HAY, GEORGE, businessman, politician, and philanthropist; b. 18 June 1822 in Keith, Scotland, son of John Hay and Elizabeth Calder; m. first 1 Oct. 1847 Julia Ann Blasdell (d. 1884), and they had four daughters and three sons; m. secondly 7 Feb. 1888 Ina MacAdam Sutherland in Fingal, Ont.; d. 25 April 1910 in Ottawa.
George Hay was educated at Keith Grammar School and at Croy Parish School in Nairnshire. He came to the Ottawa valley in 1834 with his parents and spent some years on a farm and subsequently in Montreal. In the 1840s he moved to Bytown (Ottawa), where, after working as Thomas McKay*’s confidential clerk, he entered the hardware business. He quickly prospered and became active in community affairs. He would later claim to have designed the city’s coat of arms and to have suggested the name Ottawa to replace Bytown. Hay ran successfully in 1856 and 1857 as a councillor for Wellington Ward, and on 6 June 1856 he was appointed a justice of the peace. In 1857 he helped organize the Ottawa Board of Trade, in which he would hold a number of positions. During the Fenian disturbances of 1866 he formed a company of militia, but it was not called to the front. By 1879 he would be a major in the Ottawa militia.
A commercial agent for R. G. Dun and Company reported in 1871 that Hay was doing “the best business in his line.” He appears to have lived at and operated his business from locations at the eastern end of Sparks Street, in the Upper Town area of the city. In 1871 he separated his workplace and residence, becoming one of the first to build a home along the new Bank Street toll-road, on a 42-acre, suburban site adjacent to the Rideau Canal. Described by the Dun agent as “a popular cautious” man, Hay had acquired considerable property by the 1870s: 604 acres in addition to his new homestead. In 1875 his wealth was estimated to be $80,000.
From at least 1880 until just before his death, Hay was an important figure in the Bank of Ottawa, which had been organized in 1874 by George Bryson*, James Maclaren*, and others. Hay became a director, probably in the 1880s, and vice-president in 1894. On the retirement of Charles Magee in 1902, he was made president, a position he held until 1908, when he resigned for health reasons. He retained a position on the board, however, and was seen doing bank business within weeks of his death in 1910. Hay also invested heavily in milling: he held bonds of the Ogilvie Flour Mills Company Limited, the Keewatin Flour Mills Company, and the Lake of the Woods Milling Company. Through the last two firms, he was linked to Ottawa businessman and fellow bank director John Mather. Hay’s estate at his death was valued at $345,500.
Hay was a central figure in the “evangelical” Presbyterian cause in Ottawa, and was among those evangelicals who, in September 1844, left St Andrew’s Church to organize a “Free Protesting Church of Scotland” (later Knox Presbyterian). On 9 Jan. 1845 he was appointed by the first congregational meeting to the board of management as its secretary, and he would remain an active member until his death. He was secretary too of the temporal committee in 1845–52 and would be a petitioner for its incorporation in 1873. Inducted as a member of session on 15 Dec. 1850, he was on the committee to organize the first Sunday school and was the school’s assistant superintendent from 1856 to 1864. He also served as a vice-president of the Knox College endowment and sustentation fund, and was a delegate to the General Assembly in Canada and the Pan-Presbyterian councils in Edinburgh, London, and Glasgow.
Hay’s political attitudes were profoundly shaped by the voluntarist impulses of his religious evangelism and by imperial sentiments. In the federal by-election of 1890 in Ottawa City, following the death of William Goodhue Perley*, he ran as a candidate of the Equal Rights Association, with the support of such figures as mp John Charlton. Hay’s ERA platform typically combined the voluntarist’s opposition to interference in state affairs by the church, especially the Roman Catholic Church, with the imperialist’s resistance to linguistic dualism. His preference for the individual over the collective was revealed in his “not very satisfactory” answers to organized labour, which was active in the campaign. Hay attracted a strong vote in the Upper Town wards, running ahead of the official Reform candidate. He was beaten, however, by the Liberal Conservative, Charles Herbert Mackintosh*. Mackintosh’s victory was largely delivered by the Roman Catholics of Lower Town, who seemingly abandoned their traditional Reform affiliation to ensure Hay’s defeat.
