British American Land Company

The British American Land Company (BALC) was a company formed in 1832 for the purpose of purchasing land and encouraging British immigration to Lower Canada. It was founded and promoted by John Galt, Edward Ellice[lower-alpha 1] and others to acquire and manage the development of almost 1,100,000 acres (1,719 sq mi; 4,452 km2) of Crown land and other lands in the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada, in order to encourage the immigration of British subjects to the region. In comparison to the Canada Company, a similar enterprise in Upper Canada that thrived through collaboration with the local government, the BALC indulged in land speculation, made immigration a secondary priority, and struggled throughout its existence.[2]

Origin and formation

Townships in the Eastern Townships
First colonization roads in the Townships
Survey layout for a township

Following the success of the Canada Company in spurring settlement efforts in Upper Canada, similar efforts were initiated to establish a similar company to promote settlement in the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada. A group of investors in Montreal, headed by Francis Nathaniel Burton, proposed organizing a Lower Canada Land Company, and sent William Bowman Felton to London to promote their venture. While there, he encountered a group with similar objectives. The groups decided to combine together, and, at a meeting in February 1832, decided to proceed with creating the British American Land Company.[3][lower-alpha 2]

It was incorporated by royal charter in March 1834,[5] and secured a private Act from the Parliament of the United Kingdom,[lower-alpha 3] enabling it to:

  1. operate directly in any of the Provinces and colonies in British North America by virtue of the Royal charter, and appoint Commissioners and Agents for the purpose of purchasing and disposing of land therein;
  2. where any seigniorial lands are acquired by the Company (whether held à titre de fief et seigneurie, à titre de fief en arrière-fief, or à titre de cens), commute all feudal and seigniorial rights, so that such lands will be held in free and common socage (and any Crown lands acquired by the Company would have the same status); and
  3. hire indentured servants, for periods of time not to exceed seven years, for service in British North America.

The following Commissioners would be appointed:[6][7]

  1. Peter McGill and George Moffatt (acting jointly) (1834-1835)
  2. Arthur C. Webster (1835-1837)
  3. John Fraser (1837-1844)
  4. Alexander Tilloch Galt (1844-1855)
  5. Richard William Heneker (1856-1902)[lower-alpha 4]
  6. James Davidson (1903-)
  7. George Cate

Land holdings and later interests

Lands (shaded in red) held in the Eastern Townships in 1839 by the British American Land Company
Basin of the Chaudière River
The lands of the British American Land Company were chiefly concentrated between the upper Saint-François, Lake Mégantic on the Chaudière, and the International Boundary

Initial activities

In December 1833, it was announced that an agreement had been reached with Edward Smith-Stanley, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, to acquire a total of 847,661 acres (1,324 sq mi; 3,430 km2) for a purchase price of £120,000. This consisted of 596,325 acres (932 sq mi; 2,413 km2) of unsurveyed lands in the County of Sherbrooke;[lower-alpha 5] together with 251,336 acres (393 sq mi; 1,017 km2) in Crown reserves and surveyed Crown lands in the Counties of Sherbrooke, Shefford and Stanstead.[10] It would later acquire further lands through public auctions and private sales,[lower-alpha 6] bringing its total holdings up to 1,094,272 acres (1,710 sq mi; 4,428 km2).[6][12]

Upon Fraser's appointment in 1835, the Company's activities began in earnest, being concentrated in three places:[13]

  1. Sherbrooke, as the Company's headquarters
  2. Victoria, in Lingwick Township,[lower-alpha 7] as the centre of settlement activities[lower-alpha 8]
  3. Port St. Francis, at the foot of Lake Saint Pierre,[lower-alpha 9] as the port of entry for the district[lower-alpha 10]

Colonisation efforts

Wharves and warehouses were constructed at Port St. Francis, as were grist mills, sawmills and other facilities within the territory.[13] Lands were sold subject to a 20% down payment, with the balance payable in three subsequent annual instalments, and the Company also offered to help clear the land and build a log house upon it for an extra charge.[13] During 1836, during the first year of activity, three hundred families had settled in Victoria, occupying 23,000 acres (35.9 sq mi; 93.1 km2), while 10,000 acres (15.6 sq mi; 40.5 km2) had been sold in other districts.[18]

By deliberately working to increase the English-speaking portion of the population of Lower Canada, it was denounced by the Parti patriote and was referred to in the Ninety-two Resolutions adopted by the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada in 1834.[lower-alpha 11][20] It was also denounced during the Lower Canada Rebellion in 1837, where a proclamation issued by Patriote leader Robert Nelson declared that all unsold Company lands "are of right the property of the State of Lower Canada."[21]

Sherbrooke, where the Saint-François and Magog Rivers meet (1839). The British American Land Company would later exploit the waterpower arising from its water rights to promote the town's industrial development.

