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GOUDIE, JOHN, shipbuilder, naval contractor, entrepreneur, militia officer, and jp; b. 15 Sept. 1775 in Kilmarnock, Scotland, son of John Goudie, a soldier, and Elizabeth Greenwood; m. 17 Nov. 1803 at Quebec Jane Black, daughter of a cooper, and they had six children; d. 14 Dec. 1824 at Quebec.

Having served his time either in Scotland or at John Black*’s shipyard at Quebec, John Goudie began his career as a shipwright in 1795 at the Detroit dockyard, where he assisted in the construction of a sloop for the Provincial Marine. By 1800 he was operating his own shipyard on the Rivière Saint-Charles in the faubourg Saint-Roch, Quebec, and had a 400-ton ship on the stocks. Like his neighbour John Munn*, he gradually assembled parcels of beach property as the opportunity arose; by 1812 his frontage stretched from Rue Grant to the Dorchester Bridge, and in 1820 he pushed its western boundary back 350 feet along to Rue du Prince-Édouard, or Rue des Chantiers-Goudie.

From 1800 to 1812, Goudie’s most prolific period, he regularly built one-quarter of the production of Quebec-area yards, increasing his average annual output from 400 to 900 tons. Of the 24 vessels he constructed, 11 ships measured a respectable 400 tons or more. His ships were built for timber or general merchants, such as Henry Usborne* of London and Quebec or Rogerson, Hunter and Company of Greenock, Scotland. The smaller vessels were constructed for local owners, including Goudie, but were sold to British owners within a few years. Two exceptions were a small schooner ordered by Trinity House of Quebec [see François Boucher*] in 1806 and another by the quartermaster general in 1809.

These were busy and profitable years for Quebec shipbuilders. As Quebec’s timber trade got under way, and the need for shipping increased, prices rose from £7 per ton in 1805 to as much as £14 in 1810. Repair and maintenance work increased as more vessels called at port, while the growth in river traffic, combined with a lack of navigational aids, produced more stranded vessels for salvage. Prizes condemned by the Vice-Admiralty Court often needed repairs. Goudie undertook work in all these areas, sometimes operating a repaired vessel on his own account or in partnership until a favourable sale was made. He built up a network of agents in the West Indies, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Britain. Goudie was perhaps the only shipbuilder at Quebec to set up a rope-walk.

In 1810 Goudie went into partnership with the merchant Henry Black to set up a sawmill at the Chute Montmorency near Quebec. Having purchased the land, they arranged with a millwright from Plattsburgh, N.Y., to build the mill and put a canal through the rock from the top of the falls to convey water to it. A dwelling house and smithy were also to be built, but the venture was abandoned in May 1811 for unknown reasons and sold to timber merchants Peter Patterson* and Henry Usborne for £3,000.

Meanwhile, war with the United States had become imminent, yet the British naval force on the Great Lakes, known as the Provincial Marine, was little more than an army transport service. After the Americans struck in 1812 Governor Sir George Prevost*, commander-in-chief in British North America, launched an emergency shipbuilding program; arrangements were made for the construction and operation of the fleet to be taken over by the British navy in May 1813. By then York (Toronto) had fallen, the Niagara peninsula was threatened, and Kingston was the only naval dockyard where vessels could safely be laid down. Prevost asked Goudie to go there and prepare a fleet for active duty, and Goudie left in June with a first contingent of 100 shipyard workers. He immediately began fitting out suitable merchantmen for service. He also laid down the 56-gun frigate Prince Regent and in October took over construction of the 36-gun frigate Princess Charlotte from the regular dockyard personnel; both were launched in April 1814. By then Goudie had contracted to build a three-decked, 112-gun ship, which would be by far the largest vessel that had been built on the lakes. Construction was completed in record time, and the St Lawrence was launched on 10 Sept. 1814 to a royal salute. Its imposing size and firepower kept the enemy in port on Lake Ontario until the end of the war [see Sir James Lucas Yeo*].

