MACKAY, ROBERT WALTER STUART, author, publisher, and librarian; b. c. 1809 in Scotland, son of Donald Mackay of the 42nd Foot; m. Christina —, and they had at least one daughter; d. 9 Oct. 1854 in Montreal.
Robert Walter Stuart Mackay immigrated to British North America in 1840 and entered the publishing business as a book agent after his arrival. Between 1842 and his death in 1854 he was a prolific compiler of statistical works about the Canadas and their municipalities which constitute an invaluable source of information for their history. Unlike the personal narratives of travellers to the Canadas, such as that of Sir Richard Henry Bonnycastle*, which were principally concerned with relating to a foreign audience impressions of the prospects, customs, and physical conditions of the country, Mackay’s works were factual and practical, compiled by a resident of the province for use by fellow residents, immigrants, and visitors.
Mackay’s publications were primarily of two types: guide-books and directories. The former, copies of which are now quite rare, were often called strangers’ or travellers’ guides. Although some mention was made of the scenic or picturesque, their main concern was to list churches, educational institutions, municipal and provincial government departments, populations, and distances between cities. Most of the major communities in the Canadas were covered in one or more of Mackay’s guide-books.
Mackay’s most important and best-known works were the annual directories of Montreal, Quebec City, and the Province of Canada. The most significant was the Montreal directory, first published in 1842 and still being published. Although Thomas Doige had compiled An alphabetical list of merchants, traders, and housekeepers, residing in Montreal . . . in 1819 and a second edition in 1820, no other attempts to publish a yearly directory of the city appear to have been made until Mackay began his work. His original directory contained an alphabetical list of Montreal residents and a list of businesses arranged by type; subsequent issues contained separate lists of religious and charitable institutions, insurance companies, banks, and public offices. With the exception of 1846 and 1851, Mackay issued the directory annually until his death, and from 1855 until 1862–63 it was compiled by his widow, Christina. From 1863–64 to 1867–68 printer and publisher John Lovell*, who had assisted Mackay in publishing the first two directories and some of the guide-books, compiled and issued it, although Mrs Mackay retained ownership. Since 1868–69 Lovell’s firm (later John Lovell and Son) has owned and published the directory. Mackay also published a Quebec directory, similar in format to the Montreal directory, during the years from 1848 to 1852. The Canada directory was compiled by Mackay and published by Lovell in 1851, with a supplement published by Mackay in 1853, and was essentially a directory of businesses arranged by municipality and then by type. It also contained a list of institutions as well as numerous statistics on population, trade, and revenue. After Mackay’s death Lovell issued both the Canada directory and the Quebec directory for a number of years.
Of Mackay’s personal and professional life, few details are known. His own listing in the Montreal directory indicates that he moved frequently and that in 1845 he operated a circulating library on Rue Notre-Dame. Mackay deserves to be remembered, however, as a diligent compiler of statistical and factual information about mid-19th-century Canada. His works were of great value to contemporaries and they continue to be of use to historians for both the lists and the numerous advertisements they contain. For many types of research he provides the best, and frequently the only, source of information.
Robert Walter Stuart Mackay compiled the Montreal directory, 1842–54; Quebec directory, 1849–52; Canada directory, 1851; and A supplement to the Canada directory, 1853. For more information on the directories compiled by Mackay and his wife see Dorothy E. Ryder, Checklist of Canadian directories, 1790–1950 (Ottawa, 1979). Mackay also wrote and compiled the following guidebooks: Statistical, commercial, judicial, legal, medical & travelling chart of Canada (Montreal, ); The stranger’s guide to the cities and principal towns of Canada, with a glance at the most remarkable cataracts, falls, rivers, watering places, mineral springs &c. &c.; and a geographical & statistical sketch of the province, brought down to 1854 . . . (Montreal, 1854); The strangers’ guide to the cities of Canada, with a brief geographical and statistical sketch of the province (Montreal, 1852); The strangers’ guide to the cities of Montreal and Quebec, together with sketches of the cities of Toronto, Kingston and Hamilton, and of the towns of Bytown, London, &c., and a glance at the most remarkable cataracts and falls, mineral springs and rivers of Canada; with a brief geographical and statistical sketch of the province (Montreal, 1852); The strangers’ guide to the city of Montreal (Montreal, 1843); The stranger’s guide to the island and city of Montreal, containing a brief description of all that is remarkable in either; illustrated by a map of the city, and numerous wood cuts (Montreal, n.d.); and The traveller’s guide to the River St Lawrence and Lake Ontario (Montreal, 1845).
ANQ-M, CE1-68, 12 oct. 1854. Arch. of the Mount Royal Cemetery Company (Outremont, Que.), Reg. of burials, 12 Oct. 1854. Montreal Gazette, 11 Oct., 20 Nov. 1854. Montreal directory, 1855–69. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 240. Wallace, Macmillan dict.