The expenses incurred to open up the lands were high in relation to the revenues earned from their subsequent disposition.[22][23] The 1837 Rebellion discouraged immigration to Lower Canada,[6] frightening off the better class of potential immigrants,[lower-alpha 12] and many of the current settlers were defaulting on their payments or even abandoning their lands.[18] Many of the local agents were also neglecting their duties or pilfering the company stores,[18] and the Company resisted attempts by local councils to impose property taxes on its holdings.[25] This would eventually lead to the Company experiencing financial problems in 1841, forcing it to return 511,237 acres (799 sq mi; 2,069 km2) of the St. Francis tract to the Province of Canada.[26][lower-alpha 13]

In 1843, the Company began focus its efforts on selling land to the local French-Canadian population,[29][lower-alpha 14] disposing it on new terms, consisting of no down payment, interest payments only for the first ten years, with the principal then being payable in four equal annual instalments.[31] In the beginning, such obligations could be settled by payment in kind.[32]

In 1858, the Company returned a further 292,729 acres (457 sq mi; 1,185 km2) to the Province, in consideration for certain sums due to the Crown.[33]

Exploitation of natural resources and manufacturing

The Company's finances would subsequently improve, and its earnings would be invested in other industrial concerns, including railroads,[lower-alpha 15] mining[lower-alpha 16] and Sherbrooke's textile mills,[38][lower-alpha 17] and it would operate other industrial enterprises itself.[lower-alpha 18] It would also get into the business of lending money, and, in 1876, the law governing interest was modified with respect to the loans made by the Company, so that it could charge an annual rate up to 8%,[41] in place of the then legal maximum of 6%.[42]

It would also begin to sell landholdings in large blocks for their value as timber. In 1872, it sold 99,833 acres (156 sq mi; 404 km2) to Cyrus Sullivan Clark of Bangor, Maine, who purchased a further 7,901 acres (12 sq mi; 32 km2) from the company in the following year.[43] These holdings were approximately half the size of the Crown timber limits that he already possessed.[43][lower-alpha 19]

Later years

By 1910, it had sold the greater part of its holdings,[46] but continued to operate until its dissolution in 1948.[47] Most of the Company's records appear to have since been carelessly destroyed.[48]

Notable shareholders

Shareholders in the company included:[49]

  • Boyd Alexander
  • James Whatman Bosanquet
  • George Fife Angas
  • Russell Ellice
  • Pascoe St Leger Grenfell
  • Claudius Stephen Hunter
  • Patrick Maxwell Stewart

Coat of arms

Coat of arms of British American Land Company[50][51]
A plough proper in front of a garb Or
Argent on a saltire Azure between in chief an oak tree eradicated, in fess two bee hives and in base a ship under sail all proper, a cornucopia Or, on a chief Ermine a lion passant guardant Or between a thistle proper and a harp Or
Dexter a woodman holding an axe sinister a reaper holding a sickle proper
Neu segnes jaceant terrae ("Do not let even poor and infertile grounds lie neglected")

Notes and references


  1. who was Lower Canada's largest absentee landowner at the time[1]
  2. at the same meeting, John Galt was named as the Honorary secretary of the Company,[3][4]
  3. An Act for granting certain powers to the British American Land Company, 1834, c. xv (later supplemented by An Act to facilitate the proof of the Charter and Act of Incorporation of the British American Land Company, S.Prov.C. 1847, c. 107 ); later amended by 1847 c. lvi, 1871 c. clxxi, 1883 c. iv, and 1894 c. xv
  4. in addition to his role as Commissioner (in which he had an activist role in investing the Company's assets in industrial development), Heneker was also Mayor of Sherbrooke for a time, Chairman of the Eastern Townships Bank and other industrial concerns, as well as having a close link for many years with Bishop's College[8]
  5. known as the St. Francis Territory, situated between the upper Saint-François River and Lake Mégantic[9]
  6. notably being able to employ cherry picking in selecting the most valuable land, at a price less than either the upset price or price by auction anywhere in the district[11]
  7. just outside Bury Township,[14] near the present community of Scotstown[15]
  8. Victoria would shortly be abandoned, thus becoming a ghost town[16]
  9. 46°16′6″N 72°37′18″W; now part of Nicolet
  10. as the result of the construction of better roads into the district, development of the port was later abandoned[17]
  11. one of the supporters of this measure was Marcus Child, the local MLA for Stanstead[19]
  12. in 1841, only 400 of the 28,000 emigrants landing at Quebec would go to the Eastern Townships, and less than 1,500 acres (2.3 sq mi; 6.1 km2) were sold[24]
  13. into which other colonisation efforts would be undertaken[27][28]
  14. in Compton County, this would lead to the anglophone and francophone populations becoming approximately equal by the end of the 19th Century[30]
  15. The St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad,[34] in which Galt and the Company respectively invested $30,000 and $96,000 in shares.[35] The enterprise was seen by Galt as being beneficial to developing the remainder of the Company's estates, as well as other parts of the Townships.[36]
  16. the British American Exploring and Mining Association[37]
  17. including the Sherbrooke Cotton Factory,[39] the first joint-stock industrial company to be incorporated in Canada,[35] in which Galt arranged for the Company's support in rescuing it from the verge of bankruptcy in 1847,[35] and the Sherbrooke Manufacturing Company[40]
  18. Galt managed a large sawmill as well as a factory for making pails[35]
  19. During the Long Depression of the 1870s, Clark would lose these lands as a consequence of a default on the mortgage on his properties, but would be able to repurchase 42,745 acres (67 sq mi; 173 km2) from the Eastern Townships Bank by 1879-80.[44] He would enter into partnership with John Henry Pope to form the Brompton Mills Lumber Company,[45] which would later, after several subsequent owners, be acquired by Kruger Inc.


