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CHEWETT, WILLIAM CAMERON, publisher and businessman; b. 16 Aug. 1828 in York (Toronto), eldest son of James Grant Chewett* and Martha Smith Robison; m. 28 April 1857 Maria Susan Ranney, and they had three sons and three daughters; d. 30 Nov. 1897 in Toronto.

William Cameron Chewett was a member of one of Toronto’s oldest and most prominent families. His grandfather William Chewett* had moved to “Muddy York” in 1796 and enjoyed a long career as surveyor and office holder, as did his son James Grant. After entering Upper Canada College in 1837, William Cameron attended King’s College (later the University of Toronto), where he studied medicine. He was an outstanding student and a winner of several prizes, and in 1851 he became one of two members of the university’s first class to graduate in medicine.

Chewett soon decided that he was not suited to a medical career; although often referred to as Dr Chewett, he apparently never practised medicine. A man of literary interests, he gravitated towards the rapidly developing printing, publishing, and bookselling trades in Toronto. In January 1854, in partnership with William Walter Copp and Thomas Maclear, he purchased from Hugh Scobie*’s widow part of the book establishment Scobie had founded in 1838. During the 1850s the enterprise, Maclear and Company, became a major printing and publishing concern, producing such important works as the Canadian almanac, the Upper Canada Law Journal, and the Anglo-American Magazine, as well as a quantity of lithographic and job-work. Chewett learned the business well and on Maclear’s departure in 1857 became the senior partner in the firm, the other partners being Copp and George Elliot Thomas. The business was renamed W. C. Chewett and Company in 1861, the year before Chewett entered into partnership with Copp and Henry James Clark, a bookkeeper at the firm.

Chewett’s shop offered a variety of related goods and services, from stationery and paper supplies and a general selection of books, to printing, binding, and lithographic services. The firm’s lithographic department, under the direction of Charles Fuller, was adept at producing high-quality work for maps, sheet-music covers, school certificates, cheques, and labels. Between 1862 and 1868 its lithographic work won first prize each year at the Upper Canada Provincial Exhibition. Throughout the 1860s the company printed and published important works, most of a decidedly “practical” nature, such as local directories, railway gazetteers, religious tracts, legal and medical works, and textbooks. Chewett and Company continued publishing the Canadian almanac and also printed several periodicals. Although few literary works were produced, Chewett is known to have been involved in 1862 in printing the first pirated edition of Tennyson’s early poems.

Even though Chewett and Company was successful, with its shop on King Street East in Toronto known throughout Canada, Chewett did not remain with the firm for long. Despite the fact that he retired from active involvement in the business probably in 1865, the firm retained his name until 1869, when Copp and Clark purchased control of it and changed its name to Copp, Clark and Company. Chewett’s retirement was short-lived. About 1872 he began working for the company of Abraham* and Samuel Nordheimer, at that time “the leading house in the Dominion engaged in the publishing [of] music.” Chewett managed the firm until 1880 or 1881.

When Chewett was not occupied with printing and publishing he was likely engaged in other business activities. His family owned a valuable tract of land at the corner of King and York streets, on which one of the city’s premier hotels, the Rossin House, had been built in 1856. When it was destroyed by fire in 1864, many of Toronto’s leading citizens, including Chewett, Casimir Stanislaus Gzowski, and Thomas Charles Patteson, formed a joint-stock company to oversee its rebuilding on an even more magnificent scale. The venture was successful and Chewett was closely involved with the hotel until his death.

Chewett was an active mason. He became a member of the Ionic Lodge in 1855 and was a master in 1859–60 and 1860–61.

Donald W. McLeod

[A chronological listing of publications by W. C. Chewett and Company appears as an appendix (pp.30–45) to the author’s study “William Cameron Chewett and W. C. Chewett & Company of Toronto, printers and publishers,” Biblio. Soc. of Canada, Papers (Toronto), 21 (1982): 11–51. Details concerning Chewett as a freemason were confirmed with the Ionic Masonic Lodge, Toronto.  d.w.mcl.]

CTA, RG 5, F, St Lawrence Ward, 1854–82 (mfm. at AO). St James’ Cemetery and Crematorium (Toronto), Tombstones, Chewett family plot. York County Surrogate Court (Toronto), no.12404 (mfm. at AO). Business sketches of Toronto ([Toronto, 1867?]), 100 (copy at MTRL). “Men of the times: Mr. W. W. Copp,” Books and Notions (Toronto), 7 (July 1891): 6. U.C., Board of Agriculture, Trans. (Toronto), 6 (1867–68): 601; Board of Arts and Manufactures, Journal (Toronto), 2 (1862)–7 (1867). Evening News (Toronto), 3 Dec. 1897. Globe, 2 Dec. 1897. Chadwick, Ontarian families. Dict. of Toronto printers (Hulse). Fasti academici; annals of Kings College, Toronto . . . from 1827 to 1849 (Toronto, 1850), 16, 32–33. Harper, Early painters and engravers. University of Toronto fasti from 1850 to 1887, comp. and ed. W. J. Loudon and W. J. MacLean (Toronto, 1887). William Canniff, The medical profession in Upper Canada, 1783–1850 . . . (Toronto, 1894; repr. 1980). David Sinclair, “The first pirated edition of Tennyson’s poems,” Book Collector (London), 22 (1973): 177–88.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Donald W. McLeod, “CHEWETT, WILLIAM CAMERON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 26, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/chewett_william_cameron_12E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/chewett_william_cameron_12E.html
Author of Article:   Donald W. McLeod
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   September 26, 2023