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FERRIE, COLIN CAMPBELL, businessman, justice of the peace, politician, and office holder; baptized May 1808 in Glasgow, son of Adam Ferrie* and Rachel Campbell; m. 8 Dec. 1830 Catherine Priscilla Beasley, daughter of merchant Richard Beasley*, and they had two sons; d. 9 Nov. 1856 in Hamilton, Upper Canada.

The eldest son of a Glasgow textile merchant, Colin Campbell Ferrie arrived in Montreal in 1824 with William Cormack, a partner in the wholesale and forwarding firm of Ferrie, Cormack and Company, newly established there by Colin’s father. As a result of Cormack’s subsequent mishandling of the business, the partnership was dissolved in 1826 but under Colin’s management the firm recovered. In 1829 he entered into partnership with his brother Adam* and his father. The latter settled in Montreal and agreed to supply the wholesale and retail store established by his sons in the boom town of Hamilton under the name of Colin Ferrie and Company. Between 1830 and 1833 branches of the Hamilton store were set up at Brantford, Preston (Cambridge), Nelson (Burlington), Dundas, and Waterloo, centres which figured prominently in the rapid expansion of Hamilton’s commercial hinterland.

Colin Ferrie’s firm supplied rural merchants who, lacking sufficient credit, were unable to buy directly from forwarding companies in Montreal. Credit was likewise extended to retail customers. Further risk was incurred when produce was accepted on account, for fluctuations in market prices and shipping problems often upset anticipated returns. The business had a seasonal rhythm which began after the opening of navigation in late spring with the arrival of customers as well as supplies from Adam Ferrie Sr in Montreal. During the following winter, when bulky country goods owed on account could be transported by sleigh and delinquent clients were less likely to flee, Colin tried to settle debts. Clerks, such as Jasper Tough Gilkison*, were frequently sent out to make collections and, if that failed, debtors were brought to court. In 1833, for example, more than 20 summonses were issued on Ferrie’s behalf. Some clients fled, others paid, and a few were sent to the Gore District jail, which Ferrie supplied. Appointed a justice of the peace in 1833, he made use of his powers to arrest those who stole from his store.

Legal recourse helped to shore up Colin’s mercantile affairs, but he also sought to stabilize Hamilton-based trade by promoting local transportation facilities and financial institutions. As secretary of a joint-stock company formed to operate a steamboat out of Hamilton, he helped raise the capital that led to the launching of the Constitution in the summer of 1833. That November Ferrie and other district businessmen, including Andrew Steven*, submitted a petition for a chartered bank at Hamilton which resulted in the incorporation of the Gore Bank two years later. Ferrie succeeded James Matthew Whyte* as its president in 1839 and held the position until his death.

Throughout the 1830s Ferrie’s mercantile, legal, and civic interests pervaded Hamilton. Unlike the brash parvenu Allan Napier MacNab*, he appears to have taken up public office as a duty and not simply as an opportunity. He occupied many local positions, but in a quiet fashion that lacked partisan zeal. During the cholera epidemic of 1832 he chaired the board of health and a year later was a member of the town’s first board of police. In 1839 he helped to organize the Hamilton and Gore Mechanics’ Institute and the local St Andrew’s Society. He had resigned his position as a returning officer three years earlier to run successfully in the provincial election for Hamilton, which he represented in the House of Assembly until 1841. A moderate tory, Ferrie, like his father, did not respond vindictively to the rebellion of 1837–38 and, in fact, appeared as a defence witness at the trial of Solomon Lossing, the London District magistrate who was charged with treason but found not guilty. In the assembly, Ferrie’s most noteworthy position was as a member of the select committee which investigated the financial crisis of 1837 [see Sir Francis Bond Head*].

