BAPTIST, GEORGE, logging contractor; b. 7 Jan. 1808 at Coldstream, a small town in Berwickshire, Scotland; d. 11 May 1875 at Trois-Rivières, Quebec.
Nothing specific is known about George Baptist’s childhood and adolescence. In 1832 he emigrated to Canada, and first went to live near Lake Etchemin (Dorchester County, Quebec); he was employed in the sawmills of Sir John Caldwell* and acquired valuable experience for his future career. In 1834 he was at Pointe de Lévy, where he worked in the flour-mills. He apparently combined this occupation with the management of a similar mill on the Rivière Jacques-Cartier (Portneuf County). These activities did not in the end take him away from the logging business, since in 1846 he bought the sawmill on the Rivière Cachée, in the Saint-Maurice region; this mill had lain abandoned for two years following the death of its owner, the assemblyman Edward Greives.
By the time George Baptist settled in the Saint-Maurice region, several inventories of its economic resources had already been made. In 1829, as a result of the preliminary inquiry by Joseph Bouchette* in 1828, the government of Lower Canada had entrusted to Lieutenant F. L. Ingall the mission “of exploring more thoroughly a certain part of the province between the Saint-Maurice and Ottawa Rivers that was still barren and uncultivated.” Ingall stressed in his report that the rocky, sandy soil of the Saint-Maurice area was not suitable for agriculture; the forests, however, were rich in red and white pine, although spruce was the most common.
Ingall’s team had noticed logs floating on the Rivière Bostonnais; already, in this period, men were cutting down trees on the upper Saint-Maurice. It is probable that the owners of the ironworks claimed exclusive rights for themselves, particularly on the Saint-Étienne fief. The fruitless petitions of Peter Patterson* (1831) and John Thompson (1836) to obtain cutting rights on these lands are suggestive in that respect. This situation forced less wealthy entrepreneurs to go higher up the river, and delayed the real exploitation of the enormous lumber potential of the Saint-Maurice basin. Furthermore, the Saint-Maurice appeared to be a “detestable timber route”: its difficult course became unnavigable between Les Piles and Shawinigan, where it was interrupted by numerous falls.
Government action for the purpose of harnessing the Saint-Maurice became apparent only towards the end of the 1840s. During this period the Quebec economy was marked by a flow of capital into logging operations. The government, spurred on by the action of the contractors, ordered a systematic survey to be made of the Saint-Maurice region in 1847–48; in 1851 it started on the construction of slides and booms; finally, in 1852, the commission headed by Étienne Parent proposed a policy of making grants of crown lands. This clearing of the way made it possible for Trois-Rivières to emerge from the lethargy that had beset it since the end of its fur-trading era, and to share once more in economic growth, which was now symbolized by lumber camps, cribs, and sawmills.
It is in these changes in economic structure, which began to take shape at the dawn of the second half of the 19th century, that the origin of the formation of the “brotherhood of the Saint-Maurice barons” is to be found. The Gilmours, Halls, Studders, Norcrosses, Philippses, and Baptists were its principal representatives. Baptist was going to compete seriously with these logging entrepreneurs. Georges Gouin, one of the rare French Canadians operating in this sector on a commercial basis, had great difficulty in surviving; according to him the Baptist undertaking was the cause of his disappointments, since it controlled “almost all the Saint-Maurice, now that Norcross, Hall [George Benson Hall] and the others have gone bankrupt or have withdrawn.”
In 1847 George Baptist built a mill at Les Grès. His employees came to live in progressively greater numbers in the neighbourhood of the establishment; this led to the formation of the parish of Saint-Étienne-des-Grès in 1859. Ten years later the notary Petrus Hubert, when describing George Baptist’s holdings (sometimes called the “domain of Les Grès”), enumerated a mill, houses, stables for horses, shops, sheds, and other outbuildings; the estate stretched the length of lots 42 to 47 inclusive, which were situated in the first range of the township of Saint-Maurice. Baptist also owned, in the same range and in the same township, lots 34, 35, and 36 on the Gabelle, plus the south-east half of lot 62. It was probably on these lots that he constructed a “dalle” which allowed his logs to bypass the falls on the Gabelle and continue their journey towards Trois-Rivières and Quebec in cribs. Pierre Dupin estimated that in 1852 the mill’s production was “25,730 logs for which he [Dupin] paid $2,124.00, a little more than nine cents a log.” Although this estimate did not take into account all the production costs, Baptist none the less had a comfortable profit margin.
