Redpath: The History of a Sugar House


320 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-920474-67-5
DDC 338.7'6336'0971




Reviewed by J.H. Galloway

J.H. Galloway is a geography professor at the University of Toronto.


This is a richly illustrated, beautifully produced, but ultimately
disappointing book. It follows both the history of the Redpath family,
from the arrival of John Redpath in Montreal, in 1816, and the history
of the sugar-refining company he founded there in 1854. The book
includes many family photos, pictures of family mansions, and excellent
panoramas of the Lachine docks and 19th-century Montreal. Unfortunately
the text is largely an exercise in hagiography. The author records in a
simple chronological fashion how John Redpath, his son-in-law George
Drummond, and his grandson Huntly Redpath Drummond struggled heroically
to build the company, in the face of various adversities, until its
amalgamation with the Dominion Sugar Company in 1930.

The book could have been so much more interesting. The Redpath family
was at the core of the Montreal business community. Three generations
were on the board of the Bank of Montreal. Peter Redpath, John’s son,
was a governor and major benefactor of McGill. But this book contributes
little to the study of this business and social elite. The refinery was
a major employer, yet the book does not contribute to labor history. The
author passes over the innovation of introducing women into the work
force in a couple of paragraphs. Nor does the economic geography of the
refinery interest him, for he pays little attention to either the
sources of the raw materials or the markets of the finished products.
And finally, he might have compared Redpath’s business strategies with
those of other refining companies. Did the Redpaths and Drummonds, for
instance, ever contemplate buying their own sugar-cane plantations? I do
not know how rich the company archives are, but reading this book left
me with the sense of an opportunity missed.


Feltoe, Richard., “Redpath: The History of a Sugar House,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 19, 2024,