Despite Ferrie’s many positions, his affluence, prestige, and confidence were drastically reduced by the collapse brought on by this financial crisis. He had shunned the prudent counsel of his father, who had warned Colin and Adam against excessive ambition and had specifically denounced the extravagance of Westlawn, the £7,000 Hamilton estate which Colin had given his wife as a wedding present. The cost appears later to have forced an auction of some of his stock holdings at a large loss. He nevertheless survived the depression of 1837, in which many country clients defaulted, by selling off branch stores and sacrificing real estate. As well, the suppression of the rebellion brought hard currency to loyal businessmen such as Ferrie, who outfitted the 3rd Regiment of Gore militia with clothing, gunpowder, shot, camp ovens, and whisky.

Ferrie never quite regained his early mercantile paramountcy. While other merchants detected a general return of prosperity in 1840, a commercial rival, John Young*, regarded him as a spent force whose “old debts will be worse and worse to collect.” Besides old accounts, Colin and Adam Ferrie Jr had additional burdens. The milling and distilling complex at Doon Mills (Kitchener), begun by Adam in 1834, needed costly repairs after a dam collapsed in 1840. Their father was unable to render much aid since two Montreal forwarding firms in which he was involved failed in 1841 and he lost heavily the following year on shipments of produce to Britain. Meanwhile, Isaac Buchanan* had established a large wholesale firm in Hamilton in 1840 and noted later that Colin Ferrie’s business began to decline “when exposed to superior competition.”

During the 1840s Ferrie turned to banking and real estate speculation on a major scale. The struggling Gore Bank required his increasing attention, particularly as it meshed with his business and land activities. From the outset it was undercapitalized and constantly denied the government business which benefited the Bank of Upper Canada and the Commercial Bank of the Midland District. Ferrie himself was part of the problem since investors and potential clients distrusted the involvement of a reduced merchant in a new bank. In early 1842 Gore Bank shares traded at a discount when it became known that Ferrie, as president, had borrowed about £17,000. The bank purchased property from him in 1844 for a new building directly beside his firm’s store, making tangible his strong financial connection with the bank. Apart from his bank shares and his interest in the store and warehouse, his assets were tied up in real estate, which came into his firm’s possession as payment from customers and increasingly through speculative investment. As early as 1835 he had advertised farms and urban lots for sale and by 1851 the firm had land valued at over £36,000.

The shock of nearly complete financial collapse after 1839 and persistent business troubles during the early 1840s eclipsed Ferrie’s other local interests and shook his youthful confidence. His expansion had a public side, involving the promotion of the town and joint-stock companies, but over-extension, retrenchment, and survival were private matters. Thus for several years he withdrew from public life in order to scramble to meet his obligations, but gradually, as his business recovered, he re-entered civic affairs. He was a founding member of the Hamilton board of trade in 1845 and two years later became first mayor of the newly incorporated city of Hamilton. During his year in office he concentrated on fiscal affairs, which included civic financing by the Gore Bank and an appeal to the provincial government for aid to help the city provide hospital accommodation for the anticipated wave of impoverished Irish immigrants. Ferrie also became involved again in the promotion of joint-stock ventures. Realizing that the enlargement of the Lachine Canal between 1843 and 1848 would permit the operation of large vessels between Montreal and Lake Ontario, he served as chairman of the Burlington Bay Dock and Ship-Building Company, founded in 1847. Although he worked to finance a dockyard and a foundry for the company, no facilities appear to have been built before the company’s reorganization in 1858.

The financial crisis of 1848–50, generated in Canada by an international tightening of credit, precipitated Ferrie’s final withdrawal from public life. The failure in 1847 of Reid, Irving and Company, the Gore Bank’s British agent, had caused the loss of several thousand pounds. Negotiations for a merger with the Bank of Upper Canada were dampened by the Reid, Irving collapse and by the consequent run on the Gore Bank. Persistent merger rumours, however, continued to concern Ferrie, whose easy access to Gore Bank financing was at stake. Once again he had to squeeze debtors, clear off stock, and mortgage property, and in this difficult period he quarrelled with family members over business affairs. Robert Ferrie, the brother who had taken over the management of Doon Mills in 1847, encouraged him to exercise more caution when extending credit and to sell off lots from Westlawn. Perhaps this preoccupation with teetering finances explains Colin’s minimal involvement in a major local concern, the Great Western Railway. In 1834 he had been a charter supporter of its predecessor, the London and Gore Rail Road Company, but later seems to have lost much of his enthusiasm. He did join other local businessmen, however, in a bid to consolidate Hamilton’s dominance in the vast area north and west of Guelph by supporting the construction of a Great Western feeder from Galt (Cambridge) to Guelph and another branch between Preston and Berlin (Kitchener) which would pass near Doon Mills.

