STRACHAN, JAMES McGILL, soldier, lawyer, politician, and businessman; b. 1 July 1808 at Cornwall, Upper Canada, son of John Strachan and Ann McGill, née Wood; m. in 1844 Augusta Anne, daughter of John Beverley Robinson; they had no children; d. 22 Jan. 1870 at Toronto, Ont.
James McGill Strachan was the eldest and most favoured of the Strachan children. He was born to privilege and cultivated its advantages with zeal in pursuing a multi-faceted career. Educated largely at home, Strachan, with his father’s reluctant support, purchased a commission in the 68th Foot in 1826. He studied further at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, England, and, on numerous leaves and assignments, travelled throughout Europe. In 1833 he purchased a captaincy for £1,600 but resigned the commission in 1836 and returned to Canada to begin what he had once called the “detested” study of law. During the rebellion in Upper Canada in 1837–38 he served as military secretary to Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head*, maintaining links between Head and militia troops in the field.
He was admitted to the bar on 16 Feb. 1838 and went into partnership with John Hillyard Cameron* in Toronto. Handsome, eloquent, and quick-witted, Strachan was a formidable figure. His firm was the legal representative of many substantial businesses, notably the Canada Company, a British-based land and colonization company.
Strachan contested Huron County’s seat in the election of 1841, during which he was closely identified with the Family Compact and the Canada Company by his opponent, Dr William “Tiger” Dunlop*, who was supported by the prosperous settlers of Colborne Township. Strachan’s spirited campaign was managed by his brother-in-law, Thomas Mercer Jones, and despite the British Colonist’s assertion that he had “no more chance, than a stump-tailed ox in fly time,” he was elected. Dunlop unseated him, however, in a subsequent recount, and Strachan’s only other political activity was as a Toronto alderman in 1842 and 1852.
Strachan was an inveterate speculator who launched himself with vigour and no small outlay of cash into abortive railway projects involving the Lake Huron and Toronto Railroad from 1836 to 1841 and the Toronto, Simcoe, and Huron Railway in 1850, as well as an unsuccessful land deal at Elora in 1851. During the recession of 1847 he had apparently become bankrupt as a result of land speculation in Toronto; at the same time his partnership with Cameron failed and the lucrative Canada Company account was lost. By 1853 he had regained enough credit to purchase a tract of land west of Toronto’s centre and its superintendence, together with leisurely sportsman’s pursuits, occupied the rest of his life.
PAO, Jarvis-Powell papers; Macaulay (John) papers; Maps Division, J. M. Strachan and W. J. FitzGerald, “Crookshank Estate” (1853); Strachan (John) papers, letterbooks. British Colonist (Toronto), 10 March 1841. G.B., WO, Army list, 1827, 1836. I. A. Stewart, “The 1841 election of Dr. William Dunlop as member of parliament for Huron County,” OH, XXXIX (1947), 51–62.