STEVEN, ANDREW, merchant and banker; baptized 12 March 1789 in Girvan, Ayrshire, Scotland, son of James Steven and Mary Lees; d. 12 Dec. 1861 at Hamilton, Canada West, survived by his wife Laura and five children.
Andrew Steven immigrated in 1819 to York (Toronto) where he found employment with the merchant firm of D’Arcy Boulton* Jr and William Proudfoot. In 1822 he moved to Dundas, perhaps as an agent for the large trading company of John Spread Baldwin and Jules-Maurice Quesnel*, and five years later started his own grocery business in Dundas. In 1832 Steven moved to Hamilton as manager of the new agency of the Bank of Upper Canada, but when the Gore Bank opened on 2 May 1836 he became its cashier, at a salary of £400 per annum. In this post he managed the bank’s daily affairs and its correspondence and made policy recommendations to the president and board of directors. Economic crises in 1837 and 1857 impressed him with the importance of not overextending the bank’s resources. He was consequently regarded by some “as being too cautious for the times.”
A problem for the bank was the instability in direction caused by its charter, which stipulated that four of the ten directors, excluding the president, could not be re-elected except after the lapse of one year. In face of these yearly changes, much of the responsibility for the continuity of management fell upon Steven. Finally in 1860 he obtained an amended charter from the Legislative Assembly through Thomas Clark Street* and Isaac Buchanan*, both directors of the bank and members of the assembly. The number of directors was reduced to seven, all eligible for immediate re-election.
The Gore Bank had been promoted by Allan Napier MacNab and Absalom Shade, prominent Tories in the western section of the province. In 1839 rumours spread that MacNab owed the bank £25,000, and that his supporters on the board of directors, his brother David, his law partner John Oglivy Hatt, and the bank’s president James Matthew Whyte*, were similarly indebted. Their refusal to reveal debts raised suspicions that the Gore Bank was, as William Lyon Mackenzie had charged in 1835, “a machine got up by Mr. Allan Napier MacNab and a few of his cronies” to enable them to draw on its resources. The disturbed stockholders, led by directors Edmund Ritchie and Colin Campbell Ferrie and supported and advised by Steven, challenged the leadership of Whyte and the MacNab group. Steven also tried to frustrate MacNab’s financial transactions. As a result MacNab found Steven “personally obnoxious” and tried to have him dismissed in 1839. His position was affirmed, however, at the annual meeting that year, and Ferrie was elected the new president.
The Gore Bank acted as a clearing-house for business transactions, extending credit and discounting notes. To much of the public, association with a bank during this period simply permitted one to draw on it to pay debts and finance speculations, regardless of personal assets or even of the bank’s real assets. Unsound assets and the scarcity of currency often created difficulties. In times of severe inflation or depression Upper Canadian banks suspended specie payments in order to avoid collapse.
Steven established the British connections of the Gore Bank, essential in an age of close financial ties between Canada and Britain. In 1847 the failure of the bank’s London agent, Reid, Irving, and Company, shook the confidence held in the Gore Bank by its customers and the financial community in general. Immediately Steven was sent to England with funds to meet the obligations assumed in the bank’s name and to restore confidence on that side of the Atlantic. At the same time he made arrangements for Glyn, Mills, and Company to become the bank’s new agent. In 1847 also the negotiations concerning a merger of the Gore Bank and the larger Bank of Upper Canada, which had been assisted by Steven’s friendship with its cashier, Thomas Gibbs Ridout, and the varied associations of the two banks, were discontinued because the Reid, Irving collapse and a consequent run on the Gore Bank dampened the Toronto-based bank’s enthusiasm.
Little is known of Steven’s private life, but he was a member of the committee which founded the Hamilton Mechanics’ Institute in 1839. He was a founder of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and an elder from 1833 to 1843. By 1851, however, he had become an Anglican, perhaps as a result of the Free Church disruption of 1844. Towards the end of his career with the Gore Bank, in November 1856, Steven became its president, and continued to exercise his characteristic restraint and moderation in conducting its affairs.
HPL, Ferrie papers; Hamilton biography, Andrew Steven. PAC, MG 24, D16, 57; D18. PAO, Street (Samuel) papers. M. F. Campbell, A mountain and a city, the story of Hamilton (Toronto, 1966), 93, 122, 134–35. Johnston, Head of the lake (1958), 216. Ross and Trigge, History of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, I, 163–248.