The launching of these vessels was a triumph for Goudie. Getting large numbers of workers to Kingston and keeping them there was in itself a challenge. The steamboat ride to Montreal presented no difficulty, but the journey was continued by bateaux, towed by the men over numerous and swift rapids. Though Goudie had taken the precaution of having the men dressed in army uniform to deter the enemy from attacking, this deception did not discourage the occasional sniper. In Kingston the difficulties were of a different nature. The higher wages received by Goudie’s men caused friction with other dockyard workers. When their pay was late and local merchants refused to give credit, his men struck, and they used the occasion to demand an increase in the rum ration, too. Employees who walked out could not immediately be replaced. Moreover, specialists such as sailmakers, glaziers, and block-makers were almost impossible to find. Finally difficulties in obtaining on short notice the huge quantities of timber required and in transporting supplies from Montreal tremendously complicated operations.

In the winter of 1814–15 Goudie received contracts for a 74-gun ship to be built at Kingston and for 2 frigates, 2 brigs, a provision vessel, and 11 gunboats to be built at Île-aux-Noix, Lower Canada. These contracts have to be considered a tribute to his organizational ability as well as to his skill in shipbuilding, but they were cancelled in March 1815, the war having ended; only the gunboats were completed. Goudie received £13,000, one-third of the contract price. It is ironic that while he worked at Kingston, a boyhood friend, Henry Eckford, was building up the American navy across Lake Ontario at Sackets Harbor, N.Y.

After the war Goudie, then 40, took on a number of important projects with well-warranted self-confidence. In 1816 he built a deep-water wharf off Rue Saint-Pierre in Quebec’s Lower Town. At the time it was considered hazardous to build, as Goudie did, out beyond what was known as “the bank,” particularly because of the pressure of ice in winter, but Goudie was not daunted by public opinion, and his wharf, which was denounced as “Goudie’s folly,” stood the test of time. In 1817 he formed a partnership with four others, two of whom were Americans, to build a diving-bell, the purpose of which was to rid the harbour of lost anchors. Though a number of chains and anchors were brought up, a lack of experienced divers terminated operations.

Even as Goudie’s wharf was building, so was the 86-foot Lauzon, the first steamboat built for ferry service on the St Lawrence. With a rudder at each end, it was launched from Goudie’s yard in 1817 and registered in the names of Goudie and five others, including François Languedoc*. Prospective passengers were advised that the Lauzon would leave Goudie’s wharf at 4 o’clock every morning for Pointe-Lévy (Lauzon and Lévis) and ply until dark, that canoes would replace it in winter, and that within weeks a commodious hotel would be completed close to the landing stage on the south shore, with stables for 150 horses. Regular ferry service began only in 1818. The Lauzon reduced the cost of crossing by one-half, and the results were significant, according to Philippe-Joseph Aubert* de Gaspé. The new ferry altered the habits of Quebec’s inhabitants, for whom Pointe-Lévy and the south shore had been terra incognita. The poor, for example, saved their pennies for a Sunday excursion across the river, and farmers from the south shore were able to bring their produce to market at reduced costs. Not everyone found the ferry a blessing, however; competing canoe owners called the Lauzon “a damned English invention.”

Three other steamboats were laid down by Goudie. The 554-ton paddle-steamer Quebec was built in 1818 for the Quebec Steamboat Company, in which Goudie was a partner, to run between Quebec and Montreal. Two small vessels, the 52-ton Experiment and the 29-ton Flying Fish, were constructed in 1823. Meanwhile, confident of the future of steam, Goudie had sent his son James as an apprentice to the shipbuilder William Simons of Greenock; there James acquired the knowledge of steamship construction that enabled him to return to Quebec in 1830 to superintend construction of the Royal William [see George Black*]. In 1820 Goudie bought shares in the Car of Commerce, another steamboat on the – Quebec-Montreal run, and two years later he became a shareholder in the St Lawrence Steamboat Company [see William Molson*], at which time his Quebec joined the company’s fleet. Between 1816 and 1818 Goudie and a number of associates had laid the groundwork for a steamboat service linking Montreal to the United States, but their plan, which included the building of canals on the Rivière Richelieu, apparently did not come to fruition.

