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A Gentleman of Substance: The Life and Legacy of John Redpath

By Margaret Goldik

A review of A Gentleman Of Substance: The Life And Legacy Of John Redpath by Richard Feltoe

Published on October 1, 2004

A Gentleman Of Substance: The Life And Legacy Of John Redpath
Richard Feltoe

Natural Heritage Press
$25
paper
144pp
1-896219-92-6

Richard Feltoe, Curator and Corporate Archivist of the Redpath Sugar Museum, presents a sympathetic portrait of a remarkble man in this abundantly illustrated biography. Feltoe anchors John Redpath securely in his own time, giving the background to disputes (such as the divisive push to have an organ in the Presbyterian church) that might not resonate with people today. When information about Redpath’s life is scanty, Feltoe uses other contemporary sources to flesh out the bones of the story.

John Redpath, born in Scotland in a time of economic upheaval, arrived in Quebec City in 1816, without funds to travel further in search of work. He walked to Montreal, barefoot to save his shoes. By the end of his life in 1869, he had used his many natural gifts, among them a prodigious work ethic and well-reasoned principles, to leave a legacy of enduring good works, including the Montreal General Hospital and the Mechanic’s Institute (now the Atwater Library.)

By any measure Redpath was a man of integrity and impeccable business sense, who lived a full and rich life. He fathered 17 children by his two wives; built an empire for his successors; carried out engineering feats in the Rideau canal system; was principally responsible for the founding of three Presbyterian churches; started a movement to annex Lower Canada to the United States in a civil and peaceful manner when he and his class were betrayed by the British government – all this and more while acting as an agent for social change.

Feltoe winds up the story of John Redpath with thumbnail histories of his principal descendants, and a story by Redpath’s granddaughter, Edwardian writer Lily Dougal, about her childhood in Montreal. mRb

Margaret Goldik is a former editor of the Montreal Review of Books.

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