Herbert Samuel Holt
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|Sir Herbert Holt|
February 12, 1856|
Geashill, Co. Offaly, Ireland
|Died||September 29, 1941
Montreal, Quebec, Dominion of Canada
|Known for||President of the Royal Bank of Canada|
Sir Herbert Samuel Holt (February 12, 1856 – September 29, 1941) was an Irish-born Canadian civil engineer who became a businessman, banker, and corporate director with a ruthless business reputation. He was President of the Royal Bank of Canada, Montreal Light, Heat & Power, and a director of some 250 companies worldwide, with assets valued at around $200 million. On his death, the Montreal Gazette described him as "the richest man in Canada", but he was also one of the most reviled. Among his peers in the Golden Square Mile, "everyone respected his business ability, but nobody liked him personally". Holt was one of the founders of the Town of Hampstead, Quebec
Holt was born at Ballycrystal, near Geashill, Co. Offaly. He was the second son of William Robert Grattan Holt, of Carberry House, Co. Kildare, inherited in 1742 from his ancestor, Hannah Colley (afterwards Grattan) of Castle Carberry. Holt grew up with his family at another family property, Ballycrystal, a grazing farm of 291 acres. In reference to Holt's own ruthless business reputation, it is of interest to note that in a dispute between his father and his uncle, it was said that, "the business affairs of William Holt's family would not stand up to close scrutiny". Herbert Holt's elder brother, Thomas Grattan Holt (whose granddaughter married John Astor), succeeded to Ballycrystal and Carberry, while Holt studied civil engineering in Dublin. In 1873, he emigrated to Canada, beginning work as an assistant engineer with the Toronto Water Works. In the early 1880s, he was employed to survey and construct portions of the Canadian Pacific Railway across the prairies and through the Rocky Mountains, under James Ross.
Herbert Holt became a pioneer developer of the energy business in the Province of Quebec and owned the Montreal Gas Company. In 1901 he merged Montreal Gas with Rodolphe Forget's Royal Electric Company to create the Montreal Light, Heat & Power Company. In 1944, their successful conglomerate was nationalized by legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly of Quebec. It came under the newly created Quebec Hydroelectric Commission, also known as Hydro-Québec. Holt served as president of the Royal Bank of Canada from 1908 to 1934, and the bank's chairman from 1934 until his death. He was a co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton Montreal, a director of Montreal Trust Company, Canada Car and Foundry and many other Canadian companies. He was appointed chairman of the Federal Plan Commission in 1913. In 1915, he was knighted by King George V. Herbert Samuel Holt died in 1941 and was interred in the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal. His comparatively modest home on Stanley Street in Montreal's Golden Square Mile was demolished after his death. Following its formation in 1979, Herbert Holt's significant contribution to the Canadian economy was recognized through his election to the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.
However, Holt was also one of the richest and most reviled Montrealers of his time. When his death was announced at a baseball game in 1941, the crowd cheered. To many French Canadians, Holt was the epitome of 'les maudits anglais' ('the damned English'). Herbert is remembered for being a harsh banker who enjoyed large profits while the common man suffered during the great depression. In his own words “If I am rich and powerful, while you are suffering the stranglehold of poverty and the humiliation of social assistance; if I was able, at the peak of the Depression, to make 150% profits each year, it is foolishness on your part, and as for me, it is the fruit of a wise administration.”
In 1890, Holt married Jessie, the eldest daughter of Andrew Paton (1833-1892) of Sherbrooke, Quebec. The Holts kept three houses: One at 297 Stanley Street in Montreal's Golden Square Mile; another called Ballycrystal House, near Nassau in the Bahamas; and a third called Send Grove, near Woking in England. The Holts were the parents of three sons:
- Major Herbert Paton Holt (1890-1971) M.C., M.P., educated at the Royal Military College of Canada, he inherited Send Grove and Ballycrystal. He fought in both world wars and wrote a history of his regiment, the 3rd Dragoon Guards. He kept a house in Mayfair, London and in 1927 he purchased Lackham Manor, Wiltshire, for £78,000. He was High Sheriff of Wiltshire and Member of Parliament for Upton, Essex. He married Elizabeth, daughter of George Lighthall Cains of Montreal and his wife Amy, sister of Percy Cowans of Montreal. One of their two daughters, Elizabeth, is the widow of John Vavasseur Fisher, 3rd Baron Fisher. Their only son, Lt. George Herbert Holt, was killed in the Second World War.
- Major Andrew Paton Holt (b.1893), named for his maternal grandfather, he was educated at the Royal Military College of Canada. He successfully succeeded his father in many of his business ventures at Montreal. His friend, Lord Beaverbrook, unsuccessfully attempted to purchase him a knighthood.
- Major (William) Robert Grattan Holt (1900-1947), named for his paternal grandfather. He was educated at Marlborough College and the Royal Military College of Canada. In 1915, he survived the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. He served with the Royal Canadian Infantry Corps as a Major during World War Two. He lived at Redpath Crescent, in Montreal's Golden Square Mile, which he gave over to the Navy for use as a hospital during the Second World War. He was the father of one daughter, Jane, known popularly as Pam and afterwards as Pam Dunn (1924-2008). Pam became a famous philanthropist in Montréal who supported the Royal Victoria Hospital Foundation, Bishop's University, the Sun Youth Organization, Dans la rue, the Douglas Hospital, the Montreal Association for the Blind, the Butters Foundation and numerous other charities.
Holt, who was the father of three graduates of the Royal Military College of Canada and donated two hangars to the College in 1920 from the imperial war surplus stores in Canada. The hangars, which were free-freighted from Deseronto to Kingston, were erected as a covered skating rink.
- Remembrance of Grandeur - The Anglo-Protestant Elite of Montreal, by Margaret Westley (1990), page 202
- History of the Town of Hampstead
- Patterns of Migration - Patrick O'Sullivan, 1997
- Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes, Volume 95, 1969
- J. W. Mcconnell: Financier, Philanthropist, Patriot - William Fong (2008), page 615
- History of the Manor of Lackham
- The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History, And Development - Christopher McCreery (2005), page 26
- Holt Home on Redpath Crescent turned over to Navy for use as Hospital - Montreal Gazette, Feb 24, 1944
- Montreal philanthropist Pam Dunn dies at 83, Montreal Gazette, 2008
- The Lusitania Resource
- Preston Canada's RMC: A history of the Royal Military College of Canada (Kingston, 1969)