MILLAR, JAMES, businessman, militia officer, jp, and office holder; b. c. 1782 in Riccarton, Scotland; m. 27 Feb. 1838 Eleanor Catherine Gibb, youngest daughter of Benaiah Gibb*, in Montreal; d. there 27 July 1838.
By 1807 James Millar was established in a merchant partnership in Montreal with Alexander Parlane under the name of Millar, Parlane and Company. Since Millar was only 25 at the time, he must have come from a prosperous family. Millar, Parlane was an importer and wholesaler of fine cloth and fancy goods. By 1816 the firm was regarded as one of the most substantial importers in Montreal. Its success is a measure of the prosperity of the town’s bourgeoisie since its merchant-tailor customers, including Gibb and Company, operated by Benaiah Gibb until 1815, clothed Montreal’s economic and political élite. Like other firms, Millar, Parlane grew and diversified in step with the economies of Upper and Lower Canada. It was, by 1818, an active exporter of wood, flour, and ashes and its imports became more varied. By 1820 Parlane had taken up residence in Liverpool, where he acted for the firm until its dissolution in 1824.
Millar and another partner in Millar, Parlane, William Edmonstone, immediately formed a new association, which continued to operate under the old name until 1835, when it became Millar, Edmonstone and Company. In 1831 Hugh Allan* joined the firm as a commission agent, and in 1835 he became a partner. By 1837 the company was one of the three largest general importers in Montreal, receiving 12 vessels that year. Millar may have been a shipowner, but neither of his firms was until Millar, Edmonstone acquired the 214-ton barque Thistle in 1836. Thereafter, under Allan’s influence, the firm rapidly evolved into a shipping company.
Like many merchants of his day Millar was involved in banking. From June to November 1825 he served on the board of the Bank of Montreal. He supported George Moffatt* and the younger directors in their successful struggle over loan policies with the president, Samuel Gerrard*. Millar was also associated with Moffatt in 1831, when they and Benjamin Hart* were trustees of the bankrupt estate of John Spragg, a partner in Spragg and Hutchinson. Millar was nominated a provisional director of the Montreal branch of the Bank of British North America in 1836. He may also have served as a director of the Montreal Savings Bank and of the Montreal Insurance Company.
A significant member of the Montreal business community, Millar received a variety of appointments honorific and useful, the latter indicating his interests and the needs of the business community. In common with many of his fellow merchants, he served as a justice of the peace, from 1821 to 1837; in 1820 he became an ensign and the following year a lieutenant in Montreal’s 1st Militia Battalion. He fulfilled civic responsibilities by sitting on the board of the Montreal General Hospital, acting as a warden of the House of Industry from 1827, and presiding over the municipal election in Sainte-Marie Ward, Montreal, in 1833. He served the business community on a committee formed in 1821 “to seek relief Measures for the agriculture and trade of the country” [see John Richardson*], on the Board of Cullers from 1823, and on a committee to select the site of a new custom-house in 1834. From 1831 he acted as a commissioner of roads and bridges in Wickham and Grantham townships, where he owned land.
One of the second generation of post-conquest Montreal merchants, Millar had had no connection with the fur trade; rather, his companies’ success was based on new staple trades and the growing demand for consumer goods in Upper and Lower Canada. About 1866 Jedediah Hubbell Dorwin*, recalling the firm of Millar, Parlane from the days of his youth, compared it to Montreal’s largest retail establishments in the 1860s, “the Benjamins and the Mussens or the later Morgans.” Though prosperous, Millar was, however, in the second rank of merchants of his day, and did not have the economic or political prominence of a George Moffatt or a Peter McGill*.
[The subject of this biography should not be confused with his fellow citizens James Millar, an English freeholder, and James Morton Millar, a Scottish Presbyterian merchant who married the sister of the subject’s wife, Eleanor Catherine Gibb. The author would like to thank Paulette M. Chiasson of the DBC/DCB for her assistance. p.d.]
McCord Museum, J. H. Dorwin, “Antiquarian autographs,” 18; M21411, nos.260, 489. PAC, MG 24, D84: 21–22, 27–48; MG 30, D1, 21: 683; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. Montreal Gazette, 1 March, 28 July 1838. Quebec Gazette, 27 Nov. 1817; 24 May, 27 Aug. 1821; 3 May 1824. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church. Denison, Canada’s first bank. Tulchinsky, River barons.