HALL, GEORGE BENSON, lumberman and businessman of the region of Quebec; b. 1810 at Amherstburg, U.C., son of George Benson Hall, an officer in the Royal Navy, and Angelica Fortier; d. 4 Sept. 1876 at Montmorency, Que., and buried 7 September in Mount Hermon cemetery at Quebec.
George Benson Hall was of Irish descent and was an Anglican; his father had come to Canada with the British troops sent to defend the colonies during the Anglo-American War of 1812, and had assumed command of one of the ships under General Isaac Brock*’s orders in the Great Lakes.
The circumstances that brought his son to the Quebec region are unknown. It seems that Hall merely wanted to take advantage of the commercial exploitation of timber, which in the 19th century was being carried out on a large scale in the province of Quebec. But when in 1842 Great Britain revoked the preferential customs tariff formerly granted to the Canadas, and began to buy Baltic timber which was sold more cheaply, Hall was one of those who saw the expansion of the lumber industry as the answer. And Hall was doubly served by circumstances. The 1854 reciprocity treaty created favourable conditions for sawmill owners by opening to them a large, safe market in the United States. Furthermore, in 1843 Hall had married Mary Jane Patterson, only daughter of Peter Patterson*, from whom he inherited an important business undertaking. By harnessing the power of the Montmorency Falls, Patterson had started the lumber-milling industry in the Quebec region. Conducted on profitable lines, the exploitation of commercial lumber had been so extensive that on 27 May 1844 Patterson had been able to purchase the seigneury of Beauport for £8,300.
Thus favoured, Hall increased his commercial activities in the Quebec region and beyond. Over a period of 25 years, using his intelligence and energy, he bought sawmills which he made prosperous, and obtained new land grants in all the regions of Canada East, even on the upper Matawin River where in 1869 he set up a farm to supply his lumber camps with agricultural produce. At his death in 1876 he was acknowledged to be one of the most active and one of the richest lumbermen in Canada. According to The storied province of Quebec, “The Hall Mills at Montmorency were the greatest in the world.” His business then passed into the hands of his son, Peter Patterson Hall (1851–1910), one of his ten children born between 1843 and 1863.
For Quebec City, Hall was a valuable citizen: he opened a lumber business there in 1851, and, as an alderman, took part in the government of the town from 1853 to 1862. But it was the region of Montmorency Falls and the parish of Beauport that particularly benefited from Hall’s activity. In 1876, 800 families of this region owed their livelihood to his lumber business. Consequently, immediately after his sudden death the municipal council of Beauport held a special meeting, and, in the form of unanimous resolutions, the citizens of Beauport acknowledged George Benson Hall as “one of the greatest benefactors of the parish,” and “the protector and father” of all the socially underprivileged of Beauport. In the opinion of the editor of the Morning Chronicle of Quebec, Hall was “one of Quebec’s most prominent and enterprising citizens . . . particularly esteemed for the benevolence and kindness of his character.”
AJQ, Greffe de E. G. Meredith, acte de vente des héritiers Hall à L.-A. Sénécal, 7 juin 1883. AVQ, Procès-verbaux du conseil. Documents concernant la construction, la pose de la pierre angulaire et l’inauguration solennelle du nouvel hôtel-de-ville (Québec, 1896). Le Canadien (Québec), 7 sept. 1876. L’Événement (Québec), 7 sept. 1876. Morning Chronicle (Quebec), 6 Sept. 1876. Raoul Blanchard, Le Canada français; province de Québec; étude géographique (Montréal, 1960). Storied Quebec (Wood et al.), I, 402; IV, 400. P.-B. Casgrain, “Le Kent-House; rectification historique,” BRH, XIX (1913), 5–9.