Although much has been written about the Canadian Buchanans and their home at Auchmar, the detail which would bring their story truly to life remains still largely buried under a vast accumulation of fading letters and flaking paint.
Isaac Buchanan (1810-1883) enjoyed a long career as merchant, economist, writer, railway promoter, cabinet minister and all-purpose controversialist. His influence could be detected in almost every step forward by Hamilton (and a few backward). His political activity and advocacy played an important roll in laying the groundwork for John A. Macdonald’s ‘National Policy’. If Buchanan was not a Father of Confederation, he might justly be called a great-uncle.
The life of the Buchanans in Hamilton revolved around their mountain estate at Clairmont Park and its centrepiece, Auchmar House, completed in 1854. It was here that Isaac and his wife raised ten children. They lost the estate to bankruptcy in the mid -1870s, but at the turn of the century it was reclaimed by Isaac’s son James, and occupied by Elsie (and other children, from time to time) until 1926.
Buchanan’s life and ideas have attracted attention from a number of writers, not least of which is Buchanan himself, who wrote innumerable letters, tracts, and essays, as well as a large book entitled The Relations of the Industry of Canada with the Mother Country and the United States, published in 1864. This volume was edited by Henry J. Morgan, who also wrote the first profile of Buchanan’s life for his Biographies of Celebrated Canadians. Later writers to consider aspects of Buchanan’s life and work include T. Melville Bailey, Eleanor Buchanan, Douglas J. McCalla, Peter Baskerville, H. L. Bridgman, and Donald Beer (in his biography of Allan MacNab). Bill King, who as a member of the Hamilton “LACAC” played an active role in opposing the redevelopment of the Auchmar estate, is currently completing a volume entitled Hamilton’s Hidden Gem which focuses on Buchanans’ career in Hamilton and family life at Auchmar.
These writers have relied on such sources as contempory journals, the vast contents of the Buchanan Papers at the National Library in Ottawa, and on a study of Auchmar House itself. As Auchmar House is gradually reclaimed from obscurity, it is hoped that much more will also be learned about the remarkable family which called it home.
Written by Bill King
Early History of Isaac Buchanan…Original Owner Of Auchmar – Hamilton, Ontario, Canada…
Isaac Buchanan was perhaps one of the most important figures, not only in Hamilton’s history, but in the history of Canada as well. He was a man of family, business, religion, and politics. He also had an enormous amount of national pride and commitment to important social issues. The number of accomplishments that Buchanan made is so great that it is hard to believe they happened to one man, in one lifetime.
Isaac Buchanan was born on July 21, 1810, in Glasgow, Scotland. He was born into a socially ambitious mercantile family. The family had consisted of prominent businessmen in Scotland for generations. Isaac’s father, Peter, had become independently wealthy during the Napoleonic Wars. The family moved to the urban area of Glasgow and became successful manufacturers of cloth. By the early 1800s, the family business was doing very well and the Buchanans bought a home in Stirlingshire. The 1378-acre estate was named Auchmar, and so the family became known as the Buchanans of Auchmar.
On January 27, 1843, during one of his visits to Scotland, Isaac married Agnes Jarvie. Isaac was 33 when he married his 17-year-old wife. He brought Agnes to Toronto with him in November 1843. He assured her they would remain in Canada only long enough for him to make his fortune and then they would return to Scotland for good. Their first child was born in 1844 in Toronto, and their second child was born in 1846 in Scotland. The Buchanans had 11 children born between Canada and Scotland. Agnes Buchanan proved to be a fair and gracious wife who aided her husband in many of his affairs.
Isaac moved from Toronto to Hamilton with his new wife and baby. In 1854, he bought 86 acres of land on the Hamilton Mountain overlooking the city. On this land, he built Auchmar, a tribute to his father’s home in Scotland. Originally, it was a summer cottage which soon became the Buchanans’ great manor house. The house is now 88 Fennell Avenue West. It is an example of the picturesque homes of many wealthy Canadians of the time.
Additional information and an interesting read is an article entitled Canada in the Early Nineteenth Century which discusses Isaac Buchanan’s contribution and influence on the Canadian political and economic policies of the early nineteenth Century.