In philanthropy as in politics, Hay lived his belief in Protestant voluntarism. Lengthy associations with a number of institutions mark his work in the community. His connection with the County of Carleton General Protestant Hospital dates from about the time of its founding during the epidemics of the late 1840s, when demands arose to create a Protestant general hospital to match the existing Catholic one. Between the time of its formal incorporation in 1851 and his death, Hay sat as a director for nearly 50 years; for 20 of them he was president, probably beginning in 1875. In the early years, collections to support the hospital were taken in the Protestant churches of the city, including Knox, which agreed with the proviso that “the directors of said hospital do not give their official sanction to the raising of funds by means of ‘balls’, which mode of procedure would give occasion to Romanists to speak reproachfully of the distinctive doctrines of Protestants.”
Hay was also the acknowledged leader of the Bible Society in Ottawa. He served as its president for 40 years, stepping down some three years before his death. Its parent organization, the British and Foreign Bible Society, made him a life member and he was a delegate to the centennial conference of foreign missions in London in 1888. One of the major targets of the auxiliary was the woodsmen of the Ottawa valley. A contemporary recalled that it did “an immense amount of good in circulating copies of the Holy Scriptures in French, English and other languages amongst the lumbermen and shanty-men . . . on both the Quebec and Ontario sides.” In addition to his work with the hospital and the Bible Society, Hay sat on the board of the Ottawa Grammar School (subsequently the Ottawa Collegiate Institute) from 1866 to 1881, serving as treasurer in 1869 and chairman in 1880 and 1881. He was instrumental in the construction of the first collegiate building in 1874. Hay was also for a time, from 1867, on the board of managers of the Ottawa Ladies’ College.
Finally, Hay appears to have been associated from the outset with the Ottawa Protestant Home for the Aged, organized in 1887 or 1888, and he was a lifelong director. He was, as well, a founder of both the Ottawa-based Lord’s Day Alliance in 1888 and the Metropolitan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and was president of the Ottawa Temperance Society.
Hay’s death in 1910 was said by the Ottawa Citizen to be “due to the inevitable breaking up of the system from old age.” His funeral was widely attended and all branches of the Bank of Ottawa were closed in his memory. George Hay’s passing was marked by the most prominent men of the Upper Town community, among them John Rudolphus Booth*, Thomas Ahearn*, Erskine Henry Bronson, and Henry Kelly Egan.
AO, RG 22, ser.354, no.6000; RG 80-5, no.1888-002720. Baker Library, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 13: 254 (mfm. at NA). Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Geneal. Soc. (Salt Lake City, Utah), International geneal. index, Banff County, Scot. City of Ottawa Arch., Beechwood Cemetery records; City Council minutes, 21 Jan. 1856, 19 Jan. 1857. NA, RG 31, C1, 1851, Bytown, West Ward, no.45; 1871, Ottawa. Bytown Gazette, and Ottawa and Rideau Advertiser (Ottawa), 28 Jan. 1858. Ottawa Citizen, 21–22, 26, 29 April 1890; 26–27 April 1910. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1880, no.21; 1900, no.3; 1910, no.6; Prov. of, Statutes, 1857, c.86. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). County of Carleton General Protestant Hospital, Annual report (Ottawa), 1877. Directory, Ottawa, 1869/70–1910. Norman Fee, Knox Presbyterian Church centenary; a history of the congregation (Ottawa, 1944). Historical sketch of the county of Carleton, ed. C. C. J. Bond (Belleville, Ont., 1971), 40 [reprints text only of Illustrated historical atlas of the county of Carleton (including city of Ottawa), Ont. (Toronto, 1879)]. A history of the Ottawa Collegiate Institute, 1843–1903 (Ottawa, 1904), 27. National encyclopedia of Canadian biog. (Middleton and Downs). Protestant Home for the Aged, Annual report (Ottawa), 1888/89, 1900. J. H. Taylor, Ottawa: an illustrated history (Toronto, 1986), 210 (table 1).
© 1994–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
John Taylor, “HAY, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hay_george_13E.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:
|Author of Article:||John Taylor|
|Title of Article:||HAY, GEORGE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1994|
|Year of revision:||1994|
|Access Date:||May 28, 2023|