In spite of commercial problems Colin and his father directed the reorganization and expansion of the family business in 1848. Of particular importance was their success in securing control of the Doon Mills from Adam, then in failing health. Following his death the next year, the Hamilton firm was re-formed by Colin with his brothers, John and Robert. During the railway boom in Canada West between 1852 and 1857, the firm appeared to regain much of its initial prestige. An agent for R. G. Dun and Company nevertheless questioned the brothers’ ability to “underst[an]d the pres[en] ode of conductg bus[iness] as well as many others in the town.” In addition, the stress inherent in rebuilding and protecting the family business undermined Colin’s health and in 1855 a new series of crises struck his firm. Winter collections turned up an unusual number of bad accounts, two vessels carrying company goods sank on Lake Ontario, and a banking panic similar to that of 1842 broke when Ferrie was rumoured to have had a capital flow problem. At the time, his firm owed the Gore Bank £50,000. Colin met challenges from some of the bank’s directors to his management of the bank by having the family purchase more shares, an intricate and, to some, suspicious credit arrangement, especially as family partnerships, under Adam Sr at Montreal and Colin at Hamilton, guaranteed the bills of exchange of each other.

The compounded difficulties were soon offset by general prosperity but the anxiety visibly affected Ferrie. In November 1856, after a meeting with directors of the Gore Bank, he collapsed and within days had died of “an enlargement of the heart.” His business interests were continued by John and Robert Ferrie.

John C. Weaver

AO, MS 497; RG 20, Hamilton court records, 1830–40; ser.F-15, 1, 1833–40; RG 22, ser.155, will of C. C. Ferric. BLHU, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 25: 111; 26: 13. GRO (Edinburgh), Glasgow, reg. of births and baptisms, May 1808. HPL, Arch. file, Ferrie family papers. PAC, MG 24, D16, 63, John Young to Peter Buchanan, 21 Oct. 1840; Isaac Buchanan to Young, 11 May 1840; 64, Isaac Buchanan to Peter Buchanan, 22 Oct. 1840; D80, 1, memorandum of Isaac Buchanan, 2 April 1845; memorandum on contract for rolling stock, 20 April 1852; memorandum on contract for locomotives, [1852]; RG 5, C1, 202, file 16782; RG 19, 1138, 1141–42. Adam Ferrie, Autobiography, late Hon. Adam Ferrie (n.p., n.d.; copy at MTL). U.C., House of Assembly, App. to the journal, 1835, 1, no.21; 1837–38, 1: 77–131; 1839–40, 1, pt.ii: 31–41. Daily Spectator, and Journal of Commerce, 8, 29 Sept. 1847; 11 Nov. 1856. Hamilton Gazette, and General Advertiser (Hamilton, [Ont.]), 12 Dec. 1835, 6 April 1836. Western Mercury (Hamilton), 13 June 1833; 10 April, 20 June 1834. C. M. Johnston, The Head of the Lake (1967), 326. V. Ross and Trigge, Hist. of Canadian Bank of Commerce, 1: 172–80. P. R. Austin, “Two mayors of early Hamilton,” Wentworth Bygones (Hamilton), 3 (1962): 1–9.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

John C. Weaver, “FERRIE, COLIN CAMPBELL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 30, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ferrie_colin_campbell_8E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ferrie_colin_campbell_8E.html
Author of Article: John C. Weaver
Title of Article: FERRIE, COLIN CAMPBELL
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1985
Year of revision: 1985
Access Date: July 30, 2014