business life here covered more than half the period which has elapsed since Canada became a British colony. In his death one of the few remaining golden links that bound us to the business and public men of the last generation is broken. It is for us to mourn; but for himself we have good cause to hope, that the many earthly honours he won here during a life prolonged beyond the Psalmist’s allotted “three score years and ten”, have been exchanged for a greater reward which will not pass away. The only relatives he leaves behind him in Canada are his brother James McCutchon Esq of Toronto and two sons, both officers in the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment, the elder of whom served with credit in the 60th Rifles at the siege and capture of Delhi. Fortunately stationed in this city, they have both been enabled to be near him and do all that filial love could prompt .to bring comfort and peace to the months of suffering which preceded his death.