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Urquhart, Alexander

One of our first summer residents!


Alexander Urquhart 1816 - 1897

Alexander Urquhart was born in Cawdor, Nairnshire, Scotland on April 14, 1816. He was the eldest of the family of the seven children of his mother, Mary MacDonald and his father John Urquhart. His two brothers were James Kyle and Charles Calder Mackintosh and his sisters May, Isabella, Jessie and Mary.
He came to Canada in June of 1840 and joined the congregation of St. Gabriel Street Presbyterian Church in Montreal, which was then the wealthiest and best attended churches in the city. Shortly after his arrival in Montreal, he went to Quebec City where he lived for four years and was married to Elizabeth Cumming. He returned to Montreal in 1844 and established a business, Alexander Urquhart & Company. The enterprise started as a wholesale grocery business which grew and diversified over time. The company imported goods from Europe and the Caribbean. Its products were sold in Quebec and Ontario, and also in the burgeoning regions of the Canadian North West – the Red River District and beyond.
He was an active member of the congregation of the St. Gabriel Street Church holding the position of treasurer from 1844 to 1846. He remained involved in the administration of the church before moving to St. Andrew’s Church in 1855. By this time his business had become well established, and he was a prominent member of the Montreal business community. His Montreal home was on Côte de Neiges just above Sherbrooke Street in the sector known as the Golden Square Mile. His sister May married Alexander Begg a druggist of Quebec City and his brother James Kyle came to Canada and was closely associated with Alexander’s business interests.

His interest in Tadoussac was most likely kindled through his involvement in the Tadoussac Hotel and Sea Bathing Company. The company principals included others such as William Rhodes, William Russell and Joseph Radford. The group built the first Hotel Tadoussac which opened its doors in 1864. Urquhart was also one of the founders and Tadoussac Protestant Chapel which conducted its first protestant services in 1866.
In 1864, he purchased the land and buildings above the wharf at L’Anse à l’eau from David Price. The land was on the opposite side of the road from a house built in 1863 by his colleague Joseph Radford. He converted the large square building on the property into a spacious summer home. The redesigned residence included a windowed dome on the roof from which he could keep an eye on the shipping that brought his goods from Montreal to supply the needs of the Hotel Tadoussac.
Alexander and Elizabeth Urquhart had three daughters: May, Charlotte and Mary. The family spent their summers in Tadoussac and the daughters, along with the two sons of Alexander and May Begg, participated in the social functions of the time. Godfrey Rhodes diary recounts evening dances with the Urquharts at Tadoussac summer residences. The youthful energy levels and late-night antics among the young in Tadoussac have a long history as does the patience of parents and grandparents.
Alexander Urquhart continued actively in his business until 1875 when he retired. He died on May 28, 1897 in Montreal. The Urquhart family continued to spend their summers in Tadoussac until 1905.

Prepared by: L. John Leggat

The McCord Museum, Montreal
The Montreal Gazette, May 1897
A History, Scotch Presbyterian Church, St Gabriel Street, Montreal; by Rev Robert Campbell
Tadoussac, The Sands of Summer by Benny Beattie
Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America
Godfrey Rhodes Diary, 1862 to 1873

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