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GIBB, JAMES, businessman and seigneur; b. 22 April 1799 in Carluke, Scotland; m. 8 May 1822 Marion Torrance in Montreal, and they had nine children; d. 10 Oct. 1858 at Quebec.

Nothing is known of James Gibb’s childhood or of the circumstances bringing him to Lower Canada. He arrived at Quebec in 1814 at the age of 15 and went to work as a clerk for William Torrance who, like his brothers John* and Thomas of Montreal, traded in foodstuffs, wines, and spirits. Gibb was given board and lodging by Torrance, and received £30, £40, and £50 for his first three years of service. As well as teaching him trade practices, the Torrances played an important role in Gibb’s life and his initial endeavours in business. He became linked by marriage to this family, which had a strong hold on commercial operations in Lower Canada. In 1815 his sister Isabella married William Torrance, and seven years later Gibb himself married one of William’s sisters. Like the Torrances, he was to make his fortune by the importing of foodstuffs and liquor, a trade he engaged in all his life at Quebec.

During the course of his career Gibb joined a number of companies. In 1821 Torrance took him on as a partner at Quebec. Initially financed solely by Torrance, the business was managed by Gibb until 1827. Then Gibb formed a partnership with his own brother Thomas under the name Thomas Gibb and Company, and around 1830, in a desire to branch out, he started a second business, James Gibb and Company, with Elisha Lane as his partner. Thomas Gibb and Company was dissolved at the beginning of 1835, when Thomas made over his shares to Robert Shaw. The new company, incorporated as Gibb and Shaw, had a capital of £17,702 and lasted until 1840. However, Gibb took no part in its daily management, and devoted his time mainly to James Gibb and Company.

By the end of the 1830s Gibb had become an influential merchant at Quebec. He was the principal financial backer of James Gibb and Company, which was reorganized in 1837 with Thomas Gibb joining as a third partner. In addition to his capital share of £4,900, Gibb had advanced £24,675 at six per cent interest. The shortage of agricultural products in Lower Canada during this decade provided him with attractive prospects, and his firm played an important part in the trade in comestibles. As well as liquor and grocery items, he imported large quantities of pork, beef, flour, and wheat bought from suppliers in New York, Oswego, and Rochester, N.Y., whom he had gone to the trouble of visiting personally. The market sought was huge; circulars were printed in 1838 and business cards in 1840, and these were distributed all over the Canadas and in the United States. Furthermore, James Gibb and Company also operated a sawmill, acquired in 1838, on the Rivière du Chêne, in the village of Deschaillons.

In January 1844 Gibb left the business, making over to his partners for £15,900 his share of the capital and profits, as well as the sawmill and other properties. According to a balance sheet drawn up on 18 December, the company had assets of more than £70,000. Thomas Gibb and Elisha Lane continued to run the business under the name Gibb and Lane. James set up a new firm with John Ross, a nephew he had formerly employed, with whom he had a profitable association until his own death. The New York commercial information agency R. G. Dun and Company considered Gibb and Ross the largest importer of wines and foodstuffs in Quebec during the 1850s. James Gibb Ross*, John’s younger brother, became the third partner of the firm in April 1858.

Gibb also retained substantial interests in lumbering. In August 1843 he invested in the construction of a sawmill on the Rivière Portneuf, and also secured the services of Alexis Tremblay, dit Picoté, a former sawmill manager in the employ of William Price*, who directed operations until 1849. Some one hundred employees are thought to have done the felling and sawing. The mill experienced slow-downs in production during the 1850s because of fluctuations in the timber market.

