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PATTERSON, WILLIAM JEFFREY, printer, author, financial analyst, and secretary for business associations; b. in 1815 at Glasgow, Scotland; d. 12 June 1886 in Montreal, Que.

As a youth in Glasgow, William Jeffrey Patterson learned the printer’s trade. After his apprenticeship he served as a journeyman and apparently turned quickly to proof-reading and type-setting. In 1847 he went to New York City, where he worked briefly as a printer before going west in the great gold-rush of 1848. He did not, however, reach California but made his home in Parkville, Mo., where he founded the Parkville Luminary. The resolutely anti-slavery bias of this paper roused a great deal of animosity and, after a riot in which he was hurt, he went to live for a while in Chicago and then moved to Canada. Around 1859 he settled at Montreal, where he worked for the printing firm of Owler and Stevenson and then for the Montreal Witness as commercial editor. At the end of April 1863 he became secretary to both the Montreal Board of Trade and the Montreal Corn Exchange Association. In this capacity he recorded the minutes of meetings, replied to correspondence, and furnished information to the business community.

Through his post as secretary, Patterson came to public attention. The knowledge he acquired about commercial transactions over the years made him a valuable man in the business world of Montreal, and even of Canada; hence in 1870 he was appointed secretary to the Dominion Board of Trade. As such, he organized the annual meeting of this body, which brought to Ottawa delegates of the boards of trade throughout the country, and he wrote the final report of the meeting.

By 1864 he had begun annual publication of the Report on the trade and commerce of the city of Montreal. This series, which soon made him famous in the Canadian business world, consolidated all the data pertaining to trade between Canada and other countries. It included lists of the wholesale prices of various foodstuffs and an analysis of the major sectors of manufacturing and trade. Particularly useful for the grain trade, the reports gave information on the shipment of grain, oats, and flour, both by rail and by canal. The scrupulous care which Patterson displayed made his work invaluable to his contemporaries, and it remains so for historians today. Because he wrote these reports for the Montreal Board of Trade and the Montreal Corn Exchange Association, he was provided with a subsidy; it was insufficient, and he had to find the additional funds for publication. In 1886 his successor as secretary to the two bodies, George Hadrill (who had been his assistant), published the last volume of the series. He adhered to the decision his predecessor had taken at the beginning of the year and refused to bear the publication costs. After 1886 the Montreal Board of Trade assumed responsibility for including in its annual reports the kind of data Patterson had collected.

In addition to the reports, Patterson published a number of more restricted studies relating to specific questions such as commercial relations with Great Britain, immigration, shipping in Canada, and the commercial and industrial potential of Newfoundland. Since his duties brought him into contact with federal officials, he was invited to compile statistical data for the Canadian government.

By his assessments of economic resources Patterson made an immense contribution to improving the efficiency of Montreal and Canadian business. His role as counsellor and representative of business circles kept him at the centre of the import-export activity of both Montreal and Canada for nearly a quarter of a century. He was well thought of and, when he died, the business associations he was connected with passed resolutions of condolence that were published in the newspapers, and the leaders of these associations, headed by their presidents, served as pallbearers at his funeral.

Patterson owned a residence in Saint-Antoine Ward in Montreal. One newspaper obituary stated that he was married and had a son, W. J. Ballantyne Patterson, who lived in San Antonio, Texas.

Jean-Claude Robert

[As secretary of the Montreal Board of Trade and of the Corn Exchange, Patterson compiled a series of statistics on trade and industry to be found in Report on the trade and commerce of the city of Montreal . . . (by 1867 it was being published under the title of Statements relating to the home and foreign trade of the Dominion of Canada; also, annual report of the commerce of Montreal . . .), issued annually from 1864 to 1878, and sporadically from 1878 to 1883. The information, accompanied by personal commentary, was drawn principally from official and brokers’ circulars. A forerunner in the compilation of statistics on public finance and of an inventory of economic and human resources of British North America, Patterson wrote a number of works, the most important being Some plain statements about immigration and its results (Montreal, 1872); Brief notes relating to the resources, industries, commerce and prospects of Newfoundland (Montreal, 1876); North-West Territory of Canada (Montreal, 1881); and The Dominion of Canada, with particulars as to its extent, climate, agricultural resources, fisheries, mines, manufacturing and other industries; also, details of home and foreign commerce including a summary of the census of 1881 (Montreal, 1883).  j.-c.r.]

AC, Montreal, État civil, Presbytériens, American Presbyterian Church (Montreal), 17 June 1886. Montreal Board of Trade Arch. (Montreal), Minute books, 1881–88 (mfm. at PAC). Extracts of the books of reference of the subdivisions of the city of Montreal, ed. L.-W. Sicotte (Montreal, 1874). Montreal Daily Star, 14 June 1886. Montreal Herald and Daily Commercial Gazette, 14, 18 June 1886. Montreal Witness, 14 June 1886. Dominion annual register, 1886: 284. Montreal directory, 1858–86. J. I. Cooper, “The early editorial policy of the Montreal Witness,” CHA Report, 1947: 53–62.

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Cite This Article

Jean-Claude Robert, “PATTERSON, WILLIAM JEFFREY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/patterson_william_jeffrey_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/patterson_william_jeffrey_11E.html
Author of Article:   Jean-Claude Robert
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 22, 2023