Saturday, 30 March 2013



At the fourteenth annual convention of the Association of Life Insurance Presidents, held recently in New York, T. B. Macaulay, president of the Sun Life Assurance company, gave an address on Life Assurance in Canada, portions of which will be of special interest to old-time Hamiltonians. The Saturday Muser is under obligations to Herb. Gardiner, a one-time editor of the Times, for a very pleasant historical story of the Canada Life Assurance company, which had its birth in Hamilton in the year 1847, with Hugh C. Baker as its president and chief financial manager. It might not be out of place, as an addition to Mr. Gardiner’s story, to give the names of the men who were the first officers and directors of the company. The Canada Life Assurance company was organized and established in 1847, its head office being located in Hamilton. The paid-up capital at the start was fixed at 250,000 pounds. Five years later, its accumulated fund had increased to 65,000 pounds, with an annual income of 22,500 pounds. Total liabilities 172,186 pounds. Total assets, 244,029 pounds. This was a good showing for a young life assurance company. The official roster of the company was as follows :
Hugh C. Baker, president; John Young, vice-president; Thomas M. Simons, secretary; George Sheppard, actuary.
Directors – Archibald Kerr, James Osborne, J. D. Pringle, Richard Juson, G. W. Burton, Hon. R. Spence, Hon. Adam Ferguson, Hon. J. H. Cameron, N. Merritt, John Arnold, Hugh C. Baker, W. P. McLaren, D. C. Gunn, J. McIntyre, Miles O’Reilly, R. P. Street, E. C. Thomas, John Young, James Hamilton, M.D. A pretty safe bunch of businessmen for the fathers of those days to insure their lives with for the benefit of their families.
Dr. Gerald O’Reilly was one of the founders and original stockholders of the Canada Life Assurance company, and his signature will be found on the first formal contract under which the business of the company was begun and before the charter was granted in April, 1849. He was the first medical referee and adviser of the company, and was numbered among the first policy holders, being No. 47.
Prior to 1847, Mr. Macaulay said, life assurance was almost unknown in the province of British America. The rest of the story was prepared by Mr. Gardiner from Mr. Macaulay’s address.
In that year (1847) the first Canadian life office was founded, the Canada Life Assurance company. When in 1867, the Canadian provinces were federated and became the Dominion of Canada, the total of the assurances in force was probably about $15,000,000, about one-fourth of the amount being in the Canada Life, the remainder being in British and American companies.
The circumstances which led to the founding of the Canada Life are of interest. Hugh C. Baker, of Hamilton, Ontario, a gentleman of considerable banking experience, desired to insure his life, and for that purpose applied to one of the British offices. Being a rather substandard life, there was a little hesitancy, and he was requested to go all the way to New York for examination, no small undertaking in those days when railways were unknown and the only means of transportation were stage coach and saddle. Mr. Baker was a thoughtful, studious man, and he decided to found a local company in his own town. He succeeded in interesting a number of others, and thus in 1847, the Canada Life Assurance company, the pioneer office of the Dominion, came into being. “I may be pardoned for injecting,” said Mr. Macaulay, “that my honored father joined the staff of the Canada Life as its accountant when it was eight years old, in 1855. I have often heard him speak of Mr. Baker, and always in terms of admiration, even of affection. He had a profound regard for Mr. Baker’s character, ability and devotion to the interests of his company. Those were the days when such men as he had to grope in the dark to a large extent when faced with actuarial and investment problems. Elaborate tables of policy values, with the multitude of other helps we now have, did not exist. Mr. Baker had to do much of his own calculating, using chiefly, if I remember it straight, the Carlisle six per cent tables for valuations. I have heard my father describe his voluminous calculations in connection with premium reserves and bond values.” Such work was congenial to him, and the Canada Life was indeed fortunate in having such a man as its guide in its earlier years. In those days, the public knew nothing of the principles of life assurance, and were indifferent to its advantages. In many cases there was even keen opposition on the ground that it was an interference with the workings of Divine Providence. The company had great difficulties to contend with, but Mr. Baker “builded” even better than he knew , and the Canada Life as it stands today is the monument to his enterprise and wisdom.
It was nearly a quarter of a century before any other Canadian company entered the field. The federation of the provinces, however, stimulated greatly the national consciousness of the enterprise. In the late sixties several companies were incorporated, and shortly afterwards began business, the Ontario Mutual 1870, the Sun Life and the Confederation in 1871. When these newly-organized companies began to compete for their share of the business in 1871, the Canada Life had in force slightly over five thousand policies, covering a little more than eight million dollars of assurance. In those days, however, these figures appeared very large. The company had behind it twenty-four years of prosperous business life and its prestige was indeed great. Its assets of a million and a quarter dollars were considered enormous for Canada, and it had a record for large profits such as few companies anywhere were able to sustain. Canadians were, and are, rightly proud of their pioneer company which has now, however, grown to a size and strength which would make the men of 1871 gasp with astonishment.
On the death of its founder, Mr. Baker, in 1859, the board of directors of the Canada Life sent a deputation to the old country to select a successor who would possess the advantage of the training of some British company. Their choice fell to A. G. Ramsay, at that time connected with the Scottish Amicable Life. I was privileged some time ago to read the interesting correspondence which these representatives of the board had with Mr. Ramsay, which led to his becoming manager of the company, and, ultimately, in 1875, its president. After twenty-six years of arduous service, Mr. Ramsay retired in January, 1900, on a liberal pension, which he enjoyed for many years.
He was succeeded by Senator Geo. A. Cox, one of the mosr forceful men Canada has produced. He had been connected with the company for thirty years before assuming the presidency. He in turn was succeeded by his son, E. W. Cox, whose career was cut short by death after but one year of office; his successor being our friend, his brother, H. C. Cox, president of the company at the present time.
Perhaps I may add that to those who remember the great part played by A. G. Ramsay in the development of te company, it is very pleasing to know that the name has not been allowed to drop out, for among those intimately associated with Mr. Cox is Mr. Ramsay’s grandson, another W. G. Ramsay.

