Bonnechere Museum | Eganville Ontario

John Egan

John Egan - Bonnechere Museum Exhibit | The John Egan exhibit at Bonnechere Museum is one of the only places to see artifacts from his life.
John Egan - Bonnechere Museum Exhibit
The John Egan exhibit at Bonnechere Museum is one of the only places to see artifacts from his life.

‘King of the Ottawa Valley Rivers’, Businessman, mayor, founder of Quyon, member of the legislative assembly, justice of the peace, militia officer, namesake of Eganville, founder of Quyon, partner, railroad builder, canal advocate, advocate of the Opeongo Line. Immigrant to Clerk to Spouse to Entrepreneur
Main Resource - Dictionary of Canadaian Biography Online: REID, RICHARD M. Associate professor of history, University of Guelph, Ontario. John Egan.

  • John Egan was born on November 11, 1811, in the town of Lissavahaun, Galway County, Ireland.
  • Egan immigrated to Canada in 1830, settling in Clarendon Township where he became a clerk for Thomas Durrell, selling supplies for the shanties.
  • In 1838, after years of experience in the square timber trade, purchasing supplies and gaining many friends in the timber industry, he decided to go into business for himself. He formed John Egan and Company and bought the farm of James Wadsworth on the Bonnechere River which was later to become the village of Eganville.
  • On August 13, 1839, he married Anne Margaret Gibson. They had three sons and five daughters.
  • Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa has a record of his son and daughter-in-law: Egan, Henry, b. Feb 15, 1848, d. Oct 19, 1925, Sir, [MB]; Egan, Mrs, b. Oct 09, 1846, d. Mar 21, 1926, Lady Egan (w/o Sir Henry Egan), [MB] . [W. Stewart Wallace offers additional information on his son, Henry Egan, Sir Henry Kelly (1848-1925), capitalist, was born at Aylmer, Canada East, on January 15, 1848, the son of John Egan and Anne Gibson. He was educated at the Montreal High School, and went into the lumbering business. He was one of the founders, and became managing director, of the Hawkesbury Lumber Company; and he became interested in a variety of projects in the Ottawa valley. He died at Ottawa on October 19, 1925. In 1878 he married Harriet Augusta, daughter of W. A. Himsworth, clerk of the Queen's Privy Council in Canada. He was created a knight bachelor in 1914. Source: W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., p. 283.]
  • At the age of 46, he died of cholera on July 11, 1857at Quebec and was buried in Aylmer, Lower Canada, on his estate called Mount Pleasant.

The Person

  • Handsome
  • Genial and gentlemanly
  • 1839 fought a duel of honour with Andrew Powell, a barrister in Bytown, no one injured, insult to Egan was withdrawn


  • depot clerk for Thomas Durrell, a leading lumberman in Clarendon Township, Lower Canada, on the upper Ottawa River
  • 1836 formed Ottawa Lumber Association at Bytown and that winter he was cutting red pine on the Riviere Schyan in Lower Canada
  • that winter he was cutting red pine on the Riviere Schyan in Lower Canada.
  • 1837 he purchased the farm of James Wadsworth at the ‘Fifth Chute’ on the Bonnechere River in Upper Canada, which he later developed as the village of Eganville.
  • supplying more than three dozen other producers, Egan began building dams and timber slides on the Bonnechere River and on Hurd’s Creek in order to get out his own timber
  • 1837 formed John Egan and Company at Aylmer; associates: Henry LeMesurier (timber exporter at Quebec), William Henry Tilstone, and Haviland LeMesurier Routh
  • 1840’s: dealt mainly in red pine, scarcer and more profitable than white pine;
  • 1842 general depression brought business to standstill but recovered
  • Rafting 2.5 million feet of square timber; less than 1/5 came from crown land
  • Small producers and settlers used timer to pay for land
  • Spent more on dams and timber slides in upper and lower Canada: Quyon, Petawawa, Madawaska and their tributaries
  • Timber producers such as Egan and Ruggles Wright often cooperated in the use of built private facilities
  • 1852 joined Danial Mclachlin, James Skead and others to build a wagon road from Arnprior to the head of the Log Rapids on the Madawaska.

