Sir Herbert Samuel Holt (February 12, 1856 – September 29, 1941) was an Irish-born Canadiancivil engineer who became a businessman, banker, and corporate director with a ruthless business reputation. He was President of the Royal Bank of Canada, Montreal Light, Heat & Power, and a director of some 250 companies worldwide, with assets valued at around $200 million. On his death, the Montreal Gazette described him as “the richest man in Canada“, but he was also one of the most reviled. Among his peers in the Golden Square Mile, “everyone respected his business ability, but nobody liked him personally”. Holt was one of the founders of the Town of Hampstead, Quebec
Holt was born at Ballycrystal, near Geashill, Co. Offaly. He was the second son of William Robert Grattan Holt, of Carberry House, Co. Kildare, inherited in 1742 from his ancestor, Hannah Colley (afterwards Grattan) of Castle Carberry. Holt grew up with his family at another family property, Ballycrystal, a grazing farm of 291 acres. In reference to Holt’s own ruthless business reputation, it is of interest to note that in a dispute between his father and his uncle, it was said that, “the business affairs of William Holt’s family would not stand up to close scrutiny”. Herbert Holt’s elder brother, Thomas Grattan Holt, succeeded to Ballycrystal and Carberry, while Holt studied civil engineering in Dublin. In 1873, he emigrated to Canada, beginning work as an assistant engineer with the Toronto Water Works. In the early 1880s, he was employed to survey and construct portions of the Canadian Pacific Railway across the prairies and through the Rocky Mountains, under James Ross.
Herbert Holt became a pioneer developer of the energy business in the Province of Quebec and owned the Montreal Gas Company. In 1901 he merged Montreal Gas with Rodolphe Forget’s Royal Electric Company to create the Montreal Light, Heat & Power Company (the company was later nationalized by the province and became part of Hydro-Québec). Holt served as president of the Royal Bank of Canada from 1908 to 1934, and the bank’s chairman from 1934 until his death. He was a co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton Montreal, a director of Montreal Trust Company, Canada Car and Foundry and many other Canadian companies. He was appointed chairman of the Federal Plan Commission in 1913. In 1915, he was knighted by King George V. Herbert Samuel Holt died in 1941 and was interred in the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal. His comparatively modest home on Stanley Street in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile was demolished after his death. Following its formation in 1979, Herbert Holt’s significant contribution to the Canadian economy was recognized through his election to the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.