Biography of George Maclean Rose

In the interesting biography of Robert Chambers, the Edinburgh publisher, from the loving pen of his brother William, we are told that their father had strong convictions as to the importance of allowing children to think and struggle for themselves. To the parental determination of many a Scottish father on this point, Scotia’s sons owe much in enabling them successfully to battle with the world, and in many lands to achieve distinction. Beginning at the bottom of Fortune’s ladder, the rugged tutelage of an early and unassisted start in life has ever been the young aspirant’s best incentive to ascend it. With no patrimony, save that which a self reliant nature could win for itself, and no heritage but that of health and a fair name, the career of Scottish youth has generally had little of adventitious aid to favor it. Success most often has had to be wrested from a seemingly unwilling Divinity, whose gifts in the end rarely fail, however, of being won by conscientious persistency, and tenacious purpose. In the career of the subject of the present sketch, what we have said finds ample illustration.
Born in the Royal Burgh of Wick, Caithness-shire, on the 14th of March,1829, the unprom ising surroundings of the early life of George Maclean Rose were such as have tutored many of his countrymen to hardy endurance and inspired them with the national ambition to rise in life. Now at the head of the firm of Messrs. Hunter, Rose and Co., one of the largest printing and publishing houses in the Dominion, the callow beginnings, now almost forty years ago, of Mr. Rose’s apprenticeship, in the office of the celebrated John 0’Groat Journal, present a contrast as striking as it is significant. The step from the one position to the other was attained at no single bound, but has been wearily reached by toilsome and assiduous labor and an unflagging will. With no pecuniary subsidy to start life upon, and with but the scant education which falls to the lot of most Scottish youths, our young apprentice reached his majority after passing seven years in the printing office already referred to. In 1850, he took a position in the office of the Northern Ensign, a Reform journal just then started by Mr. John Mackie, a leading temperance advocate and political writer of North Britain, who had, during the full period of Mr. Rose’s apprenticeship, acted as editor of the John O’Groat Journal. Here he only remained for about a year, as his father, Mr. Donald Rose, conceiving the purpose of emigrating to Canada, was about to leave Scotland to come hither, and desired the subject of our sketch to join the family in their resolve to set out for the New World. Reluctantly consenting, Mr. G. M. Rose joined the party and bade farewell to the companions of his childhood, and especially to his friend Mr. Mackie, for whom he had the warmest affection, and whose teaching, Mr. Rose gratefully acknowledges, has powerfully influenced him in his afterlife. Taking ship, the Empress of Banff at Scrabster Roads, Thurso, the family set sail for America, and after a pass age of over six weeks, arrived at Quebec, whence they proceeded to Montreal, where they were met by Mr. Rose’s elder brother, Henry, who had come to Canada in 1848. In these early days, employment was scarce in the Colony, and after eagerly searching for it for about two weeks, and having meanwhile nearly exhausted the small store of money he had when he landed, Mr. Rose ultimately found work in the office of Mr. John C. Becket, who was then publishing the Montreal Witness, the Canadian Temperance Advocate, and other semi religious papers. After working for Mr. Becket for some months, he was engaged by Mr. George Matthews, the Engraver, to number and prepare for signature the first issue in Canada of the Bank of Montreal notes, just then being printed by him. After some months, Mr. Rose, though conscious of the responsibility of the work entrusted to him, did not find it congenial to his tastes; he therefore resigned his position, and again entered the office of Mr. Becket, where he remained for some months longer. At this time (1853,) his father died, leaving in his charge, his mother, two sisters, and two brothers, both of whom, with one of his sisters, being younger than himself. After meeting the expenses of his father’s funeral, Mr. Rose found that he had very little money left of his slender savings; but, with characteristic determination, he resolved to make the most of what remained. With this end in view, he formed a partnership with his brother Henry, under the firm name of “H. and G. M. Rose, Book and Job Printers.” Their capital being small, their establishment was of corresponding extent. But they were industrious, and succeeded in a modest measure in obtaining business. In the beginning of 1856, the brothers dissolved partnership, and George, ambitious of more rapidly making his way in the world, directed his steps to the Western Province. Shortly after this we find him in the village of Merickville, assisting Mr. John Muir to establish the Merickville Chronicle. After a brief interval, he removed to London, and took charge there of Mr. H. Newcomb’s printing office, a position he occupied until he was induced by Mr. Hamilton Hunter to join him in the publication of The Atlas the firm being known as that of “Hunter and Rose.” The hard times of 1857 just then coming on, it was deemed advisable to discontinue The Atlas until business revived, awaiting which he was offered, by the late Mr. Marcus Talbot, M. P. for East Middlesex, the position of city editor and reporter on the London Prototype, which he accepted, and held until the following year, when he was pressed by Messrs. George Sheppard and Daniel Morrison to join them in Toronto on The Colonist newspaper. Mr. Rose now removed to the present Provincial capital, but instead of coming to terms with those well known journalists, he accepted in preference the position of manager of the printing office of Mr. Samuel Thompson, for whom he published, during the period of its existence, the Toronto Atlas. This journal was started to take the place of The Colonist, which had begun to oppose the Government of the day, leading off in opposition with the striking and long remembered article, “Whither are we Drifting?” Mr. Thompson having obtained the printing contract for the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council of Canada, it became necessary, on the removal of the Government to Quebec, to establish a Parliamentary printing office in that city. To take the practical management of this office Mr. Rose was chosen, and in the Fall of 1859, he removed to the ancient capital. About a year after this Mr. Thompson, unfortunately, found himself in financial difficulties, and was compelled to make new arrangements for the prosecution of his business. This necessitated the formation of a company with Mr. Robert Hunter, an experienced accountant, and Mr. G. M. Rose, its practical head, as partners. In the following year, Mr. Thompson retired, and the business fell into the hands of the chief members of the company, Mr. Hunter and Mr. Rose, who, under the firm name of Hunter, Rose and Co., completed Mr. Thompson’s five years contract, and secured its renewal for a further period in their own names. When the Government, in 1865, removed to Ottawa, the Parliamentary printing office necessarily had to follow. To that city the plant and business of the firm were transferred, and with them Mr. Rose, who now became a citizen of the new capital. While at Ottawa, Confederation was accomplished, and the business of Mr. Rose’s firm was largely augmented. A year later, and after the formation of the Provincial Legislatures, the late Hon. John Sandfield Macdonald, finding himself in difficulty with the Government printers he had contracted with at Toronto, arranged with Mr. Rose’s firm to open a branch at the seat of the Local Legislature, which they did, in 1868, having received a ten year lease of the Parliamentary printing. To take charge of this Toronto establishment, Mr. Hunter removed to the Provincial capital Mr. Rose remaining at Ottawa until the contract with the Dominion Parliament, in 1871, was completed. At its expiry Mr. Rose then made Toronto his residence; his firm consolidating their business at that city.

