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DARLING, WILLIAM, merchant and capitalist; b. in 1819 in Edinburgh, Scotland; m. Mary Davidson, also of Edinburgh, and they had eight children; d. 1 Nov. 1885 in Hochelaga (now part of Montreal), Que.

William Darling, the eldest son of an Edinburgh fancy goods merchant, emigrated in 1840 to Montreal, where he opened a small commission business for his father. After a short time he founded his own firm under the name of William Darling and Company and built up an extensive wholesale trade in hardware and iron goods, writing and printing papers, and fancy goods, all imported from England and Germany. Succeeding in his business, Darling eventually opened a branch of the firm in Toronto and took his four sons into the company; the eldest, William, was attached to the firm in Montreal with his brother James, while Andrew and Thomas J. worked in the Toronto branch.

Although his principal interest was in commerce, Darling was also active in Montreal’s financial community. In 1865 he was one of the provisional directors of the Sun Insurance Company of Montreal (known after 1882 as the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada) but withdrew from the company soon after its incorporation. Three years later he was listed among the shareholders of the Bank of British North America, holding a small block of 13 shares. In 1875, with Malcolm Cameron*, Robert Cassels, Joseph Gould, and others, Darling sat on the provisional board of directors of the Bank of the United Provinces, which had received its charter in 1874 under the name of the London and Canada Bank. This bank, however, never opened its doors and the charter eventually lapsed. In 1875 he was one of the founding directors of the Canada Land Investment Guarantee Company (Limited). With investments in both the Royal Canadian Insurance Company and the Merchants’ Marine Insurance Company of Canada, he served as president of the latter in 1876. Darling also had substantial investments in the Merchants’ Bank of Canada (200 shares), the Canadian Bank of Commerce (20 shares), the Bank of Montreal (35 shares), and the Consolidated Bank of Canada (38 shares). In the reorganization of the Merchants’ Bank following its near collapse in 1877 [see Sir Hugh Allan], Darling was unanimously elected to the board of directors and was largely responsible for the appointment of George Hague as general manager that year. Darling was recognized as Hague’s right-hand man on the board and remained active as a director until his death in 1885.

As a prominent member of the commercial community, Darling took an active interest in the Montreal Board of Trade, serving on the council from 1864, as vice-president from 1871 to 1874, as president for the year 1874–75, and then, for the remainder of his life, as a member of the board of arbitration. In 1868 he was also listed among the members of the Board of Brokers, later incorporated as the Montreal Stock Exchange. Although not formally trained in law he possessed a mind proper to a judge, and his opinions on legal questions relating to trade and commerce were held in high regard. As a result, he was frequently called upon to settle disputes. During the 1870s he was named arbitrator by the Liberal government of Alexander Mackenzie* in the expropriation of land for the enlargement of the Lachine Canal, and he was retained in that office by Sir John A. Macdonald* after the Conservative victory of 1878. The Liberal administration also called upon Darling to help in the framing of the Insolvent Act of 1875.

In politics Darling was a lifelong Liberal and a close associate of Mackenzie, Edward Blake*, and Luther Hamilton Holton*. Standing as a Liberal candidate for Montreal West in 1878 he advocated free trade, contending that the imposition of tariffs burdened the working man. The Conservative candidate, Mathew Hamilton Gault, who was an ardent supporter of Macdonald’s National Policy, accused Darling of not having any capital invested in Canadian industry and therefore of being little interested in promoting native manufacture. With the support of a large section of Montreal’s business community Gault roundly defeated Darling by more than 1,500 votes in an election that brought the Conservatives back to power. Three years later, in 1881, Darling was appointed a justice of the peace, an office he occupied until his death.

Darling was closely associated with the Presbyterian St Gabriel Street Church, becoming a member of the board of trustees in 1864 and from 1871 serving as its chairman. Taking a particular interest in the church’s financial affairs, he was active from 1867 as a member of the Board for the Management of the Temporalities Fund of the Presbyterian Church of Canada; as chairman of the board from 1875 he presided over the fund, from which annual stipends were paid to the ministers of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Because of the failures of the Commercial Bank of Canada in 1867 and the Consolidated Bank in 1879 and through losses incurred in the troubles of the Merchants’ Bank in 1877, the fund had lost $154,143 since its incorporation in 1858. The decisions to invest in the Merchants’ and Consolidated banks were apparently made before Darling took over as chairman, and “not a dollar of the fund was lost by unfortunate investments” under his direction. He was also involved in the administration of the Ministers’ Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund.

Unlike most English-speaking, Protestant merchants of his day, Darling resided in the predominantly French-speaking community of Hochelaga, where he devoted his leisure hours to farming and gardening. It was at his home, Bloomfield House, that he died on 1 Nov. 1885 of inflammation of the lungs. His eldest son, William, succeeded him as head of the family firm, William Darling and Company, and in his turn became involved in the administration of the St Gabriel Street Church.

Gladys Barbara Pollack

Montreal Board of Trade Arch. (Montreal), Minute books, 1864–88 (mfm. at ANQ-M). PAC, RG 31, A1, 1871, Montreal. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1867–68, VI, no.12; 1872, VI, no.13; 1877, VII, no.12; 1878, IX, nos.14, 15; 1880, VIII, no.12; 1884, X, no.32; 1885, VIII, no.14; IX, no.17; Statutes, 1874, c.91; 1875, c.60, c.63. Can., Prov. of, Statutes, 1864, c.161; January–March 1865, c.43. The Canadian Bank of Commerce: charter and annual reports, 1867–1907 (2v., Toronto, 1907), I. Extract of the official book of reference of the parish of Montreal . . . , ed. L.-W. Sicotte (Montreal, 1872), 4. [Montreal] Board of Trade and Corn Exchange Assoc., Statements relating to the home and foreign trade of the Dominion of Canada; also, annual report of the commerce of Montreal . . . (Montreal), 13 (1876)–18 (1886). Que., Statutes, 1873–74, c.54. Gazette (Montreal), 4, 5, 11, 13, 18 Sept. 1878; 2, 3, 5 Nov. 1885. Journal of Commerce (Montreal), 30 Aug., 13 Sept. 1878, 6 Nov. 1885. Monetary Times, 27 Nov. 1885. Montreal Herald and Daily Commercial Gazette, 5 Nov. 1885. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose, 1886), 753–54. Montreal directory, 1863–69; 1871–75; 1881–85. The year book and almanac of Canada . . . (Montreal), 1876. R. M. Breckenridge, The Canadian banking system, 1817–1890 (Toronto, 1894). Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church.

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Cite This Article

Gladys Barbara Pollack, “DARLING, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/darling_william_11E.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/darling_william_11E.html
Author of Article:   Gladys Barbara Pollack
Title of Article:   DARLING, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   September 28, 2023