George Stephen, 1st Baron Mount Stephen (June 5, 1829 – November 29, 1921) was a Scots-Quebecer banker and railway executive in Canada.
Early life and career
Born in Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland, the son of a carpenter, he was educated at the parish school, after which he worked as a herd boy. At the age of twenty-one he immigrated to Canada where for the next fifteen years he laboured in a relative's textile business. Driven by a desire to succeed and his strong Scottish work ethic, Stephen also demonstrated a strong business acumen. By 1866 he was running his own successful wool-importing company then began investing in other enterprises. In the 1860s he entered the railroad business by purchasing a major share position in the Montreal Rolling Stock Company. In 1868 Stephen joined with Richard Bladworth Angus , Andrew Paton , and his cousin Donald Alexander Smith to establish the textile manufactory, Paton Manufacturing Company in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Finance was a key element in the development of the Quebec and Canadian economies, and Stephen's abilities saw him appointed a director of the Bank of Montreal in 1873 then named as the bank's president three years later, a position he held until 1881 when he resigned to devote his full attention to running the company that built the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Both he and his wife, Charlotte Kane, were sport fishing enthusiasts. In 1880 they built a fishing camp at the confluence of the Matapedia and Cascapedia rivers. Their fishing lodge is today a museum open to the public.
The Canadian Pacific Railway syndicate is formed
George Stephen partnered with Donald Smith, James Jerome Hill, and Norman Kittson to purchase the near-bankrupt St. Paul and Pacific Railway in Minnesota in the United States. They turned the business around, restoring profitability and expanding its lines. Renamed the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway , Stephen and his partners then sold it out for an enormous profit. So successful was he and his partnership that they won a contract with the Government of Canada to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Named the company's first president, he oversaw the huge and difficult task of constructing the costly Transcontinental railroad. Because of his banking experience, Stephen proved capable of putting together the complicated financing needed to complete the project, despite cost overruns from numerous unanticipated engineering and other problems.
Having risked most of his wealth to build the CPR, the success of the railroad soon made George Stephen enormously rich. With business partner Donald Smith, they donated the money to build the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal.
George Stephen retired to England, where in 1891 he was awarded a barony, becoming the first Canadian to attain the status of peer. His assumed title, Baron Mount Stephen, was derived from a mountain in the Kicking Horse River Valley of Yoho National Park in British Columbia previously named in his honour. He lived at Brocket Hall in Welwyn, Hertfordshire until his death in 1921. After his passing, his home in Montreal, built at an estimated cost of $600,000 in 1880, was converted to a private club in 1928. Today, the Mount Stephen Club has a gourmet restaurant open to the public and the building is regarded as one of the city's most important heritage properties.