HENDERSON, ALEXANDER, merchant and municipal politician; b. 3 Nov. 1824 in Pitsligo parish (Grampian), Scotland, son of John Henderson and Catherine Udny; he and his wife Margaret had nine children; d. 3 June 1887 in Toronto, Ont.
Alexander Henderson, a boy with hair “as red as a carrot,” attended school at Peterhead, Scotland, before immigrating to Canada with his family in April 1835. Henderson’s father “was completely strapped on arrival at Quebec,” and had to borrow money from a fellow immigrant, George Brodie, to make the trip to Toronto. John tried his hand at coopering and farming before settling in the city. “Sandy,” as Alexander was called, began working as a clerk in William Mather’s general store and by 1842 had established his own store dealing in groceries, liquor, and dry goods. By the late 1840s, however, he dealt exclusively in dry goods. He sold the business in 1854 to his head salesman, John Rowland, and went into partnership with his brother John in a wholesale dry goods business.
By this time Alexander had become a large investor in Toronto properties and in 1857 he relinquished control of the partnership to his brother in order to devote more attention to real estate. In 1859 he was a director of two short-lived corporations, the Metropolitan Building Society and the Toronto and Ontario Building and Investment Building Society. He was also a director of the Union Permanent Building and Savings Society as well as the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway Company.
Henderson served as an alderman for St James Ward from 1868 until he retired in 1876. He chaired the city’s board of works during 1871 and 1872 and the committee on finance and assessment during 1874. In later years he served as a justice of the peace. In addition, Henderson was a director of the Toronto House of Industry and a long-time member of both the St Andrew’s and the Caledonian societies. “A staunch Liberal in politics,” Henderson was also a member of the secessionist Presbyterian congregation of the Reverend John Jennings* before the disruption of 1844 when he aligned himself with the Free Church and was a “consistent member of the Knox Presbyterian Church.”
Perhaps the basis of Henderson’s success in business is revealed in a boyhood trait described by a former classmate and chum, Alexander Anderson Brodie, a son of George: “He knew well there was nothing to be gained by endangering himself where there was nothing to be gained.” Brodie, a farmer in York County, also discloses something of Henderson’s social attitude after becoming a prosperous merchant: “he could not do otherwise than give me a very little contenance, with a sickly smile when I met him in Toronto or happened to call into his store. His demeanour indicated there was a great gulf between us, that my company was unsavoury to him was quite palpable.”
The author used the reminiscences of Alexander Anderson Brodie in the possession of Mrs Ronald Hutcheson, Ingersoll, Ont. (copy at UWO). Baker Library, R. G. Dun & Co. MS reports, 26: 50, 84, 151, 206, 351. General Register Office (Edinburgh), Register of births and baptisms for the parish of Pitsligo, November 1824. Commemorative biog. record, county York. Toronto directory, 1837–73. Hist. of Toronto and county of York, II: 63–64.