  1. Baskerville, Peter A. (6 February 2006). "British American Land Company". Canadian Encyclopedia.
  2. Browde, Anatole (2002). "Settling the Canadian Colonies: A Comparison of Two Nineteenth-Century Land Companies". Business History Review. Harvard Business School. 76 (2): 299–335. doi:10.2307/4127841. ISSN 0007-6805. JSTOR 4127841.(subscription required)
  3. Report of the provisional committee of the British American Land Company. 1832.
  4. Little 1977, p. 27, fn. 54.
  5. "Royal Charter". British American Land Company. 1834.
  6. Channell 1896, p. 30.
  7. Rudin, Ronald (1979). "Land Ownership and Urban Growth: The Experience of Two Quebec Towns, 1840-1914" (PDF). Urban History Review. 8 (2): 23–46. doi:10.7202/1019376ar., at p. 34
  8. Rudin 1998.
  9. Little 1989a, p. 10.
  10. Information respecting the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada, in which the British American Land Company intend to commence operations for the sale and settlement of lands in the ensuing Spring. British American Land Company. December 1833.
  11. Smith 1976, p. 162.
  12. Myers 1914, p. 86.
  13. Skelton 1920, p. 39.
  14. Rolph, Thomas (1836). "Victoria". A Brief Account, Together with Observations, Made During a Visit in the West Indies, and a Tour through the United States of America, in Parts of the Years 1832-3. Dundas: G. Heyworth Hackstaff.
  15. Channell 1896, p. 33.
  16. Channell 1896, p. 34.
  17. Little 1977, pp. 37–38.
  18. Skelton 1920, p. 40.
  19. Little 1989a, p. 13.
  20. "Key terms: British American Land Company". Library and Archives Canada.
  21. Myers 1914, p. 99.
  22. Channell 1896, p. 40.
  23. Smith 1976, p. 164.
  24. Skelton 1920, pp. 43–44.
  25. Little 1977, p. 35.
  26. Little 1977, p. 27.
  27. Little 1977.
  28. Fournier 2012.
  29. Skelton 1920, p. 51.
  30. Channell 1896, p. 36.
  31. Skelton 1920, p. 52.
  32. Skelton 1920, pp. 52–53.
  33. Gagnon, Chs. A.E. (1890). "No. 6: Third Report of the Secretary of the Province of Quebec for the term of 1888-89, Registrar's Division". Sessional Papers. Vol. 2. Quebec: Queen's Printer. p. 4.
  34. An Act to Incorporate the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad Company, S.Prov.C. 1845, c. 25
  35. Kesteman 1990.
  36. Smith 1976, p. 168.
  37. An Act to Incorporate the British American Exploring and Mining Association, S.Prov.C. 1864, c. 130
  38. Myers 1914, pp. 86–87.
  39. An Act to incorporate the Sherbrooke Cotton Factory, S.Prov.C. 1845, c. 91
  40. An Act to incorporate the Sherbrooke Manufacturing Company, S.Prov.C. 1857, c. 176
  41. An Act respecting Loans by "The British American Land Company", S.C. 1876, c. 56
  42. An Act respecting Interest, C.S.C. 1859, c. 58, s. 9
  43. Little 1989b, p. 107.
  44. Little 1989b, pp. 107–109.
  45. Waite, P.B. (1982). "Pope, John Henry". In Halpenny, Francess G (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. XI (1881–1890) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  46. "British American Land Company". (in French). Répertoire du patrimoine culturel du Québec, Ministry of Culture and Communications.
  47. "British American Land Company". The London Gazette (Supplement). No. 38260. 13 April 1948. p. 2876.
  48. Little 1977, p. xi.
  49. "British American Land Company: Firm details". Legacies of British Slave-ownership. University College London. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  50. "The British American Land Company: Registration of Arms and Supporters". Canadian Heraldic Authority. 15 August 2012. p. 171.
  51. Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1915). The Book of Public Arms. London: T.C. & E.C. Jack. p. 116.


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