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WHITE, ANDREW, artisan, businessman, and militiaman; b. c. 1783; d. 11 July 1832 in Montreal.

Andrew White was living in Montreal by 1805 when he acquired a plot in the Nazareth sub-fief. A carpenter and joiner who was occasionally described as a cabinet-maker, in 1807 he established a shortlived partnership with another carpenter and joiner, Samuel Fox. The following year he was sufficiently prosperous to take on three apprentices and to get married, in Montreal on 18 February. His wife, Mary Telfer, was the daughter of a stonemason; the couple would have five children. It was possibly his marriage that prompted White in 1809 to purchase property – a lot and two wooden houses on Rue Saint-Charles-Borromée – and to acquire a pew in the Scotch Presbyterian Church, later known as St Gabriel Street Church.

In 1810 White formed a partnership with the cabinet-maker William Shand that would last until 1815. During this period White was involved in the construction of a number of houses in and around Montreal. Thus in 1813 he did wood and iron work on three houses erected by Joseph Courselle, dit Chevallier, and Thomas Phillips*. White had probably met Phillips earlier since both served in the Montreal Incorporated Volunteers, raised to assist in garrison duty during the War of 1812. White worked with Chevallier and Phillips again in 1816 when he did the carpentry work on a store they were building for the firm of Gerrard, Yeoward, Gillespie and Company [see Samuel Gerrard*]. He also undertook a number of projects as principal contractor, notably the Bank of Montreal on Rue Saint-Jacques in 1818–19 and a three-storey stone store for James Leslie and Company [see James Leslie*] in 1820–21. As well he may have engaged in property development. In 1817 he bought four contiguous lots on the corner of Rue Vitré and Rue Chêneville, and the two wooden dwellings on Saint-Charles-Borromée eventually gave way to five large stone houses.

Though he continued in private building construction, after 1819 White became increasingly active in public works. About 1820 he and others were hired by Thomas Porteous, owner of the Company of Proprietors of the Montreal Water Works, to build supports for the utility’s reservoir, which threatened to collapse after the military undermined it while levelling Citadel Hill, on which it stood. In 1821, in partnership with Thomas Phillips and the merchants Oliver Wait and Stanley Bagg, White undertook the excavation of the Lachine Canal, one of the most important public works of the time in Lower Canada. Construction work began on 17 July but was slowed by the inexperience of the contractors and their labourers, disagreements with the canal commissioners over the cost of extra excavation when it was decided to extend the project from the Windmills to Montreal Harbour, and rain, which flooded the site. The work as specified in the original contract was finished and the canal opened to traffic in 1824. When the commissioners decided to undertake the extension themselves, they hired White in January 1825 to superintend the job because he was “the most experienced” of the original contractors.

In March 1827 White joined in partnership three contractors on the Rideau Canal in Upper Canada, Thomas Phillips, Thomas McKay*, and John Redpath*. In May he left the Lachine Canal to join Phillips in undertaking the locks and other construction at Long Island and Black Rapids on the Rideau project. White took charge at Long Island, Phillips at Black Rapids. The quality of their work was highly praised by Lieutenant-Colonel John By*, who supervised the building of the canal. His contract completed and the partnership with Phillips, McKay, and Redpath dissolved in 1831, White returned to Montreal.

White had business interests besides construction. He was involved with the Montreal Savings Bank, and while in partnership with Wait and Bagg had speculated in lumber. Undoubtedly his work on canals generated his strong interest in the development of transportation. He held a share in the steamboat William Annesly, a ferry which operated between Montreal and Laprairie from 1824 to 1826, and he served for a time as secretary and treasurer of the company that owned it. He also had stock in another steamboat, the John By, built at Kingston, Upper Canada, in 1831 by Robert Drummond, a contractor on the Rideau Canal. That year White purchased land in Fitzroy Township by the Chats Falls rapids on the Ottawa River, apparently with the intention of building a steamer and operating it between the rapids and Bytown. Late the same year he was a member of a group that proposed widening the Lachine Canal to at least the dimensions of the Rideau, but the project was not begun until 1843. In 1831 he seems once again to have taken up property development. That April he purchased a lot and three-storey brick dwelling on the corner of the extensions of Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue Saint-Pierre and began construction of two additional three-storey houses there. In August he acquired two more lots on Saint-Jacques, on one of which stood another large three-storey stone dwelling.

In the midst of this frenetic activity White was cut down by cholera “after a few hours of illness” at age 49. His wife Mary had died in November 1821, and he had married Margaret Logan in the Scotch Presbyterian Church on 18 Feb. 1823; they had a daughter. White had been elected an elder of the church in 1819 and had served on its temporal committee in 1825–26. A charitable man, he had readily contributed from his growing fortune, estimated at some £30,000 at the time of his death, to subscriptions for public improvements and the needy. He had been an original subscriber to the Montreal General Hospital and, shortly before his death, had been elected to its board of governors. The comfort of his social position is reflected in his ownership of a cottage on the Rivière Saint-Pierre at Montreal.

Andrew White, like his former partners McKay and Redpath, successfully made the occupational transition from skilled artisan to businessman at a time when strong expansion in the construction industry in Montreal and the transportation sector of the colonial economy offered excellent opportunities to men of technical skill, initiative, and business acumen. White’s rise in social rank, which accompanied the occupational shift, was consolidated in the next generation; for his son, Andrew, became a merchant in Montreal and his daughter Mary married the engineer Nicol Hugh Baird*. White does not stand out for any single achievement. Rather, he is significant as a member of a group of aggressive Montreal businessmen who, through their technical knowledge and skills, advanced significantly the early development of Canada’s transportation network.

John Witham

ANQ-M, CE1-126, 18 févr. 1808, 18 févr. 1823, 12 juill. 1832; CN1-185, 5 mars, 20 juill., 12 déc. 1807; 29 janv., 12 nov. 1808; 31 juill. 1810; ler juin 1811; CN1-187, 27 févr. 1815; 18 sept. 1816; 3 janv. 1818; 15 févr., 29 août 1821; 27 juill. 1832. AO, MS 393. McCord Museum, Bagg papers; Redpath papers. PAC, MG 24, D93; RG 43, CIII, 2, vols.2454–55. Theodore Davis, Reply to remarks on the Lachine Canal (Montreal, 1822). E. F. Bush, The builders of the Rideau Canal, 1826–32 (Can., National Hist. Parks and Sites Branch, Manuscript report, no. 185, Ottawa, 1976). R. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church, 319–20. Denison, Canada’s first bank. R. W. Passfield, Building the Rideau Canal: a pictorial history (Don Mills [Toronto], 1982). G. J. J. Tulchinsky, “The construction of the first Lachine Canal, 1815–1826” (ma thesis, McGill Univ., Montreal, 1960).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

John Witham, “WHITE, ANDREW,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 30, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/white_andrew_6E.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/white_andrew_6E.html
Author of Article: John Witham
Title of Article: WHITE, ANDREW
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1987
Year of revision: 1987
Access Date: July 30, 2014