MACKECHNIE, STUART EASTON, industrialist, farmer, and politician; b. 1816 or 1817 in Scotland; m. 30 Nov. 1848 Anna Maria Barbara Poore, and they had a son; d. 6 May 1853 in Cobourg, Upper Canada.
Stuart Easton Mackechnie toured widely in the United States and the Canadas in the 1830s, residing for a time north of Toronto before returning to Britain. During the next decade the increased pace of rural settlement and mercantile activity in Upper Canada led to intense rivalries between nascent towns which vied to capture the trade of common hinterlands. Nowhere was this more intense than in the struggle between Cobourg and Port Hope, on the north shore of Lake Ontario. In 1843 D’Arcy Edward Boulton, a Cobourg lawyer and town booster, persuaded a number of Scottish capitalists, including Mackechnie and John Sinclair Wallace, to establish in Cobourg. The following year, soon after arriving in Cobourg, Mackechnie purchased a grist-mill, which he sold in 1847. He retained the water rights, however, and constructed near by a large factory for the manufacture of woollens, known as Ontario Mills. In 1848 he secured a mortgage on the property for £7,960 from one Andrew Mackechnie. Three years later the factory was reportedly the largest in the province, turning out 800 yards of cloth a day and employing up to 175 people, many of them women. For Cobourg the works was the largest single source of tax revenue and the cornerstone of its economy.
Mackechnie had difficulty procuring adequate supplies of quality wool within the province. He repeatedly urged local farmers to improve their sheep and turn to the commercial production of wool, but by 1851 almost a quarter of his raw material was still being imported. To counter this problem of supply, he developed the largest sheep farm in the area, under the management of his brother Henry. The growing complexity of Mackechnie’s operation and the need for additional capital led him to take Edward Sheldon Winans into partnership in February 1850. Mackechnie also had financial interests in the Cobourg Harbour Company, the Cobourg and Rice Lake Plank Road and Ferry Company, and the Cobourg and Grafton Road Company, and was on the board of management of the Colonial Life Assurance Company at Cobourg.
As a young man of wealth, he added lustre to Cobourg’s self-conscious social élite. His marriage in Grafton in 1848 to Anna Maria Barbara Poore helped induce her brother, Sir Edward Poore, a former officer in the Scots Fusilier Guards, to settle near Cobourg. Both men shared a passion for steeplechasing, and meets were organized under their direction. Mackechnie’s gentility was also evident in his stewardship at such social gatherings as the “Cobourg Assemblies” (1845) and in his large household staff (in 1851 a groom, four female servants, and a farm agent). His behaviour suggests that he was an early Victorian swell turned businessman but there is evidence that not everyone looked favourably upon him. In 1847 farmers claimed they could not get a fair price for their wool at his factory.
Mackechnie had interests other than business and society. He appears to have belonged in 1851 to the Cobourg branch of the Church Union, an Anglican association of prominent laymen pledged to the defence of the controversial system of clergy reserves in the province. Although his concern over tariff changes led him to be active as well in the British American League [see George Moffatt*], and to serve as a delegate to its second convention in November 1849, Mackechnie had shown no sustained interest in local politics. Thus, when he became mayor of Cobourg in early 1853 with no prior involvement in municipal politics, the editor of the Cobourg Star, Henry Jones Ruttan, warned office holders not to be self-serving and arrogant, citing the case of Lucius Aelius Sejanus, the Roman who had displayed great avarice in his drive to attain political power. However, Mackechnie’s tenure as mayor was short for he died after only four months in office. The one lasting act of his administration was the commissioning of Kivas Tully* to design a new town hall. Not surprisingly, the resulting edifice, Victoria Hall, was the embodiment of mid-19th-century optimism and grand colonial pretension.
The cause of Mackechnie’s death is unknown, but he had time in his final days to prepare a will and, on 28 April, to sell his interest in Ontario Mills to William Butler. Mackechnie died at age 36, leaving to his wife (who later remarried) an estate estimated to be worth about £10,000.
AO, RG 22, ser.155, will of S. E. Mackechnie. Northumberland West Land Registry Office (Cobourg, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, Cobourg, vol.1 (1802–1934) (mfm. at AO, GS 4712); Hamilton Township (mfm. at AO, GS 4752). PAC, RG 31, A1, 1851, Hamilton Township. St Peter’s Anglican Church (Cobourg), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials (mfm. at AO). Church, 7 Dec. 1848. Cobourg Star, 24 Dec. 1845; 25 March, 24 June 1846; 20 May, 1, 8, 15 Sept. 1847; 19 Sept. 1849; 6, 13 Feb., 6 March 1850; 12, 26 March, 2, 9, 16, 23 July, 2 Oct. 1851; 18 Feb. 1852; 26 Jan., 16 Feb., 23 March, 6 April 1853. Port Hope Commercial Advertiser (Port Hope, [Ont.]), 14 May 1853. Burke’s peerage (1970), 2148. W. H. Smith, Canada: past, present and future, vol.2. E. C. Guillet, Cobourg, 1798–1948 (Oshawa, Ont., 1948), 15, 28, 72, 252–53. G. A. Hallowell, “The reaction of the Upper Canadian tories to the adversity of 1849: annexation and the British American League,” OH, 62 (1970): 41–56.