George Baptist, like the bourgeois of this period, thought that profits must increase. For a year he had been the owner of part of the Île Saint-Christophe, and as early as 1854 he considered constructing a second mill at Trois-Rivières itself. This desire did not take concrete form until 1866, when he built a magnificent one on the Île de la Potherie. This modern mill, worked by steam and fitted with circular saws, contrasted with that at Les Grès; there, the energy produced by a paddlewheel was transmitted to the alternating saws, which were mounted on crank-arms. Finally, the purchase of the steamboat Arthur completed the new equipment. The site of this mill was exceptional; not only was its builder the exclusive owner of the Île de la Potherie, which was situated at the mouth of the Saint-Maurice River, but he also owned two stretches of land on either side of the river. The site offered the advantage of reducing costs of transportation and maintenance, since boats took on their cargoes of lumber practically at the doors of the mill. This strategic position, added to a technical innovation, influenced the production of the mill and conferred on the Baptist firm a prime place among the “brotherhood of the barons.”
The governing body is the cornerstone of an undertaking of this type. When he started in the Saint-Maurice region, Baptist collaborated with Thomas and John Gordon; soon the latter withdrew from the company. In 1853, at least, Baptist and Thomas Gordon were partners under the name of George Baptist and Company. For some time Baptist directed affairs alone, before becoming president, in 1869, of a new company. By the provisions of the latter, the father held half the shares of the firm of George Baptist and Sons; his two sons, Alexander and John, owned a quarter each. Following Alexander’s defection in 1875, a new company, George Baptist, Son and Company, was formed, and James Dean, George’s son-in-law, joined it. In addition to the directors were the managers; the elder son, Alexander, was manager at the lumber camps, and his brother John at the mill at Les Grès. Finally foremen and workers are essential to the smooth running of an undertaking, at the mill and on the farms as well as in the lumber camps. John Skroeder, for instance, was a foreman who hired 30 individuals, on condition that they complied “with any order given to them on behalf of their Foreman or other persons acting for the said George Baptist.” These indentured employees were to receive “eight dollars a month”; any absence from the place of work would result in the deduction of “one dollar a day” from the monthly pay. These men, whose task was not specified, were certainly paid for their work in the lumber camps.
Every autumn, Baptist hired teams of voyageurs for the job of tree-felling during the winter months. The farms at the Matawin and Rat rivers, which were at the rear of the Baptist empire, were specifically detailed to provide the lumber camps with supplies. The cuts carried out on his limits were the chief source of supply for his two mills. But in addition, every autumn, George or Alexander Baptist signed “logging contracts” with small lumbermen (these were a kind of sub-contractor), who undertook to provide in the spring, from their own timber limits, a cargo of logs cut to such and such a length, width, etc.
In 1869, perhaps for health reasons, George Baptist expressed the desire to give up the business gradually, and he allotted himself ten years before he finally retired. He died on 11 May 1875. The long obituary notice Le Constitutionnel devoted to him stressed that “For several years, Mr Baptist has been manufacturing about 25 to 30 million feet of lumber per year.” This production was thought to result from the exploitation of vast stretches of territory in the Saint-Maurice region. “Mr Baptist,” wrote the journalist, “possessed about 2,000 miles of the best territory in the Saint-Maurice area. In a period when every one believed that timber limits were worthless, he only had to choose; these limits, obtained for nothing or next to nothing, are worth today at least half a million.”
