A Mind at Sea: Henry Fry and the Glorious Era of Quebec's Sailing Ships

John Fry


The trials and tribulations of a Canadian business titan during a fascinating period in 19th-century Quebec.

A Mind at Sea is an intimate window into a vanished time when Canada was among the world’s great maritime countries. Between 1856 and 1877, Henry Fry was the Lloyd’s agent for the St. Lawrence River, east of Montreal. The harbour coves below his home in Quebec were crammed with immense rafts of cut wood, the river’s shoreline sprawled with yards where giant square-rigged ships – many owned by Fry – were built.

As the president of Canada’s Dominion Board of Trade, Fry was at the epicentre of wealth and influence. His home city of Quebec served as the capital of the province of Canada, while its port was often the scene of raw criminality. He fought vigorously against the kidnapping of sailors and the dangerous practice of deck loading. He also battled against and overcame his personal demon – mental depression – going on to write many ship histories and essays on U.S.-Canada relations.

Fry was a colourful figure and a reformer who interacted with the famous figures of the day, including Lord and Lady Dufferin, Sir John A. Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier, and Sir Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau, Quebec’s lieutenant-governor.

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