Gibb also played a prominent part in both the financial sector and transportation. In 1832 he became a director of the Quebec Bank, where he held the posts of vice-president from 1839 to 1842 and president from 1842 until his death. In addition, he sat quite regularly on the board of the Quebec Savings Bank from 1831, and periodically on that of the Quebec Fire Assurance Company in the 1840s and 1850s. His interests in the importing and distribution of merchandise naturally led him to assist the Quebec bourgeoisie in its efforts to develop means of transportation. Gibb was one of the founders and shareholders of the Quebec and Halifax Steam Navigation Company (1831) and of the Quebec Forwarding Company (1843), being particularly active in the latter. The Quebec Forwarding Company, a firm that emerged from the winding up of the Quebec and Upper Canada Forwarding Company of which David Burnet of Quebec was a principal owner, had several barges and a number of steamboats carrying merchandise and passengers between Quebec and the Great Lakes, without calling at Montreal. Later Gibb was one of the incorporators of the Quebec and Trois-Pistoles Navigation Company (1853) and the Quebec, Chaudière, Maine and Portland Railway Company (1855). He also took an interest in public utilities such as the Quebec Gas Light and Water Company, which he helped to found in 1842, and the Quebec Turnpike Roads Company, of which he was president from 1852 to 1855.

Gibb was one of the group of businessmen seeking the incorporation of the Quebec Board of Trade in 1841, and was elected a member of its first board. An influential man, he also worked as a volunteer for a number of philanthropic associations. However, he had no success in politics. He was known as a staunch supporter of the union of Upper and Lower Canada, and ran for the city of Quebec in the 1841 elections, campaigning with Henry Black* against Burnet and Louis-Joseph Massue*. Noting that he had little support, he stood down on the fourth day of voting.

Gibb’s landed property and real estate, valued at about £15,000 in 1855, constituted an important part of his investments. In 1837 he had acquired the Jolliet seigneury in the Beauce. As for his places of residence, they were among the most magnificent at Quebec. Towards the end of the 1830s, like other prominent citizens, he moved to the suburbs, fleeing the unsanitary streets of Lower Town. He first lived on the estate of Bellevue at Sainte-Foy, which he made over to his brother Thomas in 1848 in exchange for the estate of Woodfield on the Chemin Saint-Louis at Quebec.

An energetic entrepreneur, James Gibb, having made a favourable marriage and established a diversity of business relations, succeeded in making the most of the commercial prospects at Quebec in the first half of the 19th century. The fortune he left more than sufficed to ensure that his descendants would be well-to-do. By the terms of the will he drafted a few weeks before his death, Gibb, among other things, left Woodfield to his wife, £15,000 to each of his seven remaining children, and £500 to each of two Protestant institutions.

Pierre Poulin

ANQ-M, CE1-126, 8 mai 1822. ANQ-Q, CE1-67, 14 oct. 1858; CN1-49, 7 déc. 1814; 6 mai 1815; 7 mars 1821; 26 juin 1829; 7 sept. 1832; 27 oct. 1835; 15 juin, 6 juill., 14 nov., 9 déc. 1836; 9 nov. 1839; 16 janv. 1840; 5 janv. 1844; 16 oct. 1846; CN1-67, 15 sept. 1858; CN1-116, 5 mai 1842, 21 janv. 1845; CN1-178, 6 sept. 1823; CN1-197, 2 févr., 24 oct. 1835, 11 déc. 1837, 20 mai 1839, 2 août 1843, 9 déc. 1845, 14 sept. 1846, 22 mars 1847. BLHU, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 5: 53. Can., Prov. of, Statutes, 1841, c.92; 1842, c.23; 1849, c.192; 1852–53, c.247; 1854–55, c.196; 1858, c.69. Le Canadien, 22 févr., 29 mars 1841. Quebec Gazette, 10, 29 March 1841; 22, 31 March 1843. Cyclopadia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth). Quebec almanac, 1830–41. Quebec directory, 1822, 1826, 1845, 1847–58. J. M. LeMoine, L’album du touriste (2e éd., Québec, 1872); Monographies et esquisses (Québec, 1885). Monet, Last cannon shot, 73, 76. Femand Ouellet, Histoire de la Chambre de commerce de Québec, 1809–1859 (Québec, 1959), 103.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Pierre Poulin, “GIBB, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gibb_james_8E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gibb_james_8E.html
Author of Article: Pierre Poulin
Title of Article: GIBB, JAMES
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1985
Year of revision: 1985
Access Date: April 17, 2014