These figures, which would require checking, nevertheless give an insight into Baptist’s financial position. In 1869, he himself estimated his share in the company of George Baptist and Sons at $200,000; but Alexander, who held only a quarter of the shares, sold them in 1875 for the sum of $150,000. The amounts are no more than suggestive. Besides his capital equipment, George Baptist, Son and Company shares, and his properties on Rue Boulevard and Rue Bonaventure, George Baptist bequeathed to his heirs shares worth $34,550. It was divided up as follows: Bank of Montreal, 131 shares at $200 each; Montreal branch of the Ontario Bank, 125 shares at $40; Dominion Telegraph of Toronto, 5 shares at $50; Eastern Townships Bank, Sherbrooke, 62 shares at $50. This list, which shows how diversified his portfolio was, in addition to his stupendous capitalist organization, is symptomatic of the qualities of George Baptist the industrialist.
In 1873, shortly before Baptist’s death, the mill at Les Grès was swept away when the Saint-Maurice flooded, but it was immediately rebuilt, and kept in operation until 1883. The Union Bag and Paper Company purchased it at the beginning of the 20th century, and in 1922 the Shawinigan Water and Power Company became its owner. As for the mill on the Île de la Potherie, it was sold to the Wayagamack Pulp and Paper Company by George Baptist’s descendants.
The industrial empire created by Baptist in the Saint-Maurice region, the success he enjoyed, his sense of organization and spirit of competition made of him one of the outstanding examples of the bourgeois class of Trois-Rivières. To any definition one might attempt of this bourgeoisie, the extension of the Baptist family connections adds a further element. Indeed, of Baptist’s marriage with Isabella Cockburn, solemnized at Pointe de Lévy in 1834, were born three boys, and five girls who all married businessmen. Phillis married a Quebec merchant, James Dean; Isabella, George Baillie Houliston, a lawyer of Trois-Rivières, a banker, and a broker; Margaret, William Charles Pentland, an accountant of Trois-Rivières; Jane, Robert Mackay, a Montreal merchant. Finally, the most important union was that of Helen Oliver Baptist and Thomas McDougall, since in this way relations were established between two distinguished families of the Saint-Maurice region, one engaged in the lumber business, and the other in metallurgy.
AJTR, Greffe de Petrus Hubert, timber contract between Duncan McDonald and George Baptist, 26 Sept. 1862; deed of partnership between George Baptist and his sons Alexander and John Baptist, 15 Nov. 1869; will of George Baptist, 17 Nov. 1869; will of Isabella Cockburn, wife of George Baptist, 17 Nov. 1869; summary statement and rendering of account by Isabella Cockburn, 6 Sept. 1875; Greffe de F.-L. Lottinville, bill of sale between Georges Badeaux and John Gilmour, 6 Oct. 1852; bill of sale between Georges Badeaux and Baptist and Gordon, 31 Dec. 1853; déclaration de Georges Badeaux à George Baptist, 14 déc. 1855; Registre d’état civil, St Andrews Presbyterian Church, 1846–75. ASTR, Papiers Mgr Albert Tessier, contrat d’engagement, 15 oct. 1858. Le Constitutionnel (Trois-Rivières, Qué.), 19 mai 1875. Cyclopædia of Can. biog. (Rose, 1888), 771. Raoul Blanchard, Le centre du Canada français; province de Québec (Publ. de l’Institut scientifique franco-canadien, 3, Montréal, 1947). Pierre Dupin, Anciens chantiers du Saint-Maurice (Pages trifluviennes, sér. B, 7, Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1935). Storied Quebec (Wood et al.), V, 809–10. Sylvain [Auguste Panneton], Horizons mauriciens (Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1962); Par les chemins qui marchent (Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1965). Albert Tessier, Les forges Saint-Maurice, 1729–1883 (Coll. L’histoire régionale, 10, Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1952); Trois-Rivières, 1535–1935; quatre siècles d’histoire (2e éd., [Trois-Rivières, Qué.], 1935).
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Cite This Article
Georges Massey, “BAPTIST, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/baptist_george_10E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Georges Massey|
|Title of Article:||BAPTIST, GEORGE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1972|
|Year of revision:||1972|
|Access Date:||June 8, 2023|