by Dick Nieuwendyk
The Macdonald Tobacco Company was founded in 1858 in Montreal by brothers William
Christopher and Augustine McDonald. Their company, achieved major success during the American Civil War, when the Union states were unable to receive tobacco directly from the secessionist Conferderate states. Tobacco from the Southern states was shipped by boat to McDonald’s factory in Montreal, where they processed it into plug and chewing tobaccos, and shipped it to the tobacco-starved Northern US states. In 1866, William bought out his brother, and changed the name of the company to W. C. McDonald, Tobacco Merchants and Manufacturers. In 1876, McDonald needed larger premises and a red brick factory was built on the corner of Ontario nd Iberville streets in Montreal.
In 1898, he changed the spelling of his name to ‘Macdonald’. W. C. Macdonald was a major philantropist, in part because he felt ashamed at having made his fortune through tobacco, and wished to put his money to uses which would benefit his fellow man. He contributed a lot of money to McGill University in Montréal. Macdonald would go on to have no less than four buildings on the McGill campus named after him. In 1904, Sir William spent $1.5-million on 561 acres of farmland in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, which would become MacDonald College, in its day the largest in Canada and one of the most modern agricultural colleges in the world.
Macdonald was a lifelong bachelor who actually disliked tobacco. On his death in 1917 he bequeathed his company to Walter and Howard Stewart, the two sons of company manager David Stewart. Walter Stewart became president and under his guidance the company extended production to cut pipe tobacco and tobacco for “roll your own” cigarettes.
Macdonalds began to manufacture cigarettes in 1922. Their most famous brand was
introduced in 1928 under the name of Macdonald’s Gold Standard. The packages of this
brand were marked “Export”, by which the brand would later become exclusively known.
Beginning in the mid-1930’s, Macdonald’s cigarette brands were adorned by the portrait of a pretty Scottish woman dressed in traditional garb and wearing the Macdonald of Sleat tartan. The model for this trademark was Betty Annan Grant, who posed for the painting by famous Canadian artist Rex Woods.
The “Scottish Lassie”, as she is known, was featured on nearly all of Macdonald’s cigarette brands up until the 1970s, and remains on packages of Export “A” cigarettes to this very day.
In 1974, David M. Stewart sold the company to the American tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Starting in the mid-1970s and continuing through the late 1980s, Macdonald vastly expanded the Export “A” line. In 1999, R. J. Reynolds’ international concerns were bought by Japan Tobacco International. This led to Reynolds’ former Canadian branch to being renamed J. T. I. Macdonald.
(Source: Macdonald Stewart Foundation Archives, CBC, Héritage Montréal)