LOWE, JOHN, newspaperman, civil servant, and farm developer; b. 20 Feb. 1824 in Warrington (Cheshire), England, son of James Lowe and Anne Clarke; m. 16 Aug. 1852 Almira Chamberlin in Frelighsburg, Lower Canada, and they had two sons and two daughters; d. 7 Nov. 1913 in Ottawa.
After studying in a private school in Warrington, John Lowe sailed for Montreal in May 1841 to become a bookkeeper in a fur house. He soon discovered that he preferred literature to business, and began a lifelong habit of reading for five or six hours every evening. In 1848 he put his interests to work as a reporter and assistant editor with the Montreal Gazette. In 1851 he left for Toronto to become editor of Hugh Scobie*’s British Colonist. He returned in 1853 when, on 1 November, he and his brother-in-law Brown Chamberlin joined with a co-owner of the Gazette, James Moir Ferres*, in buying out the other partner, John Milne. On 1 April 1854 Lowe and Chamberlin, with financing from Lowe’s father-in-law, bought out Ferres and became owners and coeditors of the paper.
The new editors rapidly made changes. They moved into larger quarters, bought a new steam press, and began publishing daily throughout the year. In 1855 they launched the Canadian Mail, or Montreal Weekly Gazette for Europe. Editorially, they sympathized increasingly with Lower Canada’s rising Liberal-Conservative star, George-Étienne Cartier*, the mla for Verchères and, from 1861, for Montreal. A strong supporter of the Liberal-Conservative coalition governments and, later, a propagandist for confederation, the Gazette flourished, affording Lowe a comfortable living. In May 1867 he and Chamberlin sold it to a new entity, the Montreal Printing and Publishing Company, which was in fact the principal investment of the firm of Lowe and Chamberlin. Lowe then turned his primary attention to the Trade Review, a statistical publication that he and Chamberlin had launched in 1865, and to a similar work, The year book and almanac of Canada. On 1 May 1869 Montreal Printing bought the Montreal Evening Telegraph and Daily Commercial Advertiser. By February 1870 employees of Montreal Printing and Publishing had defrauded the company of at least $14,000, the Telegraph was bankrupt, and Lowe and Chamberlin were in financial ruins. At age 46 Lowe was wiped out.
During his time in Montreal, Lowe had, however, made many influential friends, including Christopher Dunkin*. As federal minister of agriculture, Dunkin came to his rescue by offering him a position as a census staff officer, and on 9 July 1870 Lowe started his career in the civil service. On 8 Feb. 1871 he was named temporary secretary of the Department of Agriculture, and on 7 May 1873 the appointment was made permanent. The job was a favour, but for the civil service Lowe was an inspired choice. He enjoyed gardening, plant-breeding, and agriculture in general, and he had produced statistical publications. Moreover, Dunkin had especially wanted him to take responsibility for immigration, a job to which his writing, promotional, and managerial skills were well suited.
Population growth was essential to the financing of capital projects and to the development of the dominion’s vast resources. Given a free hand, Lowe threw his boundless energy into directing the web of immigration agents stationed in Canada and abroad, developing strategies to succeed in the competitive market for desirable immigrants (many went on to the United States), and negotiating special arrangements for their passage with his Montreal friends Hugh* and Andrew* Allan of the Allan steamship line. Expenditures on immigration increased by 31 per cent from 1870 to 1873; the number of immigrants increased by 44 per cent over the same period. In 1873 a switch in government occurred, from Lowe’s Conservative friends to the Liberals under Alexander Mackenzie*. After a short time of mutual suspicion, Lowe won their confidence with his initiative and expertise. Despite his efforts and annual spending of over $300,000 from 1873–74 to 1876–77, immigration had fallen by the end of 1876 to almost a half of its level in 1873 because of poor economic conditions at home and abroad. In contrast, an experiment in exporting live cattle and sheep to England, begun under the supervision of Lowe and departmental agents in the mid 1870s, was successful. The need to guarantee Canada’s status as a producer of disease-free livestock also prompted steady expansion, under Lowe’s management, in his department’s inspection and disease-control programs.
Lowe’s enthusiasm for promoting Canada was redoubled by a visit on departmental business to the northwest and Manitoba in 1877. The company of his friend William Watson Ogilvie* had shipped its first load of wheat from Manitoba that year. In January 1878 Lowe would tell Ogilvie that the vast region was “destined immediately . . . to become the great wheat growing region of the North American continent. . . . I saw . . . black alluvium over 10 feet in thickness!” Lowe’s knowledge, liking for agriculture, and entrepreneurial drive combined in his determination to get a piece of the Manitoba dealings.
