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The Abbotts of St. Andrews: a family legacy

There are families who leave an indelible mark on their community. The link between the Abbott family of St. Andrews and the history of Canada bears witness to this legacy. But who were these Abbotts? What did they accomplish that deserves special mention in the pantheon of our history?

Portrait of William Abbott, charcoal, head and shoulders, adult. He has short hair and light brown sideburns, light grey eyes. He is wearing a black minister’s robe and a white collar. The background is dark grey-brown. The portrait is set in a gilded woodwork frame with gold mat.

William Abbott (1799-1859)


Black and white portrait of an elderly Reverend Joseph Abbott, head and shoulders. He has short hair and grey and white sideburns, and is looking at the camera with a serious expression. He is wearing a black minister’s robe and a white collar. The background is black. The inscription under the portrait reads “Rev. Joseph Abbott, A.M. Founder of Christ Church”.

Joseph Abbott (1789-1863)

In 1829, Joseph (1789-1863) and William Abbott (1799-1859) contributed to the establishment of McGill University in Montreal, where Joseph, an Anglican minister and author, would later teach history and geography. His sons, John Joseph Caldwell (1821-1893) and Harry Braithwaite (1829-1915), were instrumental in developing Canada’s early railways and in the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway. After John A. Macdonald’s death in 1891, John Joseph Caldwell Abbott from St. Andrews was chosen to replace him, becoming the first Canadian-born prime minister of Canada.


Profile portrait of an elderly John Joseph Caldwell Abbott, oil, colour, head and shoulders. His hair and sideburns are white and grey. He is wearing a white shirt with black tie and jacket. The background is dark blue-grey. The artist’s signature, “Jeannette Wales”, can be seen in the lower left corner. The portrait is set in a simple wood frame with a narrow gold mat.

Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott (1821-1893)