Among those who have achieved eminence solely by excellence of character, without any of the modern appliances by which unworthy persons seek an undeserved and transient popularity, the subject of this sketch occupies a prominent place. Modest and unassuming in disposition, courteous and suave in manner, self-poised and dignified in demeanor, thoughtful of the feelings of others, and respectful toward their opinions, honorable in the highest and best sense, possessing those delicate instincts which characterize the true gentleman, he affords a fine example of a successful career, as deserved as it is conspicuous.
The Howlands are of English descent, their progenitor in America being one John Howland, a Quaker, who immigrated to the Colonies in the celebrated company of Pilgrim Fathers, in 1620. His descendants are numerous, and include many prominent families scattered throughout the United States and Canada. Sir William Pearce Howland is a native of Duchess County, New York State, and was born in the Town of Paulings, 29th of May, 1811. His parents, who were also natives of New York (Duchess County), were Jonathan Howland, and Lydia née Pearce. The former was in early life a farmer, but later he engaged in mercantile pursuits in Greenbush, N. Y. He died at Cape Vincent, N. Y., in 1842, but his widow still survives at the remarkable age of ninety-four years, living in Toronto. Our subject was educated at the Kinderhook Academy, and came to Canada in 1830, settling in the Township of Toronto, and engaging in mercantile business, in partnership with his brother. They soon opened another branch of their business at Standley’s Mills. Their business brought them in connection with the early settlers of what now comprises the Counties of Peel, York, Cardwell, and Simcoe. In 1840 he purchased the Lambton Mills property, and soon after engaged in the wholesale grocery trade in Toronto. He is now, in connection with his brothers, extensively engaged in the milling business at several points in the Province, and, in connection with his son, conducts one of the largest importing produce establishments in the country.
The public were not long in perceiving Mr. Howland’s adaptability to render them efficient service, and the many important positions which he has been called upon to fill, and the able and acceptable manner in which he has discharged his multifarious duties, evidence the possession of executive abilities of a high order. He is an influential member of the Toronto Board of Trade, and was its President for several years; Director of the Ontario Bank; President of the Anchor Marine Insurance Co.; of the London and Canadian Loan and Agency Co.; of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and of the Confederation Life Association of Canada. To do justice to Mr. Howland’s long and useful political career, would require space far in excess of that at our disposal, and we can therefore but briefly mention the official positions in which he has served. He was a member of the Executive Council, Can., from May 24, 1862, until March 29, 1864; and again from Nov. 24, 1864, until the Union; July 1, 1867, was sworn of the Privy Council, and became Minister of Inland Revenue, holding that position until July, 1868, when he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. From 1857 until the date just mentioned, he represented the constituency of West York, first in the Canada Assembly until the Union, and from that event, in the House of Commons. During the time Mr. Howland was in the Executive Council he was Minister of Finance during the first year, and Receiver-General during the second; Postmaster-General from Nov. 24, 1864, until Aug. 30, 1866, when he was again appointed Minister of Finance, and held that office until he entered the Privy Council. He was peculiarly fitted for the duties of the last mentioned position, owing to his long and successful commercial experience, and conducted its affairs with signal ability. In 1865 the Government appointed him a Commissioner, with Mr. (now Sir) Alex. Galt, to visit Washington in the interests of Reciprocal Trade between the United States and Canada; was re-appointed to the same mission in connection with Sir A. T. Galt, the present Justice Henry, and Sir A. J. Smith, 1866; and to the London Conference, 1866-7, to complete terms for the union of the British American Provinces. Again, in 1875, his services were required as a Commissioner to report on the route of the proposed Baie Verte Canal.
From July, 1868, until Nov., 1873, Mr. Howland filled the position of Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, and upon his retirement there from left behind him an enviable record of official probity and administrative ability. His appointment to the chief civil office of the Province was one which met with much favor from the public generally as well as from his party, and the highest expectations of his friends were not disappointed. As a partial recognition of his distinguished public services, Her Majesty created him C.B. (civil) in July, 1867, and in May, 1879, conferred upon him the order of Knighthood.
Sir William has been twice married, first in 1843, to Mrs. Webb, who died in 1859; again in 1866, to the widow of the late Capt. Hunt. He has three surviving children, two sons and one daughter. Of the former, W. H. Howland, Esq., is associated with him in his commercial business.