CARY, GEORGE MARCUS, agriculturalist, politician, and justice of the peace; b. 1795 in Ireland; d. 4 Feb. 1858 in London Township, Upper Canada.
Little is known about George Marcus Cary’s family or childhood. He apparently entered the British army as a volunteer and served in Spain at the battle of Salamanca on 12 July 1812. In October he was commissioned lieutenant in the 95th Foot. He then saw action at Vittoria (Italy), in the Pyrenees, and at Nice, Orthez, and Toulouse in France. Decorated for his services, he was placed on half pay with the rank of captain on 25 Dec. 1818 .
Cary probably resided in France during the early 1830s. At some time in this period he may have married Anne Eliza and begun a family. In 1836 he signed a memorandum of agreement to serve a term of five years as manager of an experimental farm to be established at the Red River settlement (Man.) by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The third and most ambitious of the company’s experimental farms, this one was intended to be an example for the settlers, to assist them in the adaptation of modern agricultural practices, and eventually to produce crops appropriate for an export trade.
HBC governor George Simpson had high hopes for Cary, describing him as “a Gentleman who understands both the theory and practise of those branches of agriculture” to be implemented at the farm. Red River resident and historian Alexander Ross saw Cary as “a person of active business habits, sober, intelligent, and prepossessing in his manners” and “in all respects a gentleman of amiable qualities,” but he felt that his “agricultural knowledge consisted in theory alone.” In Ross’s pointed opinion, Cary was “more of a florist than agriculturalist.”
Despite considerable investment, the farm was not a success. No one single factor led to its demise. Although Cary had the necessary ability and knowledge, the 10 to 20 English servants sent out by the HBC to assist him proved to be “unmanageable” and “comparatively useless.” Since Cary’s agreement with the company stipulated that he was to receive one-third of the export profits, the inadequacy of the servants must have been particularly frustrating. The farm’s success was also handicapped by the opposition of the Red River settlers, who claimed that by supporting the farm the HBC was seeking to displace them in the supply of provisions for the fur trade. Against these odds, it was not surprising that Cary failed to achieve an export trade in wool and flax although “the Country and climate are well adapted.”
In 1841 the experimental farm was abandoned and Cary was allowed to take over part of it as a private concern. He continued to cultivate this property, adjacent to Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) on the Assiniboine River, on a modest scale. In 1843 he had 8 horses, 26 cattle, 12 pigs, 100 sheep, and 60 acres of cultivated land. While not a successful agriculturalist, Cary did play a prominent role in the public life of Red River. From 1837 to 1847 he was a member of the Council of Assiniboia, serving on its board of public works, committee of economy, and committee of finance. He was also appointed justice of the peace for the upper district in 1837. Cary was kept busy providing for his family which, by the 1840s, had grown to three sons and five daughters.
Cary retired from the Red River settlement to London Township, Upper Canada, in the spring of 1847, homesteading on the fifth concession until his death. A practising member of the Church of England, he was buried in St John’s churchyard, London Township.
PAM, HBCA, A.11/95: ff.9d, 10; B.235/z/3: ff.548a, 548b; D.4/22: ff.53, 53d; D.4/58: f.147; D.5/4: ff.160–61; D.5/5; D.5/7: f.185; MG 2, B3, 1843; MG 2, C3. Canadian North-West (Oliver), vol.1. Alexander Ross, The Red River settlement: its rise, progress and present state; with some account of the native races and its general history, to the present day (London, 1856; repr. Minneapolis, Minn., 1957, and Edmonton, 1972).