George McDonald, the first merchant in Clifford, and the leading business man of the place, was born in the county of Peel, June 14, 1835. His parents, John and Catharine (McDougall) McDonald, were from Argyleshire, Scotland, his father being a builder and contractor. His mother died when he was one year old. Partly on account of this loss, George received quite limited school privileges in his youth, but subsequently attended night schools, and acquired a fair knowledge of the elementary branches. He worked on his father’s farm until fourteen years of age, then spent four years at Brampton, in learning the carriage maker’s trade, and after working one year as a journeyman, commenced the business for him self at Cheltenham, in his native county. The next year his health beginning to fail, by the advice of his physician, he sold out, and abandoned the carriage business. Going to Culross, in the county of Bruce, he opened a store, traded two years, and in 1858, settled where the village of Clifford, in the township of Minto, now stands, the only person here then being Frank Brown, who had a little saw mill, and was keeping an inn in a little log cabin. This part of the county of Wellington, and that part of the county of Bruce in which Mr. McDonald had just resided, were almost a complete wilderness twenty-two or twenty-four years ago, with none but the poorest apologies for roads. Gravel roads have since been made, railroads have been run through the country, and this part of the Province is filled up with thrifty farriers, and dotted with smart young villages and towns. A few years afterwards he was influential in securing better roads, and getting a railroad into town, working very hard for both enterprises.
At the time Mr. McDonald settled here, emigrants were beginning to come in rapidly; he opened a store in a small building; had a fair trade from the start, and two or three years later, put up a much larger building, which he used for a hotel as well as store. In those days he had to haul his goods by teams from Guelph, a distance of fifty miles, being sometimes eight or nine days in making the round trip. His wife tended the store while he did the teaming. At one time he had three or four branch stores at other points in this vicinity.
Mr. McDonald built a store twice after his first start here, each time on a larger scale, and traded in general merchandise for sixteen years. During most of this time he also dealt in grain, which he is still purchasing and shipping in large quantities. He also built a flouring mill at an early day, and run it until 1876, when he sold out.
In 1878 he built the McDonald house, which stands on the corner of two streets, with a hundred feet on each street, the building being of brick and three stories high. It has five stores in it, besides the office, diningroom, reading room, sample rooms, etc., which are on the ground floor. The whole structure is put up in modern style, very high in the ceiling; has about forty rooms of all .kinds, and is heated with hot air. Its cost was $12,000 and it is rare that the traveler finds as elegant and excellent a public house in a town five or six times the size of Clifford.
Mr. McDonald has done some public work as school trustee, and was reeve of the village in 1877 and 1878.
He is a Reformer, firm and unflinching, and during an exciting canvass usually works very hard for his political friends. He is a man of much influence, a leader, in fact, in this respect, in the place.
November 11, 1857, Mr. McDonald married Mrs. Sarah Jane Haines, daughter of George Patterson, of Toronto, and she has had six sons and one daughter, losing one of the sons. The family attend the Presbyterian church.