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John McRae, the oldest merchant in Port Colborne, was born in Poolewe, Ross-shire, Scotland, September 15,1800, being the son of Donald and Julia Ann McRae, and the seventh child of a family of ten children. It is a family remarkable for its longevity. The mother of John, whose surname was McRae, lived to be ninety-three years old; the grandfather of our subject was nearly 100 at his death, and his father was drowned by accident at sixty-five.
During the boyhood of John, the family made one or two moves; he secured a district school education; farmed and herded, until in his twentieth year, when he contemplated going to CapeColony, but being disappointed in some of his arrangements, decided to come to Canada, with the intention at first of simply seeing the country. He was twenty-one days in making the voyage, on a brig, to Quebec, and that was not a:slow trip from Scotland sixty years ago. Just before leaving the old world (1820), looking at a steamer on the Clyde, he predicted that if he lived fifty years, he should see steam used as a motive power on the land. Scarcely a lustrum had passed before George Stephenson had the railway system of England pretty well developed
Our subject spent a few years in the eastern part of Upper Canada, in manufacturing potash and in working on the Rideau Canal, and about 1834 found his way as far west as Fort Erie, and Port Colborne, permanently settling at the latter place in 1839, when Port Colborne had, perhaps, 250 people. At the opening of the rebellion near the close of 1837, he, with others, offered his services to aid in suppressing it, but the rebels soon abandoned Navy Island, and that
ended his military career. At the time of the Fenian raid, in 1866, Port Colborne was for a short time full of British soldiers, and the house and store of Mr. McRae were opened to shelter them, other merchants and housekeepers generally doing the same. The village was literally packed with the defenders of the country, and for a short time the excitement was intense.
Only two or three families that were in Port Colborne forty years ago, are seen here today. For a great many years he was the leading merchant in the place, and at one time furnished supplies for nearly all the boats which passed through the Welland Canal, being a successful business operator.
Mr. McRae had several offices offered to him years ago, but he declined to accept any one of them, and has lived a very quiet life. He is an elder in the Presbyterian church.
He has been twice married: the first time to Miss Barbara McRae, of Glencoe, Upper Canada; she dying in 1847, leaving three children, all now dead; the second time he was united in 1848 to Miss Mary Graybiel, of the county of Welland. By her he has two children, John C., a medical student, and Edgar, who has charge of his father’s store.