DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

MERRILL, HORACE, contractor, engineer, civil servant, and manufacturer; b. 10 May 1809 at Enfield, N.H., son of Nathaniel Merrill and Sarah Huse; m. in 1842 Adaline Church, and they had nine children; d. 22 May 1883 in Ottawa, Ont.

Horace Merrill began training as a cabinet-maker at age 14. He later described himself as a civil engineer but he apparently did not receive any formal training as such. He came to the Ottawa valley in 1826 and worked as a millwright, first for George Hamilton* at Hawkesbury, Upper Canada, and later for Levi Bigelow at Buckingham, Lower Canada. Some time during the 1830s he became a contractor, probably building slides and booms for the square timber and lumbering industries of the Ottawa valley. Certainly his engineering abilities were sufficiently respected by 1840 for him to obtain the contract to build a substantial mill with 26 saws on the Gatineau River for Alonzo Wright*. By 1847, according to the eminent engineer Thomas Coltrin Keefer*, Merrill had “probably constructed more dams, slides and booms on the Ottawa than any other person now on it.”

Merrill had joined the Board of Works, later the Department of Public Works, about 1846; for the first few years he supervised the construction of public improvements on the Madawaska River and advised the Madawaska River Improvement Company which had been established by local lumbermen to build works on the river’s tributaries. He seems to have impressed his superiors in the department, particularly Keefer, and in January 1849 he was appointed superintendent of the Ottawa works, based in Bytown (Ottawa), a position he was to retain until his retirement in 1875. As superintendent he directed the construction, operation, and maintenance of all works on the Ottawa and its tributaries undertaken by the department for the descent of timber rafts and logs and for the transportation of supplies up-river to the shanties. Among his achievements was the Carillon Dam, completed in 1858, which improved navigation by raising the water level at the Long Sault Rapids. By 1870 he was responsible for slides, booms, dams, bridges, canals, piers, and buildings at 11 stations on the Ottawa, 15 on the Madawaska, 31 on the Petawawa, 11 on the Dumoine, and one each on the Gatineau, Coulonge, and Noire rivers.

Merrill’s interest and influence were by no means confined to the Ottawa valley. As the acknowledged expert on river improvements within the department, he was consulted regarding the design and construction of works to open to lumbermen the virgin forests along the Saguenay, Saint-Maurice, Trent, and French rivers. In 1851 Merrill supervised the deepening of the 12-mile Chambly Canal and a decade later surveyed the 124-mile Rideau Canal for potential mill sites. He also designed the Saint-Maurice slides at Shawinigan and Grand-Mère, and the Saguenay slides in the 1860s. Throughout his long career as superintendent Merrill consistently and usually “in the strongest manner” campaigned for more government works on the Ottawa and other rivers to encourage the growth of the lumbering industry. In this effort he had considerable success and was, as a result, generally popular with the lumbering community. He also urged the department to prevent sawmill owners from dumping their waste into the river, a campaign which was less popular with lumbermen.

A man of considerable energy, Merrill engaged in other economic endeavours. About 1854 he supervised the construction of a large sawmill for John J. Harris and Henry Franklin Bronson, two Americans who had obtained hydraulic lots which Merrill had set out on the islands near the Chaudière Rapids at Ottawa. His major business enterprises, however, were his foundries in Ottawa. Some time before 1864 Merrill and Joseph Merrill Currier of New Edinburgh (now part of Ottawa) purchased N. S. Blasdell and Company’s Victoria Foundry, famous throughout Canada for its fine axes. Employing about 20 people in 1864, this substantial business manufactured steam engines, lathes, agricultural implements, grist- and sawmill machinery, and planing machines (for which the company had received a gold medal from the Prince of Wales in 1861), as well as smaller items such as axes and nails. By 1880 the Victoria Foundry supplied the Department of Public Works with nearly all the spikes for their Ottawa works, an activity which, given Merrill’s connection with the Ottawa works until his retirement in 1875, seems more than coincidental. Indeed, the Victoria Foundry became so busy that by 1876 he and Currier had acquired a second foundry on Victoria Island and Merrill had set up Merrill and Company to operate a third foundry and machine shop at the Chaudière Falls. In the 1860s Merrill had been a director of the Ottawa Consumers Gas Company and the Ottawa City Passenger Railway Company.

Horace Merrill is chiefly known through his engineering and business activities. He was, however, also a master of the Dalhousie Masonic Lodge and a Presbyterian. Following his death on 22 May 1883, a few days after that of his wife, his businesses were carried on by his sons, Horace B. and Milton W. Merrill.

Sandra Gillis

PAC, MG 28, III46, 1: no.13; RG 11, ser.ii, 11, 60, 65, 76, 269, 377–78; ser.iii, 88–99; ser. iv, 177; ser.vi, 11–16; RG 31, A1, 1851, Bytown; 1861, Ottawa City, Ottawa Ward; 1871, Ottawa City. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1851, II, app.G.G.; 1852–53, IX, app.M.M.M.M.; 1857, V, app.29, C. City of Ottawa, Assessment Dept., Assessment roll (Ottawa), 1876–77, 1879, 1883, 1886. Ottawa Daily Citizen, 23, 25 May 1883. Canadian biog. dict., I: 77–78. Ottawa directory, 1863–84. J. W. Hughson and C. C. J. Bond, Hurling down the pine: the story of the Wright, Gilmour and Hughson families, timber and lumber manufacturers in the Hull and Ottawa region and on the Gatineau River, 1800–1920 (Old Chelsea, Que., 1964). Charles Roger, Ottawa past and present, or, a brief account of the first opening up of the Ottawa country . . . (Ottawa , 1871). A. H. D. Ross, Ottawa, past and present (Toronto, 1927), 156–57. H. J. [W.] Walker, The Ottawa story through 150 years (Ottawa, 1953).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Sandra Gillis, “MERRILL, HORACE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 25, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/merrill_horace_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/merrill_horace_11E.html
Author of Article:   Sandra Gillis
Title of Article:   MERRILL, HORACE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   September 25, 2023