At this time with commendable ambition, Mr. Rose’s firm entered upon a branch of commercial enterprise, in the publication of Canadian reprints of English copyright works, which for many years laid the reading public of the Dominion under great obligations to the house of Hunter, Rose and Co. These reprints consisted principally of works of fiction from the pens of the notable novelists of the day, among whom were Wilkie Collins, Charles Reade, Lord Lytton, and a number of writers of lesser note. The republication of these popular works of the time was spiritedly and intelligently made for a number of years their authors receiving handsome recognition of their labors by the enterprising firm issuing their works. The undertaking, while enabling the publishers to do an intellectual service to the reading community of the country, and to honorably recompense the English authors whose books were reproduced, was very helpful in stimulating the nascent printing and publishing industries of Canada, which, though without otherwise bearing much fruit, proved the practicability, under favorable legislation, of Canadian publishing houses supplying their own book market. In these enterprises of the firm, Mr. Rose’s practical skill and good taste were of much service in the mechanical manufacture of the issues of the house, which to day easily leads, in the artistic character of its book making, and the facilities with which work is turned out, the trade of the country. The connection, for many years as printers and now as owners and publishers, with our national magazine, The Canadian Monthly, testifies to the public spirited character of Mr. Rose’s firm, and to the liberal encouragement which it has always given to Canadian literature and its dissemination among the people. In 1877, Mr. Robert Hunter, for sixteen years Mr. Rose’s partner in his business operations, died, leaving him the sole member of the firm which, since 1860, had industriously, and successfully toiled on the weary road to fame and to fortune. A year later, he took into partnership with him a younger brother, of large experience also as a printer, and the two now compose the firm which has been so long and favorably known as Hunter, Rose and Co.

