Hamilton, George

George Hamilton, lumberman and merchant (b at Hamwood, Co Meath, Ire 13 Apr 1781; d at Hawkesbury, UC 7 Jan 1839). He was one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the early timber trade in the Ottawa Valley. An Anglican and a Tory, and an outspoken political power in both Upper and Lower Canada, he served both as judge of the district court and as lt-col of the militia.

The family had been involved in the Baltic timber trade but transferred operations to Québec C after Napoleon's continental decrees in 1807. Obtaining Admiralty contracts, the firm of George and William Hamilton developed both as timber exporters and general merchants. In 1812 the Hamiltons foreclosed on a deal mill at Hawkesbury, UC, to which they had lent money, and entered the upcountry trade. George remained the firm's Québec agent until 1816, when on his brother William's retirement he took over the Hawkesbury operations. There, through much economic adversity which saw the firm near bankruptcy several times, George Hamilton displayed the shrewd entrepreneurship that built a lumbering empire which stretched upriver along the Rouge, Rideau and Gatineau rivers and downstream to the company's cove, New Liverpool, Québec C, and from there to Liverpool, Eng. After 1830 Hamilton took on as a partner Charles A. Low, a long-time employee, and by 1835 the firm was valued at L30,000 and cut about 7 million board feet of timber annually.

Much of the timber trade was illegal until 1826, since only wood cut under Admiralty contract was to be taken on public lands. Lumbermen freely practised trespass and intimidation of both government officials and competitors, and Hamilton took an active part in this violence in his efforts to maintain and expand his business operations. But by the mid-1820s he had become an advocate of government regulation to bring order to the trade and to secure the rights of larger operators like himself. After 1828 he lobbied successfully with Gov Gen Aylmer to obtain a licensing system favourable to the bigger businesses in exchange for the payment of revenues to the Crown; and in the early 1830s he was instrumental in obtaining the Gatineau Privilege, which guaranteed the timber on the most important tributary of the Ottawa to timber barons like himself on a noncompetitive basis.