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Stephens Family Fonds (P020)

1829-1953. - 655 cm of textual records and other material.

Administrative History - Biographical Sketch:

This fonds contains documents relating to five generations of the Stephens family. Harrison Stephens (1801-1881) was born in Jamaica, Vermont. He was the son of Samuel Stephens (?-1829), a leather manufacturer, and Beulah Howard. After working for a canal-building company, he went into shoemaking. In the early 1830s, he settled in Montreal, where he seems to have run a hotel before starting a company that imported rice and tobacco from the United States. It was probably at the end of this decade that he partnered with his brother Samuel Sheldon and with John Young to found the Stephens, Young & Company, which specialized in importing staples. After becoming one of the most prosperous businessmen in Montreal, he got out of the merchant trade in the mid-1840s and began investing, primarily in real estate. He was on the board of directors of the Bank of Montreal from 1845 to 1857 and he had shares in a number of companies, notably railways. Harrison Stephens and his wife, Sarah Jackson, had five children, two girls and three boys -- Romeo, George Washington and Sheldon Samuel Stephens.

Sheldon Samuel Stephens (?-1922), like his elder brother Romeo, was interested in working the land. With the help of his father, he was apparently the first person to import Jersey cows from England, bringing in 15 cows and 2 bulls in August 1868. When the herd grew in size, his brother Romeo took it over and settled in St. Lambert, on Montreal's South Shore. The enterprise turned out to be a huge success.

In 1876, Sheldon Samuel Stephens married Felicie de Kalisz (1853-1953), a native of Poland who went by the nickname "Flickie." They initially settled on a farm on Lower Lachine Road. Probably sometime after 1885, they moved to 3441 (221) Drummond Street, in the Montreal neighbourhood then known as the Golden Square Mile. The young couple often travelled to Europe and frequented high society. Keenly interested in music and poetry, Sheldon Samuel studied piano in Germany. In his later years, he used to go to his property on Lake Souris, in the St. Maurice Valley, to hunt and fish with friends. He was a member of the St. James Club and the Mount Royal Club, and Felicie belonged to the Ladies Morning Musical Club, the Winter Club and the Art Society of Montreal, among other organizations. After the death of her husband, Felicie, who had been acting as his legal representative since the 1910s, took over the family affairs. She invested in the stock market and especially in real estate. A formidable businesswoman, she refused to pay income taxes. She went back to Poland for the first time in 1936. She contributed financially to humanitarian aid during both world wars. She received an award from the Serbian Red Cross Society in 1922. After the Second World War, her house became a place of refuge for Polish expatriates. Felicie had two sisters, Josephine, the wife of Colonel Faryana who later went by the name Josephine Gaulco, and Helene (?-1909). When she died, she reportedly left her property to her Polish relatives.

Sheldon and Felicie had two sons: Sheldon Harrison (1875?-1894), called Harry or Jim, and Lawrence de Kalisz (1878-1916), nicknamed "Chubby." They studied at the Pensionnat Arthur Territet-Montreux in Switzerland. Lawrence continued his education at Clifton College in England, and then studied law at McGill University. He was admitted to the Quebec Bar in 1905. He worked for the law firm of Weldon & Stephens and acted as his father's legal representative in the management of the family's affairs. He was a member of several private clubs, including the Montreal Racket Club and the American Fisheries Society. In 1914 he enrolled in the army. Made a lieutenant, he was killed in combat. In 1894 he had married Elisabeth Huntington, with whom he had two children, Sheldon and Frances.

George Washington Stephens (1832-1904), Harrison Stephens and Sarah Jackson's second son, first worked in the retail hardware trade and managed the family's business affairs with his brother Sheldon Samuel. He earned a law degree from McGill University in 1863. After being admitted to the bar, he practised for a short time with John Adams Perkins before setting up his own legal practice. He later devoted himself to the administration of his father's property holdings. In 1868 he began a career in municipal politics and was elected councillor for Saint-Laurent ward. Following several years on the municipal scene, he became the Liberal member of the provincial legislative assembly for the riding of Montreal Centre in 1881. He was criticized for refusing to take sides in the Riel affair and was defeated in the 1886 elections. After being re-elected as the member for Huntingdon in 1892, he withdrew from provincial politics in 1900. During the 1890s, Stephens, elected as an alderman, joined the movement to reform Montreal municipal politics. Appointed president of the Citizens Gas Company of Montreal, he was also a member of the Montreal Board of Trade. In 1861 he had married Elizabeth Mary McIntosh, with whom he had a son, George Washington. In 1878 he married Frances Ramsay McIntosh, his late wife's sister, and they had two daughters and a son, Francis Chattan Stephens, who married the daughter of the minister Albert Edward Kemp. Stephens died when he was on his way to his fishing camp on Eau Claire Lake. His second wife, Frances, perished in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915.

George Washington Stephens Junior (1866-1942) studied at McGill University, the University of Geneva, in Switzerland, and at the universities of Marburg and Hanover in Germany. He worked for the J. & H. Taylor company and for Thomas Robertson Ltd. From 1902, he administered his father's property holdings. He became president of the Canadian Consolidated Rubber Company and vice-president of the Canadian Consolidated Rubber Co Ltd, both of which had their headquarters in Montreal. A member of the 3rd Canadian Artillery Battalion in 1898, he rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel before resigning from the armed forces. He was elected in Montreal as a Liberal member of the Quebec legislative assembly in 1905, but did not run for re-election in 1908. He was president of the Montreal Harbour Commission from 1907 to 1912. In 1923 he served on the League of Nations Commission of Government of the Saar region, in Germany. A great traveller, he kept an account of his journeys in his personal diaries. In 1908 he married Rosalinda G. Bisaechi, apparently a European actress. He died in Los Angeles, California, and was buried in Montreal.

History of preservation of the fonds: The fonds was acquired by McGill University in 1960. Part of it was transferred to the McCord Museum in two instalments. Five photographs were given to the McCord by Ms. Resseguier, Felicie de Kalisz Stephens' granddaughter, in 1979.

Scope and Content:

This fonds documents the activities of the Stephens, an upper-middle-class English-speaking family that lived in Montreal between 1828 and 1953, but chiefly beginning in 1870 with Sheldon Samuel Stephens and his wife Felicie de Kalisz. It contains information on the Stephens' family life, especially on the relationships between the parents and the children, their travels in Europe, their social relations and the high-society events they attended. The fonds also contains material on their professional and economic activities, chiefly the administration of their real estate on the island of Montreal and in the surrounding area, and on their assets. To a lesser degree, it also provides information about the political activities of certain family members.

The fonds contains textual material, including correspondence, greetings cards, invitations, diaries, notarized contracts, real estate and accounting books of record, drawings, maps, architectural plans and numerous photographs.

The fonds is divided into the following series:

  • P020/A: Beulah Howard, 1829-1861
  • P020/B: Samuel Sheldon Stephens, 1837-1915
  • P020/C: Harrison Stephens and Sarah Jackson, 1832-1885
  • P020/D: Romeo Stephens,1845-1898
  • P020/E: Sheldon Samuel Stephens and Felicie de Kalisz, 1837-1953
  • P020/F: Sheldon Harrison Stephens, 1884-1894
  • P020/G: Lawrence Stephens, 1889-1928
  • P020/H: George Washington Stephens Senior, 1859-1867
  • P020/I: George Washington Stephens,1891-1939
  • P020/J: Miscellaneous Documents, 1862-1953
  • P020/K: Photographs