Born in Scotland in 1800, James Ferrier arrived in Montreal in 1821 as a clerk with no money and little education. Still, he opened the first store on Notre-Dame Street, made a fortune, and later became involved in banking, railroads and industrial development.
Ferrier held a prominent place in politics, becoming mayor of Montreal in 1845 and eventually a Canadian senator. From 1845 until his death in 1888, he also served as a member of McGill’s governing body, and as president of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning from 1847 until 1852, he helped stabilize McGill’s finances.
In 1884, Ferrier became the University’s second Chancellor, succeeding Charles Dewey Day.