Biography of Alexander Workman

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The oldest iron merchant in Ottawa is Alexander Workman, a native of Lisburn, county of Antrim, Ireland, where he was born May 28, 1798. His father was Joseph Workman, who emigrated to America when a young man, and was a mathematical teacher in an institution in Philadelphia a few years, and then returned to his native place, and married Catharine Gowdey.

Young Workman received his education at an institution which has since become Belfast College, and when about seventeen became a clerk in an iron store.

In April, 1820, he came to America, landing at Quebec; and proceeding westward to what is now the Province of Ontario, he settled on a farm in the town of Huntley, twenty miles west of Bytown, since named Ottawa. In 1823, he left Huntley, at the invitation of his brother, Dr. Benjamin Workman, at that time principal of an academy, then called the Union School, in the city of Montreal, the two becoming partners in that literary enterprise. On the retirement of the doctor, a few years later, our subject continued the academy on his own account until 1845. That year he removed to Ottawa, and on the spot on Rideau street, where he still trades, opened the present iron store in company with Edward Griffin, who retired in 1868.
Mr. Workman is now alone in the business, and although in his 82nd year, maintains his business habits and pursues his calling energetically.

He has held various local offices, discharging their duties with great faithfulness, and he has always been regarded as a valuable citizen.

Mr. Workman was married on the 20th of April, 1820, just before leaving the old country choosing for his wife Mary, daughter of Lieut. Francis Abbott, Ireland. She was Scotch, on her mother’s side. She had four children, and died in 1874.

Mr. Workman attributes his lengthened and successful life to his uncompromising detestation of intoxicating liquors, and his own strictly temperate habits; and the writer once heard him remark that he should like to leave this motto for his posterity: “Our ancestor, Alexander Workman, did not use strong drink, not even wine, neither will we ever do it.” His history, briefly told, leaves its own wholesome lesson.

MLA Source Citation:

The Canadian Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self Made Men, Ontario, Volume 1. Toronto: Toronto American Biographical Pub. Co. 1880. Web. 30 January 2015. - Last updated on Aug 6th, 2012


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