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Original title:  Photograph Mr. Joseph MacKay, Montreal, QC, 1871 William Notman (1826-1891) 1871, 19th century Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process 13.7 x 10 cm Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd. I-62642.1 © McCord Museum Keywords:  male (26812) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)

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MACKAY (MacKay, McKay), JOSEPH, businessman and philanthropist; b. 18 Sept. 1810 at Kildonan (Highland), Scotland, son of William McKay and Ann Matheson; d. 6 June 1881 in Montreal, Que.

Joseph Mackay was educated in Scotland. In 1832 he immigrated to Montreal where he established a wholesale dry goods business on Rue Saint-Paul. His brother Edward (b. 13 March 1813 in Kildonan) left Scotland in 1840, settled first in Kingston, Upper Canada, and then after six months moved to Montreal and became a clerk in Joseph’s firm. He was made a partner in 1850. The same year their nephew Hugh (b. 1832 in Caithness) arrived from Scotland and entered the business; he was admitted to partnership in 1856. The business flourished and in 1860 Mackay Brothers moved into a large new building on McGill Street.

The Mackays were respected for their ability, integrity, and industry. Edward was prominent in the business community, serving as a director of the Bank of Montreal, the London and Lancashire Life and Fire Assurance Company, the Montreal Rolling Mills, and John Shedden*’s haulage firm, and as president of the Canada Cotton Manufacturing Company and the Colonial Building and Investment Association. In 1875 Joseph and Edward retired, leaving the Mackay Brothers business in the hands of Hugh who was assisted by his brothers Robert* and James. Hugh was a founding member (1880) and director of the Canadian Telephone Company, and a director of the Royal Canadian Insurance Company.

The family was well known in Liberal circles, and Edward was approached on several occasions to accept the Liberal nomination for the provincial riding of Montreal West. The offers were refused, but he was active on behalf of Liberal candidates in elections. Honoré Mercier* appointed Hugh Mackay to the Legislative Council on 4 June 1888. Mackay resigned nine days later because illness prevented him from taking his seat immediately and it was essential for Mercier to have as many of his supporters as possible present in the upper house: Mercier lacked a majority in the council, and every vote was important, particularly in view of the government’s intention to introduce legislation to settle the contentious Jesuits’ estates issue. Hugh remained in poor health and in 1890 left for Georgia for medical reasons; he died en route in St Louis, Mo., on 2 April.

The Mackays were Presbyterians. In 1864 Joseph had attended a meeting called to discuss the shortage of ministers for churches in the Eastern Townships and the Ottawa valley. As a result he became involved in the plans to establish the Presbyterian College of Montreal (opened in 1867). In addition to his original gift of $2,000, he made further liberal donations and was also active in soliciting subscriptions for the college. He served for a number of years on its board of managers. After his retirement from business in 1875, he became interested in the missionary work of the church, and whenever he travelled in Canada or overseas he made a point of visiting missionaries. In 1879 he was ordained an elder in the St Gabriel Street Church. Shortly before his death in 1881 he supported the establishment of a new mission in France. Visiting ministers and missionaries were often welcomed at Kildonan Hall, the residence of Joseph and Edward on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal. Joseph bequeathed $10,000 to the Presbyterian College, and Edward gave an additional sum of $40,000 at the time of Joseph’s death to endow the Joseph Mackay Chair of Systematic Theology. Edward was also deeply interested in the church; he made bequests to religious and charitable institutions totalling over $70,000 of which some $44,000 went to different aspects of church work. Shortly after Edward’s death on 6 May 1883, his heirs also donated $40,000 to endow the Edward Mackay Chair at the Presbyterian College.

The Mackays were best known for their support of work with handicapped children. A school, the Protestant Institution for Deaf-Mutes and for the Blind, was established in Montreal in 1869, but the Mackays were not involved in its earliest phases. Joseph began his participation in its affairs in 1874 when it was in financial difficulties, and he was elected a governor in that year. In 1876 larger premises were urgently needed; he gave property on Décarie Boulevard, and at his own expense erected a four-storey building. He assumed the presidency, and in 1878 the school was renamed in his honour, the Mackay Institution for Protestant Deaf Mutes. When Joseph died, the presidency passed first to Edward and then in 1883 to Hugh. Edward and Hugh contributed financially, but took less part in the daily activities of the school than Joseph, who had been a frequent and welcome visitor. The school continues today as the Mackay Centre for Deaf and Crippled Children.

The Mackays were successful businessmen and important members of the Scottish Presbyterian community in Montreal. They participated in the life of the city, and considered it their duty to devote substantial sums to charitable and religious ends. Over the years they amassed considerable wealth, and it was estimated that Joseph, Edward, and Hugh each left an estate of approximately a million dollars. They never married, and their estates passed in turn from Joseph to Edward to Hugh and finally to Hugh’s surviving brother Robert.

D. Suzanne Cross

Arch. of the Presbyterian College (Montreal), N. A. Macleod, “A brief history of the Presbyterian College, Montreal, 1867–1917” (1917); Minute books of the board of management, I (1864–79); II (1880–95). Scottish Record Office (Edinburgh), Kildonan parish register, 1810. Mackay Institution for Protestant Deaf-Mutes and the Blind,. Annual report (Montreal), 1871–1907. La Minerve, 4, 16 juin 1888. Montreal Daily Witness, 2, 21 June 1881; 1, 5 May 1883; 1, 16 April 1890. Borthwick, Hist. and biog gazetteer, 146. Dominion annual register, 1880–81; 1883. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church. L. H. Haworth, “A history of Mackay School for the deaf” (ma thesis, McGill Univ., Montreal, 1960).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

D. Suzanne Cross, “MACKAY, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mackay_joseph_11E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mackay_joseph_11E.html
Author of Article:   D. Suzanne Cross
Title of Article:   MACKAY, JOSEPH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   2013
Access Date:   October 2, 2023