John Egan house - Aylmer - description

‘Mount Pleasant’, was built for Egan in 1840, on thirty acres of land purchased from John Wright, was unmatched in its magnificence. Panelled throughout in carved oak, the large stone residence contained a second-storey ballroom where Egan entertained such distinguished visitors as Lord Elgin in 1853, and Sir Edmund Head, the Governor General, in 1856.

John Egan died of cholera in Quebec City in 1857, at the age of forty-six. He was buried in the west-side lawn which, at his widow's request, the Anglican Church had consecrated as a private burial ground. The 1878 sketch depicts the stone monument which was erected there in his memory. The house, occupied until the 1890's by Egan's son-in-law, W. R. Thistle, is shown as it appeared then in the Canadian Illustrated News sketch of 1878.

The property was sold in 1897 to William J. Conroy who sold it in turn a few years later to Johnstone Edgerly. Mr. Edgerly was manager of the controversial Georgian Bay Ship Canal, a never-realized nineteenth century scheme, supported by John Egan, which proposed to construct a canal linking Georgian Bay with the Ottawa River at Mattawa.

Robert H. Wright, a neighbour on the east side and a grandson of John Wright, the original landowner, purchased the house in 1909. At that time the burial ground was deconsecrated at the joint request of Mr. Wright and Egan's son, Sir Henry K. Egan. R. H. Wright, Mayor of Aylmer from 1907-1911, supplied his florist shop in Ottawa with seedlings grown in a vast, four-acre complex of greenhouses located East of the house. The coal required to heat the greenhouses was transported from the C.P.R. tracks by means of a private railway spur which came up Mountain Street (now Frank Robinson) and entered the property through the west gate.

In 1937, the estate was sold to the Congregation du St-Redempteur which erected the enormous stone seminary building at the rear of the house in 1938. Here they formed a self-sufficient community of 130 people for 30 years. A portion of the priests' walk can still be seen behind the buildings.

In 1978, the Redemptorist Fathers returned after an absence of 10 years to run the monastery as a pastoral centre for spiritual renewal. No entrance to Aylmer's historic Main Street could be more attractive than this handsome stone building with its fine old shade trees, well-kept lawns and air of calm repose.

Began to diversify his business in late 1840’s

  • 1846 built a large sawmill with 14 saws and a grist mill at Quyon.
  • 1849 erected two smaller sawmills on the Bonnechere and Little Bonnechere and a grist-mill at Eganville, and purchased a carding and fulling mill in Lochaber Township
  • 1853 completed a large sawmill near Quyon at foot of Chats Falls: most extensive establishment on the Ottawa with most up-to-date machinery
  • Established a transportation system to compete with a line of steamboats that were operated by Jason Gould
  • 1845 Egan and Joseph-Ignace Aumond contracted for two prefabricated iron steamers from John Molson in Montreal; hauled the sections over the ice of the Ottawa.
  • 1846 launched The Emerald at Aylmer to serve between Aylmer and Chats Falls; launched ‘The Oregon’ on the Mississippi River to run above the falls to Arnprior
  • 1846 with Aumond and Ruggles Wright formed the Union Forwarding Company to operate these vessels and to transport passengers and goods around the falls by means of a short horse-drawn tramway, the Union Railroad

Egan at his peak as a businessman

  • 1851 Egan’s firm employed 2,000 men throughout the Ottawa valley and gave work to hundreds of farmers who provided supplies including 1600 oxen and horses which the firm used
  • 1852 Egan’s timber limits covered more than 2000 square miles, and were unmatched by anyone on the Ottawa except perhaps Allan and James Gilmour
  • 1854 emplyed 3,500 men in 100 lumber camps
  • Cash transactions exceeded $2 million
  • It had been Egan, in the opinion of the Canadian Merchants’ Magazine and Commercial Review of Toronto, who first gave a systematic business character to the lumber trade of the Ottawa. Before his day, lumbering on the Ottawa was nothing more than a wild venture.
  • the dominant square-timber king on the Ottawa River, the Canadian Merchants’ Magazine later described him as the ‘Napoleon of the Ottawa’.

