Dufftown produced a famous son on June 5, 1829, the oldest of eight children, George Stephen, later Lord Mount Stephen. At the age of 21, he emigrated to Canada to work for his cousin William Stephen, a Montreal draper and on his cousin’s death in 1862 became sole proprietor. By 1866 he was running his own successful wool-importing company and investing in other textile businesses. With his business booming, he started buying shares of the Bank of Montreal. His abilities saw him appointed director in 1873 and president of Canada’s largest bank in 1876 – and the most powerful financial figure in the country.

Stephen, as chief financier, headed the group that built the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). By feigning reluctance to accept the challenge from the Canadian Government, Stephen drove down the terms to the group’s advantage, but even then, the challenge was a mammoth one – to drive the railway through the Rockies to British Columbia. In November, 1885, the last spike was driven at Craigellachie, British Columbia, and the country finally tied by rail. To a significant extent, George Stephen from Dufftown was the person most responsible for the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the opening up of Canada to new settlers.

In 1891 he became Baron Mount Stephen, the title derived from a mountain in the Kicking Horse River Valley of British Columbia, previously named in his honour. In 1892 he made his permanent home in England, at Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire. George Stephen, the boy from Dufftown who changed the face of Canada, died on November 29, 1921, his barony but not his legacy becoming extinct on his death. Today his contribution is commemorated by a plaque on Dufftown Tower.

Lord Mount Stephen married Annie Charlotte Kane, daughter of Benjamin Kane (left). She died in London, England on 10 April 1896, and was buried in Lemsford Churchyard. In 1897, he married Gian Tufnel (right).

Lord Mount Stephen has been the most bountiful benefactor of his native place. Of his wise schemes of benefactions there is much to remind one. Here, for instance, is the beautiful Stephen Cottage Hospital, built and endowed by him, and opened long ago by the lord of the manor. It has been an untold blessing to Dufftown and the entire district around. It has for some time provided accommodation, amid surroundings of’ an ideal kind for fourteen wounded soldiers. Their convalescence is completed under conditions that could not be excelled. His lordship’s generous pension scheme by which a sum of £16 is given annually to 50 old persons in his native parish has helped to keep the wolf from many a humble door and to add comforts to life that otherwise would have been quite unattainable. A fine illuminated window put into the Free Church when it was rebuilt was his lordship’s gift, and in many manses farther afield the yearly yield of his beneficent scheme of endowment has come as a welcome addition to individual stipends. The house in which Lord Mount Stephen was born in Church Street has been rebuilt, but its site and buildings representing it are still and will ever be regarded as cherished connections of the town with one whose life and deeds will in Dufftown to all time be held in high regard and proud gratitude.

THE LATE LORD MOUNT STEPHEN.
DUFFTOWN’S EXPRESSIONS OF LOSS AND SYMPATHY.
1921

The announcement of the death of Lord Mount Stephen was received in Dufftown and district, his native place, with feelings of deep regret, and the flags of the Burgh Chambers and Stephen Cottage Hospital were hoisted to half-mast.

A telegram was sent to Lady Mount Stephen by Provost Stewart on behalf of the inhabitants of Dufftown and parish of Mortlach as follows: – “I beg to offer you our sincere and heartfelt sympathy on the death of your distinguished husband. His memory will be for ever cherished, and his kind deeds will live forever in our hearts. We pray that you may be comforted in your sorrow.” The reply received by Provost Stewart ran: – “I thank you and the inhabitants of Dufftown from my heart for kind sympathy in my sorrow. My husband loved the place of his birth; the welfare of Dufftown and its people was always in his mind and heart. – Gian Mount Stephen.”

The following telegram was sent to Lady Mount Stephen by Mr George Innes, chairman of the Stephen Cottage Hospital and the Mount Stephen Mansions Trust: – “In my own name and on behalf of my fellow-trustees, I wish to express our sense of great loss we have all sustained through the death of Ilia Lordship. Spared as he has been to a long age, it was perhaps only to be looked for that his wonted strength should fail, and his days on earth fail, but in the memories of those who benefited by his munificent liberality and constant sympathy with the sick and suffering, his death comes with a sense of personal loss. The trustees desire to tender your Ladyship their heartfelt sympathy, and to assure you that amongst the inhabitants of this parish regret for his Lordship’s death is widespread, and their sympathy for you is deep and true.” The following reply has been received by Mr J. L. Craig, secretary: – “Please convey to the chairman and trustees, and accept for yourself, my deep appreciation of your most sympathetic message, which has touched me much. – Gian Mount Stephen.”