So far, we have only dealt with Mr. Rose as a man of business. Let us now, before closing, say a brief word or two with regard to the distinguishing traits of his character which have marked his public and social life. Although for many years industriously occupied in building up a prosperous and important business, he has found time to take an active and prominent part in schemes tending to elevate his fellow men, and to benefit the communities among whom his lot has been cast. In this respect, he has loyally followed in the footsteps of his early friend, Mr. Mackie, of Wick, whose devotion to the interests of humanity and brotherhood, in the home of his childhood, made so powerful and lasting an impression on his youthful mind. The chief sphere of his active philanthropy and self sacrificing interest has been that of the Temperance lodge room; and many and varied are the organizations, in the cities of which he has been a resident, which have had the benefit of his sage counsel and felt the inspiriting effects of his intelligent, practical zeal. At an early age circumstances led him to take the total abstinence pledge, and when he came to Canada, ten years later, he eagerly joined the working army of his warmly espoused cause, the Sons of Temperance, and has ever since occupied a prominent position in the brotherhood. While a resident of the Province of Quebec, he was elected to the highest position in the gift of the Order, and when leaving the eastern capital the fraternity presented him with a handsome gold medal as an acknowledgment of the work he had done in their interest. Since he came to Ontario, he has filled, for a double term, the office of the head of the Order, and was presented on his retirement with an elegant and costly piece of plate. At Ottawa he was also the recipient of a gold medal for services rendered to the temperance cause; and from an Orange Lodge in Quebec he received another gold medal for his championship of Protestantism.

Devoting himself so earnestly, as he has done, to the cause of temperance, he has escaped in great measure the seductive wiles of political life; but he has ever taken a lively interest in questions of political government, though subordinating his party predilections to loyal interest in the cause he has had most at heart. When questioned as to what are his political principles he has always replied by saying that he is a “Reformer of the Reformers,” and that, as a Prohibitionist, his fealty would be given to the party who would pass enactments in suppression of the Liquor traffic.

In religion, Mr. Rose styles himself a Liberal Christian, and is an active member and office bearer in the First Unitarian Church of Toronto. In early years he was connected with the Congregational body, but feeling restive under the doctrinal beliefs of that Church, he joined the Unitarian communion, under Rev. Dr. John Cordner, at Montreal, and has since remained in that denomination.

Mr. Rose was married in 1856 to Margaret C. J. L. Manson, daughter of the late Mr. William Manson, farmer, Oxford county, and the union has been blessed with a family of ten children, nine of whom are alive six sons and three daughters.

In personal appearance, Mr. Rose is of medium stature. He has a robust frame, a ruddy, pleasing countenance, and a manner urbane and kindly. Besides the distinguishing accent of his homely Scottish speech he possesses many of the racial characteristics of his country. Of much natural penetration and sagacity, his progress through life has dowered him with a shrewd, practical knowledge of the world, and given Mm an intimate acquaintance with his fellow men. With a conscientious sense of his obligations as a citizen, he is easily influenced by appeals to his sympathy and to his purse. If he has a fault at all, it lies in the direction of being over swayed by his heart; but he can be stern to those who forget the necessity of “living well and worthily.” Usually of quiet and unassuming address, he is capable, on occasion, of firing into vehement outbursts on behalf of his favorite topic abstinence. In this cause he has been a life long and worthy champion, and for his services in its behalf, if in nothing else, he deserves well of his kind.



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