Project 1 – William Mackay


The announcement in our columns from time to time of the serious illness of Mr. William Mackay, will have prepared our readers for the news that after a long and fruitful life he now rests from his labours. It is ten months since he was taken down with a severe attack of grippe, but in spite of his advanced years he fought the after-effects of that weakening illness with a strength and vitality that many a younger man might envy. In fact, the rigor of mind and the vitality of body which have been his distinguishing, characteristics through his long residence in Renfrew continued almost to the end. On Sunday a week ago his mind wandered back to his childhood’s days and he talked to those about him in the Gaelic words of which had not crossed his lips for many years; and then on Wednesday came the further evidence of his approaching end, when he lapsed into unconsciousness in which state he remained until midnight on Thursday breathing his last before the first hour of Friday morning.

By Mr. Mackay’s death, Renfrew loses its oldest merchant to continuous business here, and the company loses one of the Postmasters in longest service. It was in 1862 that Mr. Mackay founded the mercantile business which for about half a century has been one of the established institutions of Renfrew. At that time, it was not quite a definite thing whether Renfrew or Burnstown was to be the centre of population and commerce in this district, so Mr. Mackay had a store in both places, that in Burnstown being in charge of Donald Fraser, and that in Renfrew under his own supervision. His first store here was down near Mr. P. Dougall’s in a building which had been erected for but never used as a Roman Catholic church. In a year or two with the business growing he rented from the late John Wallace the building at the corner of Main and Renfrew now occupied by Mr. R. Harkness. There he remained for several years, and then about the summer of 1858 he built the store at the comer of Main and Elizabeth streets, which was for so many years a landmark and which was only the last few years supplanted by the fine brick block now occupied by his sons in carrying on, as Mackay Brothers, the business he founded in those unpretentious buildings. Mr. Mackay not only laid the foundations of a large business but also the foundations of the fortune which has been his in his later years. And the foundation was that on which enduring success and fortunes are surest built – Diligence and Integrity. Thirty years ago when The Mercury first came to Renfrew, it soon learned the common faith on the part of his best customers that in Mr. Mackay there was at least one honest man, that if he gave change it was sure to be right, and that a child might safely be sent to his store to do the purchasing, for not only was he scrupulously honest himself but the same virtue was expected by him from his clerks. “The clerk who would cheat a customer would cheat me” was his often expressed view. Besides this universal belief in his honesty, he had another strong hold on the affection of a large element in the district. In the early days of Renfrew there were many who came to farm in the backwoods who had little of this world’s goods. Many a one of these families Mr. Mackay helped and even carried, for seasons and for years, without pressing and without extraction of interest. This explains the warm friendship of many of the older people of the district now passing to their rest for Mr. Mackay; and the loyalty to and veneration for the quiet going and unpretentious old man, learned from their fathers has descended to the sons of the families. Though the cares of his mercantile business seemed closest to him, he had also large investments in lumbering and railway operations in various parts of the Province and Dominion. Though he served a term or two in the village council, he did not take an active part in public affairs. Sometime about the year 1863 he was prevailed on to accept the then more onerous than profitable position of Postmaster; and thus holding a Government office he was precluded from taking on an active personal part in many public matters even had he been so minded.

Mr. Mackay leaves a widow and three sons – John, the eldest, and Allan C. the youngest who comprise the firm of Mackay Brothers, and William A. proprietor of the Flouring Mills; and two daughters, Jessie, (Mrs. Thos. Watson) and Nina (Mrs. A.D. Munroe); and seventeen grandchildren, living. One son, the second Edward; and the second daughter Catherine (Mrs. D.H. McAndrew) predeceased him. He was approaching ninety years of age, was a native of Caithness, Scotland, and came to Canada about 1811. He was a worshiper at St Andrew’s Church.

The funeral on Monday afternoon was attended not only by a large proportion of the townspeople, but by numbers from the neighbouring towns as well as by as large a representation of the older folks of the neighbouring townships as the very inclement weather of the day would permit to safely venture out. The services were conducted by Rev. John Hay. B.D.

The pallbearers were Messrs. A. Barnet, Joshua Murphy, George Eady, Jr., Adam Lindsay, P.S. Stewart and D.H. McAndrew. Among those who attended the funeral from outside places were Messrs. S. Holmes, (ex-Premier of Nova Scotia) of Halifax, and W. Strachan of Montreal, who had been associated with Mr. Mackay in railway enterprises in the Maritime Provinces, Archibald Foster, of Pembroke, Warden of Renfrew County, and Messrs. John McEachen and John Brennan associates of Mr. A.C. Mackay in the County Council; R.A. Campbell, Registrar; Alex Gordon and J.H. Reeves of Pembroke; W.A. H. Fraser of Westmeath, J.W. McRae and N. Plaunt of Ottawa; George Francis and W.T. Guest of Pakenham; Peter Anderson of McNab, and H. Matheson of Shawville; who as young men had been with Mr. Mackay; John Cameron of L’Original brother of Mrs. Mackay; Mr. and Mrs. Hugh McDiarmid of Martintown Que. and Robert Ross of Horton.