Political Activist and Church Supporter

  • He was the first warden in 1841 of the Sydenham District, served as a justice of the peace, and in 1847 became the first mayor of Aylmer.
  • An Anglican, he helped found Christ Church there in 1843.
  • Egan viewed political office as a means for promoting the welfare of the Ottawa valley generally and lumbermen specifically. In 1841 he and others had supported the election in the Lower Canadian riding of Ottawa of Charles Dewey Day, a tory and a former counsel for several timber barons, whom Egan viewed six years later as the ‘only man connected with the Government in whom I have the slightest confidence.’
  • 1847 Following the retirement of Denis-Benjamin Papineau, Egan ran successfully in the general election of 1847?48 in Ottawa, – unpledged to any party? but with strong reform sympathies.
  • 1851 Re-elected to the Legislative Assembly by acclamation in 1851, he was returned three years later for the newly created constituency of Pontiac. He held the seat comfortably until his death, a situation attributable to his wide popularity and to the fact that he had timber limits on most of the unoccupied lands in Onslow, Bristol, and Clarendon and owned extensive blocks of land in those townships.
  • Egan frequently spoke with considerable passion in the assembly on matters pertaining to the Ottawa valley, which, he believed, the government neglected.
  • Early in 1852 he helped organize and lead the movement to have the timber dues on red pine reduced from a penny to a halfpenny per cubic foot. After the fee was reduced in September by provincial order-in-council, Egan and others faced allegations in the assembly that they had ‘put the screws on’ the government by threatening to oppose it in votes on the clergy reserves issue unless the duty was reduced.
  • 1853 In 1853 he used his influence with Francis Hincks to persuade the government to vote $50,000 for the construction of a small canal, roughly parallel to the Union Railroad, at Chats Falls. Plagued by labour shortages and problems in excavation, this highly political project, which Egan had promoted as a public work despite its clear value to his own business and that of Ruggles Wright, was suspended in November,1857 after almost half a million dollars had been spent.
  • Outside the assembly Egan was a central figure in the promotion of a series of internal improvement schemes, especially those which would benefit the lumber industry. He was an early supporter of the Bytown and Prescott Railway because, he claimed in 1848, it would open ‘a profitable market for manufactured timber’ in the United States. He and Joseph-Ignace Aumond helped recruit Walter Shanly in 1851 to build the railway.
  • Opeongo Advocate:In 1852 Egan was a founder of the Bytown and Pembroke Railway Company. He was first president of the Bytown and Aylmer Union Turnpike Company, which had completed a road between the two towns in 1850. In addition he supported the government’s construction in 1852 – 54 of a colonization road between the Ottawa River and Opeongo Lake, believing that it would help lumbermen as well as settlers.
  • In 1853 he joined James Bell Forsyth, Malcolm Cameron, and others in founding the Cap-Rouge Pier, Wharf and Dock Company, which operated near Quebec.

Reverses of Fortune

  • The red pine market had declined steadily after 1847, with both exports and prices falling 30 per cent by 1852.
  • Late in 1855 it was widely rumoured, according to the Perth Courier, that he had failed and the cause was attributed to his heavy involvement with an English firm, Delisle, Janvrin and Company, which had collapsed.
  • 1855-1857 At this time his health was failing and his death at Quebec two years later was not unexpected.
  • The personal property in his estate was worth only about £5,000.
  • In 1867 his rich timber limits on the Madawaska River were bought for $45,000 by John Rudolphus Booth but his executors were unable to dispose of John Egan and Company until 1868, when it was sold to James Bonfield, a former bookkeeper in the company, and Robert Turner.