Biography of Thomas H. McKenzie
Among the few men now living in these parts who saw Hamilton and Dundas fifty years ago, is Thomas Howard McKenzie, one of the best posted men on Canadian history in the County of Wentworth. He may, with propriety, be called a walking gazetteer of the county; his recollection of dates as well as events being very full and accurate, and his memory seems to be a thesaurus of almost everything which has occurred in this part of the world for the last half century.
Mr. McKenzie is a native of Fort George, Inverness-shire, Scotland, a son of James and Margaret (Barbour) McKenzie, and dates his birth August 12, 1811. His father was an officer in the Royal Artillery, and the son was educated for the army. In 1830 he came to Canada, and settled at Hamilton, where he was employed as a clerk five years for the late Colin, Ferrie and Co. A little episode in his life occurred at this period, he starting out with a young man and two Indian guides on an expedition to the Pacific coast. From Mackinac they proceeded north westward, went up the river Kaministiquia, and reaching Rainy Lake, they found the Indians fighting and the cholera raging, and they beat a retreat to Mackinac and thence back to their starting point. Manitoba was just then no place for pale faces to explore.
Two years before starting on this adventure (1832), Mr. McKenzie had been sent to Preston to establish business there for the firm already mentioned, where he purchased the property on which the Doon mill was built under his supervision in 1835, becoming in the same year a member of the firm and remaining with these parties, stationed at Preston, until 1840, when he settled in Dundas.
Here Mr. McKenzie was in the mercantile business until 1867, dealing, meanwhile, largely in wool. He is said to be the first person who paid cash for wool in Upper Canada, and the first person to ship combing wool to the United States, his first invoice being sent to the Sussex Mills, Mass., in 1842. He is still in the business, with his office at Hamilton since 1867, though his home remains in Dundas. He usually ships to the United States from 300,000 to 600,000 pounds a year, but during the civil war he reached 1,200,000, besides his Canadian traffic. For two years he was also in the woolen manufacturing business at Hamburg, county of Waterloo.
In 1877 Mr. McKenzie went to South Africa, purchased about 450,000 pounds of wool; went round the Cape and up the coast of the Indian ocean, 1,100 miles, and during the trip visited Madeira, Cape de Verd, St. Helena and other islands.
Long prior to this in 1851, he attended the first World’s Exposition at London, and served, among his other duties, on the Committee on Austrian and Prussian hardware. At that exposition Dundas blankets took the first prize, and they were afterwards presented to the Queen.
The year after reaching Canada Mr. McKenzie joined the Volunteers, and 1835, there being some trouble between the Indians and the agent at an island in Lake Huron, he went out with a small military force, but no blood was shed. He was in the rebellion from November, 1837, to June 1838, having command of a company, and was wounded in the arm and leg at Pointe a Pellee, and was in the battle at Gallows’ Hill, back of Toronto. After the rebellion he organized two or three battalions. He had a hand also in the “Trent affair,” 1861, and in the Fenian Raid. He now holds the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Reserve Militia of Wentworth.
Mr. McKenzie was in the town council of Dundas five years and mayor three, and he has been a magistrate since 1835.
The wife of Mr. McKenzie was Miss Sydney Smith, daughter of John Sydney Smith, of Brighton, England, a Surgeon of the 10th Light Dragoons, who accompanied his regiment throughout the Peninsula war. They were married January 30, 1840, and have five children living, and have lost three.
When Mr. McKenzie came to Hamilton in 1830, the place had 653 inhabitants, according to the census taken that year. Including the workmen on the Des Jardins Canal, Dundas was a little larger then. He has lived to see the country fill up, and Hamilton expand into a city of probably 35,000 inhabitants, and enterprising men, like Mr. McKenzie, have had a liberal share in producing this grand exhibit of growth and prosperity.