The Muser is one of the few surviving Hamiltonians who can remember Hugh C. Baker as the first president of the Canada Life. We can also remember him as one of the leaders in active life of Hamilton more than seventy years ago. He was the founder of three building societies, two of which he was the president, and the third one secretary-treasurer. Those societies helped to build up Hamilton, for carpenters, bricklayers, plasterers and painters could own their home by borrowing, at a low rate of interest, the money necessary to purchase the building material, and then the different trades swapped work with each other, and thus became homeowners. Although a busy man, he took the time necessary to attend to religious matters, being a warden in the Church of the Ascension, and treasurer of the City Tract and Missionary society. In public affairs, he was in general demand as a director of the board of trade. A director of the gas works company, vice-president of the Hamilton and Port Dover railroad; in fact, no enterprise for the upbuilding of Hamilton seemed to be complete without the helping hand of Mr. Baker.
Before, and some time after, the establishment of the Canada Life, Mr. Baker was manager of the Hamilton branch of the Bank of Montreal, then located on the south side of King street, a little west of James street, where the Royal Bank now stands. He lived on James street south, in the house now occupied by Dr. Rosebrugh, with grounds extending from Jackson street to Hunter street. Mr. Macaulay’s reference to the continuity of interest in the Ramsay and Cox families tempts us to add that Hugh C. Baker, son of the founder of the Canada Life, who was born in the old Bank of Montreal building on King street west, now lives on Herkimer street.. Like his father, he began his active career in the banking business, and like his father, he had the foresight and judgment to embark in new enterprises. It was the second Hugh C. Baker who built Hamilton’s first street railway. When most people regarded Alexander Bell’s newly-invented telephone as a toy, Hugh C. Baker realized its possibilities, and became one of the first stockholders in the Bell Telephone company, of which he was for many years manager of Ontario, performing essential service in perfecting the system and bringing the company to its presnt strong standing. The Muser is grateful to Herb. Gardiner, for his outline of Mr. Macaulay’s address to the association of life insurance presidents, which old-time Hamiltonians will enjoy.
The Canada Life has always been fortunate in its selection of local managers for its several branch offices. Mr. Hale, the presnt local manager of the Hamilton branch, is an enterprising man, who takes an interest in the social, religious and benevolent life of Hamilton.

Did you ever count them up? You will no doubt be surprised to know that there is one automobile owned in Hamilton for every seventeen people, counting every man, woman and child. This is no fancy statement, for we give it on the authority of Chief of Police Whatley, and he says that Hamilton beats the world, so far as he can learn from official reports in its number of cars. Just fancy, one car for every seventeen people in this industrial town, and they do not all belong to the ‘bloated capitalists,’ either, for there are not enough of them to own the thousands of cars that are flying through the streets every hour, day and night, running over the unfortunate few who do not belong to the charmed one in seventeen. Now, that is not a sign of poverty when this old town can boast of owning the largest number of cars of any city in the world in proportion to the population.

In last Saturday’s Musings, we told of the ancient Central School, in which we were fortunate in being able to recall the names of the first staff of teachers under Dr. Sangster. We told in brief the unfortunate ending of one of the staff, a man named King, and of his murdering his wife, who had spent a legacy from her parents in educating him for the medical profession. Dr. King located down about Cobourg, where he became enamored of a woman who had a larger bank roll than his wife, and being avaricious to command both rolls, he gradually murdered his wife by dosing her with ground glass, intending to take the other woman as his wife. An inquest was held on the murdered wife, and in the meantime Dr. King skipped out, and left the country, going to California. The coroner’s jury found an indictment against King, and immediate efforts were made to capture him. It is said that “conscience makes cowards of us all,” and this must have been King’s condition, for after wandering around for a few months, he returned to his old home, intending to give himself up to the officers. The night before his arrest, he slept in a hog pen, and was a sorry-looking sight when discovered in the morning. Short work was made of his trial, resulting in a verdict of murder, for which he was sentenced to be hanged. When the day for the execution came, a young boy named Marshall, who was born on a farm near Cobourg, begged his father to take him to see the hanging. Every road leading to Cobourg that morning was crowded with sightseers, and among them was young Marshall., and he is living today in Hamilton to tell the story of that tragic event. He says that King impressed him as being a handsome young man, and he has never4 forgotten the speech he made from the gallows. Probably Mr. Marshall is the only living witness in Hamilton to that tragic scene, and he recalls it as vividly today as when he witnessed it more than sixty-five years ago in front of the Cobourg jail. Mr. Marshall is an old resident of Hamilton, having more to this city when he was a young man. For many years, he was manager of the Slater Shoe company when it had a branch in Hamilton. He is now employed by the F. F. Dalley company. It is strange how memory calls back the wandering ghost of the past.

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