The Real Alexander MacLaren – Who Had Maple Leaf Built

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By Maureen Gordon

There’s a story that begins with a man skating on a frozen river at night, being chased by wolves.

The man was alone, heading home through the forest and countryside of Buckingham, Quebec, after working many miles up river from town. It’s a story Alex MacLaren liked to tell his grandchildren, and the man in the story was himself.

As the animals loped along the river near him, Alex said he braked in a hockey stop, and the wolves went skidding past him as they tried to brake, too. Then Alex accelerated past the wolves in their skidding disarray. Obviously, he got home.

Whether this is the truth or embellished, it is a little insight into the businessman and family man who commissioned the SV Maple Leaf to be built.

One of his grandsons, John, recounted the story to Kevin and me this winter, when we visited Buckingham, the home of the MacLaren family since the mid-1800s.

At Maple Leaf Adventures, we knew some of Alex’s business accomplishments, including the branch of the family business that he set up on the British Columbia coast. (Another story, for another time.) But we knew so little about the man himself. We even had the wrong photograph of him in our history pages!

Then this winter, in our too-short visit with John Bogie, James MacLaren, and Tim and Audrey Kenny in the Ottawa valley, as well as historians Michel and MaryLu Riberdy, we learned about Alexander as a business leader and adventurer, from a family of similar entrepreneurial and adventurous people.

Alex’s father, James MacLaren, for example, developed a very successful lumber company, and then was a major investor in CPRail and the building of the railroad across Canada. It was the railroad that resulted in the rise of Vancouver as an economic centre, and it was the railroad that Alex and his family used to travel between Vancouver (and the Maple Leaf) and Buckingham.

Alex’s father James was also was the biggest funder of a new bank in 1875, the Bank of Ottawa, created by lumber business people in the area. The bank was founded because the conservative lending policies of existing banks frustrated the region’s lumber entrepreneurs. The new bank was referred to as the Lumberman’s Bank. It was successful and James was president of the bank (one of his many business interests) until his death. Quite an example to follow. (You can read more about James’ extraordinary life here.)

Alex was also an adventurer who liked to succeed, in hobbies as well as in business. In addition to having the most expensive, fastest racing yacht on the BC coast in the Maple Leaf, Alex had racehorses.

One of them, known as Larabie the Great, held a world record in sulky racing and, when Alex sold it, Larabie went on to win the New York horse show.

There is one final story to share today, about the hospitality of Alexander and his wife Annie.

Sometimes in winter, Alex would skate the 35-odd kilometres up the river from Buckingham to Ottawa for meetings. In the evening, when the meetings were over, Alex would contact the house from the city, and let Annie know that 110 of the businesspeople were coming down for a late-night supper.

As the people piled into sleighs under blankets and furs to travel to Buckingham, Annie and her staff would ready the house and put on a spread of food and drink. Then 110 people would arrive in the night and feast on the MacLaren’s hospitality.

Although we at Maple Leaf Adventures only welcome 110 people on special occasions, such as open houses, we certainly relate to the love of hosting people for good food and a good time.

It’s nice to know that is something the Maple Leaf has been part of from the beginning.

Stay tuned for additional excerpts of the SV Maple Leaf‘s history, in this, her 110th birthday year.

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