In 1818 Goudie opened at Quebec the first steam-powered mill in Canada. Both a flour-mill and a sawmill, it was run by a 48-horsepower engine and had a flywheel 27 feet in diameter and a chimney more than 100 feet high. Its three large boilers were brought from Glasgow on the deck of a ship and caused some amazement when Goudie had them plugged up and floated to his shipyard, iron then being generally thought not to float. Scottish engineers and workmen were imported with the machinery to set it up. The flouring department had 5 pairs of stones. The sawmill had 4 saw-gates, each with a gang of 22 saws, supplemented by 8 circular saws to make shingles and laths; it could cut, daily, 200 saw logs, which were ordered from Upper Canada and localities between Montreal and Quebec. The army wasted no time in contracting with Goudie, but shipyard sawyers perceived the mill to be a threat and, after several attempts, managed to burn it down on 10 May 1819. Goudie, whose loss was estimated at £10,000, was not intimidated, and the following year he opened an even larger mill, to which he added a nail-making department in 1821. It took determination to keep the mill running; Goudie had to contend not only with the sawyers but also with delays running to several months since replacement parts had to be imported from Scotland. When the sawmill was put on the market after Goudie’s death, it found no takers.

Goudie’s business ventures were not limited to shipbuilding, shipping, and milling. During the War of 1812, for instance, he had repaired and leased three buildings to the government and had undertaken work on a line of telegraphs on the St Lawrence below Quebec. In 1821 he contracted with the surveyor of highways, streets, lanes, and bridges of the city to make sewers along Rue Saint-Jean and elsewhere. The following year he and four associates acquired a 20-year lease at £1,200 per annum on the king’s posts, formerly held by the North West Company, which had recently been absorbed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. However, he is said to have referred to this partnership as the worst ship he ever sailed; the HBC conducted an illegal competition for furs from bases in neighbouring seigneuries. Goudie sold his interest in 1823 and was no doubt relieved when James McDouall bought out all the partners and took over the lease the following year. Goudie was also a shareholder in the Quebec Fire Assurance Company, founded about 1816, and a director of the Quebec Bank from 1818 and of the Quebec Savings Bank from 1821.

Goudie was active in a number of public bodies, including the Fire Society by 1805, the Quebec Emigrants’ Society in 1819, and the Agriculture Society, of which he was one of only 35 honorary members in the colony in 1821. That year he was promoted lieutenant in Quebec’s 2nd Militia Battalion, a Canadian unit in which he had been an ensign since the War of 1812 at least. In 1820 he had been commissioned a member of Trinity House of Quebec, and in 1822 he was given a commission of the peace for the district of Quebec. In October of the latter year he was elected to a committee, chaired by Ignace-Michel-Louis-Antoine d’Irumberry de Salaberry, to oppose a projected legislative union of Lower and Upper Canada [see John Richardson].

John Goudie had the dynamic qualities shared by many Scotsmen who emigrated to British North America, the West Indies, or elsewhere in the British empire. They knew how to adapt and improvise, and they made practical contributions to their adopted countries. Goudie’s contribution to the British cause at Kingston, for example, is viewed by modern experts as an incredible achievement given the conditions under which he had to work. Frequently, arriving Scottish businessmen enjoyed the financial backing of associates at home, who were often related by blood or marriage. Goudie did not have that support; he was, as his son James proudly wrote, a self-made man. In almost all his ventures, Goudie followed the maxim that risks should be shared. His policy was particularly important in the relatively new field of steamboat ownership, where misfortune was frequent. The steam sawmill, however, seems to have held a special place in his heart; he kept it for himself. In a poem written in 1821 by a young lady leaving Quebec, there is a simple yet eloquent farewell to the “saw mills, steam engine, dear of Mr. Goudie.”

Eileen Marcil

[John Goudie, the subject of this biography, is not to be confused with his father, who is often mentioned in the sources as John Goudie Sr. The latter, who died in 1819, held the office of deputy surveyor of highways, streets, and bridges for Saint-Laurent Ward in 1797, and was constable in 1803.

