Seeking refuge from the poverty of Scotland, John Redpath boarded a Quebec-bound ship in 1816. When he arrived in Montreal, the city had fewer than 20,000 inhabitants and little shipping activity.
Redpath worked as a stonemason and eventually founded a construction company that would help bring Montreal to the forefront of the Canadian industrial revolution. Redpath’s company undertook major works building the Lachine Canal and built locks for ships to bypass the otherwise bumpy Lachine rapids.
By the time ships began using the canal in 1825, more than 13,000 vessels sailed through Montreal annually.
Redpath’s construction company also built most of McGill University’s first buildings and the Notre Dame Basilica.
John Redpath was a self-made immigrant success story who helped industrialize Montreal’s economy
Capitalizing on the success of the Lachine Canal, Redpath started a shipping company which imported goods from around the world. One of his company’s main imports, sugar from the West Indies, led Redpath to create Canada’s first sugar refinery.
Redpath invested most of his wealth into growing and diversifying Montreal’s economy. For instance, he was one of the forefathers of the city’s stock exchange.
He is also remembered as a philanthropist who donated to charities, sat on the board of Montreal’s General Hospital and was a supporter of the abolitionist movement.
By the time Redpath died in 1869, the small town he had immigrated to now counted six times more inhabitants and was at the center of Canada’s economic modernization.
This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 21, published February 1, 2011.