By 1878 Lowe had persuaded his brother James, an affluent merchant in Manchester, England, to invest in Manitoba land and establish their sons on it to farm. He used his departmental contacts in Manitoba to acquire settlement lands and Métis scrip until, in 1879, he held 16 square miles, at the present-day village of Lowe Farm, and properties in town-sites nearby. By 1881 James had invested over $50,000 in the scheme with almost no return. Damage caused by early frost, drought, drainage problems, and fire was compounded by the evident unfitness of either of the Lowe boys for farming. Later attempts by John to market a “steam plough” and sustain an irrigation and drainage company would also fail.
In the 1880s, during the second Conservative administration of Sir John A. Macdonald*, Lowe managed a tremendous campaign to attract immigrants, particularly farmers and farm labourers for Manitoba. The number of immigrants peaked in 1883 at 133,600 and immigration expenditures reached over half a million dollars in 1884–85. However, depression, government restraint, and the North-West rebellion of 1885 had precipitated a dramatic cutback in spending and immigration levels by 1890. In the midst of this decline, Lowe’s responsibilities increased when, on 1 July 1888, he was appointed deputy minister of agriculture. In fact, he had dominated the department for many years as a result of his energetic personality and the poor health of deputy minister Joseph-Charles Taché*. Lowe’s initiative effectively complemented the enterprise displayed by John Carling, minister of agriculture from 1885 to 1892.
In August 1895, while visiting Manitoba, the 71-year-old Lowe read in the Manitoba Morning Free Press that he was to be replaced as deputy. Outraged, he appealed to political friends for redress, but on 1 Dec. 1895 he was superannuated and succeeded by William Bain Scarth*, a political appointee. The death of his beloved wife, Almira, added a further burden in this grim year. He none the less remained vigorous; he continued to garden and write, and tried to salvage his encumbered Manitoba farm. He outlived all his children. At age 89 he was struck by illness and two months later he died at his home in Ottawa. He was buried at Frelighsburg, home of his friends the Chamberlins.
The functions of the Department of Agriculture, which included patent and trademark registration, immigration, the census, and agriculture, seem disparate, but for John Lowe and his contemporaries they were closely related. Canada was engaged in a struggle with other colonies and the United States to attract labour. The department viewed every exported cow as an advertisement as well as income for Canadian farmers. Statistics were used as a measure of the dominion’s success and as ammunition in the immigration campaign. The volume of inventions measured the ingenuity of Canada’s entrepreneurial sector, and provided new means to exploit resources. Lowe himself, not content with a steady civil service job, took part in the risk and opportunity. His personal and professional life became almost indistinguishable in the 1880s: Lowe Farm was meant to be not only an investment, but also a model farm and a testing ground for farming innovations. Its early progress was even documented in the department’s annual Report. Lowe used his other sideline, the Year book, which he had managed to continue after 1870, as a promotional tool. He employed the same rhetoric and energy to urge tenant farmers in Europe to come to Canada as he used to persuade his brother and others to invest in his farm. Lowe devoted all his personal and professional resources to an integrated national and personal goal: the peopling and development of Canada, particularly western Canada. Unfortunately for Lowe, the time was not ripe for the realization of his schemes, but he should be remembered for his talent, energy, and unshakeable belief in the future of Canada.
John Lowe wrote much promotional material and publicity for the Department of Agriculture, most of it anonymously. Four works by Lowe are identified in Canadiana, 1867–1900: Report on alleged exodus to western United States at Port Huron ([Ottawa], 1884) and Population, immigration, and pauperism in the Dominion of Canada ([Montreal?, 1884?]), two pamphlets written to refute American publicity, in the first case about the numbers of Canadians and immigrants to Canada who were leaving for the United States, and in the second about the fate of newcomers to Canada; Report on Canadian flax industries (Ottawa, 1894); and The Lowe Farm hydraulic-colonization syndicate ([Ottawa, 1891]), a discussion of his settlement scheme. With the exception of the flax report, these publications have been preserved on microfiche by the CIHM and are listed in its Reg.
Lowe is also identified – in NA, Catalogue of pamphlets . . . , comp. Magdalen Casey (2v., Ottawa, 1932) – as the author of Canadian north-west climate and productions; a misrepresentation exposed (2nd ed., Ottawa, 1883). No record of the first edition has been located, but this one and a fifth edition of the same year are cited, with no author credit, in the CIHM, Reg.
ANQ-E, CE2-47, 16 août 1852. NA, MG 29, E18. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1871, no.64; 1874, no.9; 1875, no.40; 1877, no.8; 1881, no.1; 1885, no.8; 1886, no.2; 1897, no.1. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Canadian who’s who (1910). J. Hamelin et al., La presse québécoise, 1: 193. Douglas Owram, Promise of Eden: the Canadian expansionist movement and the idea of the west, 1856–1900 (Toronto, 1980).
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Cite This Article
Gwynneth C. D. Jones, “LOWE, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 31, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lowe_john_14E.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:||Gwynneth C. D. Jones|
|Title of Article:||LOWE, JOHN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1998|
|Year of revision:||1998|
|Access Date:||May 31, 2023|