Notarial minute-books at the ANQ-Q contain more than 250 acts involving John Goudie. They include contracts for the construction, repair, and sale of ships, agreements with workers and apprentices, sales and leases of property, financing arrangements, and the inventory done after Goudie’s death. The instruments listed below relate specifically to this study. The Quebec Gazette, which-was indexed for the period 1764–1824 at the PAC (mfm. copy at ANQ-Q), contains many references to Goudie, but only those directly related to the text are cited. The registers of the port of Quebec (mfm. at PAC) furnish various details on all the ships registered in Goudie’s name; however, it proved impossible to identify the ships which were built but not registered by him. The Goudie family has photographs of a portrait of him.

The author wishes to thank the following members of the Goudie family for their assistance: Peggy Goudie (Bolenbaugh), Grace Goudie (Budway), Ainslie Goudie, Clarence Goudie, and Stuart Goudie.  e.m.]

ANQ-M, CN1-187, 4 févr. 1815. ANQ-Q, CE1-66, 17 nov. 1803, 19 déc. 1824; CN1-16, 24 juin, 31 oct. 1808; 15 avril 1809; 19 oct. 1810; 25 févr., 22 oct., 12 déc. 1811; 24 févr. 1812; 22 juin, 1er juill., 15 nov., 21 déc. 1813; 7 févr., 4 août 1816; 19 août, 13 déc. 1817; 22 sept. 1818; 23 nov. 1819; 28 avril 1820; CN1-49, 3 juill. 1810; 27 avril 1820; 26 juill., 2 août 1822; 8 sept. 1823; CN1-145, 15 nov. 1805; CN1-171, 18 avril 1806, 29 mars 1821, 10 janv. 1825; CN1-178, 23 août 1821; CN1-197, 6 juin 1818, 8 juill. 1825; CN1-253, 20 nov. 1813; 15 août, 17 oct. 1814; 12, 15 janv. 1815; CN1-285, 27 oct. 1800, 14 août 1801. Arch. de la ville de Québec, Doc. antérieurs à l’incorporation, procès-verbaux des sessions spéciales relatives aux chemins et ponts, 1: f.421. PAC, RG 1, L3L: 46682; RG 4, A1, 16 May 1820, 14 May 1822; RG 8, I (C ser.), 723: 43; 730: 182; 731: 32, 36–37, 60–61; 1281: 182; 1708: 60; RG 42, E1, 1382–83. PRO, ADM 106/1997, 28 Jan., 12 March 1815. Can., Secretary of State, Report, 1894. Quebec Gazette, 1 June 1803; 28 March 1805; 28 April, 29 Sept. 1814; 9 Nov. 1815; 17 March 1816; 1 May, 2 Oct. 1817; 5 March, 14 May, 3 Sept., 19 Nov., 28 Dec. 1818; 11 Jan., 15 Feb., 12 April 1819; 23 Oct. 1820; 2 April, 2 July, 2, 9 Aug. 1821; 17 Oct. 1822. Quebec Mercury, 22 June 1813, 12 May 1818, 11 May 1819, 8 June 1821, 18 Dec. 1824. Quebec Morning Chronicle, 24 Jan. 1883. Recensement de Québec, 1818 (Provost), 68. Christina Cameron and Jean Trudel, The drawings of James Cockburn; a visit through Quebecs past (n.p., 1976). H. I. Chapelle, The history of the American sailing navy: the ships and their development (Norton, N.Y., 1949), 249. W. A. B. Douglas, Gun fire on the lakes: the naval war of 1812–1814 on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain (Ottawa, 1977). R. A. Preston, “The fate of Kingston’s warships,” Historic Kingston, 1 (1951–52), no.5: 3–14. A. J. H. Richardson, “Indications for research in the history of wood-processing technology,” APT (Ottawa), 6 (1974), no.3: 35–146.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Eileen Marcil, “GOUDIE, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/goudie_john_6E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/goudie_john_6E.html
Author of Article: Eileen Marcil
Title of Article: GOUDIE, JOHN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1987
Year of revision: 1987
Access Date: November 1, 2014