Young, John (1811-1878) (DNB00)

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YOUNG, JOHN (1811–1878), Canadian economist and minister of public works, was born at Ayr in Scotland on 4 March 1811, and was educated in the parish school. He went to Canada in his fifteenth year, and, after a short stay in the western province, moved to Quebec, and entered the office of John Torrance & Co. Nine years later he was taken into partnership, and traded in Quebec till 1841, when he proceeded to Montreal as one of the firm of Stephens, Young, & Co. He amassed a fortune, and spent the remainder of his days in Montreal. A representation to Lord Gosford as to the unquiet state of Lower Canada, suggesting the formation of a volunteer force, brought him into notice in 1835. On the breaking out of the rebellion two years later he did good service in raising a regiment of volunteers and taking command of a company. In 1842 he identified himself with the Free Trade Association (Montreal), and by his writings in the ‘Economist’ newspaper during the next four years prepared the business community for the change of policy of 1846, which was distasteful to the Canadian public generally. He was an ardent free-trader all his life, but did not belong to the laisser-faire branch of the school. He saw that the separate life and prosperity of Canada on the American continent depended on cheap and quick transport, and bent his energies to its development, so as to enable the British provinces to compete with the United States, Montreal with New York. The deepening of Lake St. Peter's, which enables ocean steamers to ascend to Montreal, the railway line to Portland (Maine), which gives Montreal a winter port, the line from Montreal to Kingston, which secures the trade of the west, and the junction of the line by means of the Victoria Bridge in 1860, are chiefly to be ascribed to Young. He was a devoted advocate likewise of canal improvement, e.g. the enlargement of the Welland, St. Lawrence, and Lachine canals, a work carried out according to his ideas only in late years, and a canal to connect Lake Champlain with the St. Lawrence, which remains a desideratum. By 1851 he had gained so high a position in public estimation that, on the formation of the Hincks-Morin ministry, he was offered the commissionership of public works, with a seat in the cabinet, though he had never sat in parliament. He accepted the portfolio, and signalised his short term of office by organising the Canadian exhibit at the exhibition of that year, by subsidising steamships between Montreal and Liverpool, and bringing together the intercolonial railway conference. He withdrew from the ministry in 1852 because the premier imposed differential tolls on Americans using the Canadian canals, an act which was in his eyes ‘short-sighted and mischievous.’ Elected in 1851, he continued to serve his constituency till 1857, when he retired from parliament on account of ill-health. He was again chosen in 1872, but resigned two years after. He was then appointed inspector at Montreal and chairman of the harbour commission. At a later date he held the office of president of the board of trade. For many years he had suffered from an affection of the heart, and he died on 12 April 1878.

Young was a liberal in politics and a unitarian in religion. His chief writings were: 1. ‘Letter to the Hon. F. Lemieux on Canadian Trade and Navigation,’ Montreal, 1854. 2. ‘Rival Routes from the West to the Ocean,’ Montreal, 1859. He also contributed several articles to the eighth edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ signed ‘J. Y.’

[Taylor's Portraits of British Americans, ii. 277; Dent's Canadian Portrait Gallery, s.v. ‘Young;’ Dent's Canada since the Union, i. 215–16, 576, ii. 248–9, 255, 402; Rattray's Scot in British North America, ii. 600–1; Dominion Ann. Register, 1879, p. 376; Accounts and Papers (H. of C.) (4) Colonies, 1845, xxxi. 315; Hincks's Reminiscences, pp. 203, 208–17, 222–3, 269, 276, 354; Kingsford's Canadian Canals, pp. 18–21, 26–30.]

T. B. B.