George Stewart

The Story of the Great Fire in St. John N.B., George Stewart.
The Story of the Great Fire in St. John N.B., George Stewart.

George Stewart Jr. was born 26 November 1848 in New York City. He was the son of George Stewart, a well-known merchant, and his wife, Elizabeth Dubuc. At the age of three, Stewart's parents moved to London, Ontario, where he was educated in the public school system until 1859. Shortly after, his family moved to Saint John, New Brunswick. Stewart attended Upper Canada College where he received a diploma as a druggist and chemist. He pursued this occupation for only a few short years before deciding to enter journalism.

Stewart's journalistic accomplishments began at an early age, and while still a youth he was the founder of The Stamp Collector's Monthly Gazette in 1865, shortly followed by Stewart's Literary Quarterly Magazine (1867–1872), known as “one of the best national magazines Canada ever possessed” (Lloyd 486). Stewart also became the editor of the Saint John Daily News, then the literary editor of the Weekly Watchman, and editor-in-chief of Quebec's Daily Chronicle. Throughout his life he regularly contributed to Canadian magazines and criticism by writing a series of articles focused on history, biography, and literature. He was a widely recognized scholar and consistently produced articles that were “original, well grounded and expressed gracefully yet with force” (Lloyd 487).

In addition to articles, Stewart was also the author of several books, including his well-known The Story of the Great Fire in St. John, N.B.: June 20th, 1877 (1877), Canada Under the Administration of the Earl of Dufferin (1878), Evenings in a Library (1879), Emerson the Thinker (1879), Alcott the Concord Mystic (1880), and Essays from Reviews (1892 and 1893). Stewart also contributed to encyclopedias, literary journals, societies, and associations.

His awards and academic honours are on par with other literary luminaries in Canada. He was an officer of the Academy of France, and an LLD (McGill), Lit D (Laval University), DCL (University of Bishop's College), DCL (Kings College), a member of the Literary Congress of Europe, fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, London, and a member of the Prince Society of Boston.

Not only was he an accomplished and celebrated editor and writer, but he was also a respected lecturer, displaying exemplary public speaking skills. He devoted a great deal of time preparing for lectures, several of which appeared in print. He had an unmistakable love of literature, the subject of many of his talks. These literary lectures earned him the only Canadian membership in the International Literary Congress of Europe in 1879.

Stewart's most well-known work is The Story of the Great Fire in St. John, N.B.: June 20th, 1877. The work captures the devastation caused as the fire engulfed two-fifths of the port city in only nine short hours. He writes that “the fire raged with overwhelming violence, carrying in its wake everything that came before it” (10). He also describes the fire as “more calamitous in its character than the terrible conflagration which plunged portions of Chicago into ruin, and laid waste the great business houses of Boston a few years ago” (9). He was a witness to the fire and writes convincingly of its destruction and ferocity. His book was well-received by critics, one of whom said that it provided “an exact and minutely detailed description of the fire as it raged through the city and an account of the casualties in its wake and its aftermath” (qtd. in National Library of Canada 48).

On 28 April 1875, he was married to Maggie M. Jewett, adopted daughter of E.D. Jewett of Lancaster Heights, Saint John. Their “brilliant marriage” took place in Mr. Jewett's mansion, “one of the most magnificent in Canada” (Daily Telegraph 1875), housing between 300 and 400 guests. After the reception the newlyweds ventured to Boston for their honeymoon.

Almost a year after their marriage, Stewart's wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter, followed by the birth of their second daughter in January 1878 (Daily Telegraph 1876; 1878). Two years later their third daughter was born (Saint John Globe 1880). Their fourth daughter, Mabel Plaisted Stewart, was born in 1882, but only lived for nine months before dying of cholera infantum on 31 October 1882 (Daily Telegraph 1882; Saint John Globe 1882). In January 1884, Stewart and his wife had their fifth child, a son named Gilbert Murdock Stewart, who died from congestion of the brain at the young age of eight months (Daily Telegraph 1883; Daily Telegraph 1883).

Stewart died in Quebec City on 26 February 1906 at the age of fifty-eight. He was one of the most accomplished and well-known Canadian editors and writers of the nineteenth-century (Lloyd 487).

Jessica Irvine, Winter 2010
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Stewart, George. An Account of the Public Dinner to His Excellency the Count of Premio-Real, December 28, 1880. Québec, QC: n.p., 1881.

---. Alcott the Concord Mystic. Québec, QC: n.p., 1880.

---. Canada Under the Administration of the Earl of Dufferin. Toronto, ON: Rose-Belford, 1878.

---. Emerson, the Thinker. Québec, QC: n.p., 1879.

---. Essays from Reviews. Québec, QC: Dawson, 1892.

---. Essays from Reviews. Second Ser. Québec, QC: Dawson, 1893.

---. Evenings in the Library: Bits of Gossip About Books and Those Who Write Them. Toronto, ON: Belford Brothers, 1878.

---. The Story of the Great Fire in St. John, N.B.: June 20th, 1877. Toronto, ON: Belford Brothers; Detroit, MI: Craig & Taylor, 1877.

---. Thomas Carlyle. Québec, QC: n.p., 1880.

---. Thoreau, the Hermit of Walden. Québec, QC: n.p. 1882.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

“Births.” Daily Telegraph [Saint John, NB] 13 Apr. 1876: 3.

“Births.” Daily Telegraph [Saint John, NB] 28 Jan. 1878: 3.

“Births.” Daily Telegraph [Saint John, NB] 6 Feb. 1882: 3.

“Births.” Daily Telegraph [Saint John, NB] 12 Jan. 1883: 3.

“Births.” Saint John Globe 11 Nov. 1880: 3.

“A Brilliant Marriage” Daily Telegraph [Saint John, NB] 29 Apr. 1875:3.

“Died.” Daily Telegraph [Saint John, NB] 4 Sept. 1883: 3.

“Died.” Saint John Globe 31 Oct. 1882: 3.

Lloyd, Cecil Francis. “Stewart, George (1848–1906).” A Standard Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Ed. Charles G.D. Roberts and Arthur L. Tunnell. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1966: 486-487.

National Library of Canada. “The Story of the Great Fire in Saint John, New Brunswick, June 20, 1877.” By George Stewart. New Brunswick Authors. Ottawa: n.p., 1984: 48.