British American Land Company:
Born in England in 1817, Alexander Galt immigrated to Sherbrooke in 1835 to work for the newly created British American Land Company, which was chartered to settle large tracts of land in the Eastern Townships. Galt rose steadily in the company, eventually becoming high commissioner in 1844, a post he held until 1855.
With the growing railway mania, and the perception that trains would alleviate the economic isolation felt in the Townships, Galt became one of the leading railway promoters of his day. He worked tirelessly to connect the region (Sherbrooke in particular) to the major markets. In 1849, he became President of the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railway, chartered to link Montreal with an ice-free port (Portland, Maine). North America's first international railway, the StL&A was completed in 1853, and sold to the new (and more financially secure) Grand Trunk Railway.
Galt had ensured that the line passed right through Sherbrooke. Other towns along the route would benefit as well: St. Hyacinthe, Richmond, Coaticook, Island Pond, Vermont, and others. Towns not on the route, like Magog, Waterloo, and Stanstead, were disadvantaged. In subsequent years, promoters in these communities worked to get their own railway connections. Smaller regional lines were eventually established in most parts of the Townships: the Stanstead, Shefford and Chambly Railroad; the Massawippi Valley Railway Company; and the South Eastern Railway are only a few examples.
Father of Confederation:
Working for the Land Company and promoting railways were not Galt's only interests. In 1849, he entered politics. Elected to represent Sherbrooke (County) in the Legislature of the Province of Canada, he served until the following year. Re-entering politics in 1853, Galt would represent Sherbrooke (Town) until Confederation in 1867, and thereafter until his retirement in 1872. Considered a moderate, he had a strong affinity for the Eastern Townships for the English-speaking minority in Quebec. In Parliament, he was their most influential spokesman.
In his early political career, Galt (like his mostly English-speaking constituents), opposed the Rebellion Losses Bill (1849), which compensated people who had lost property in the Rebellions of 1837-1838. He also supported the Annexation Movement, which was a response both to the Rebellion Losses Bill and to the elimination of Britain's preferential trade practices, and which called for union with the U.S. Annexation was popular in Montreal and in the Townships, particularly around Sherbrooke and Stanstead, and petitions in favour of it received thousands of signatures, many from influential people like Galt.
Galt served in the Macdonald-Cartier Cabinet as Minister of Finance (1858-1862; 1864-1866). He was an early advocate of a federal union of British North America. A "Father of Confederation," he attended the Quebec and Charlottetown Conferences in 1864, and was present in London when the terms of Confederation were worked out. He established a decimal currency system in Canada. He fought for and received education guarantees for Quebec's Protestant minority. After Confederation, he joined the federal Cabinet, again as Finance Minister, but resigned shortly after. Knighted in 1869, Galt retired from Parliament in 1872. From 1880 to 1883, he served as Canada's first High Commissioner in London, where among other things, he continued to seek financial backing for Canada's growing railway network. Alexander Tilloch Galt died in Montreal in 1893.