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The University of Manitoba campuses are located on original lands of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. More

Archives of the Agricultural Experience: Ogilvie Flour Mills, Ltd

 

Ogilvie Flour Mills, Ltd., Horsedrawn Trolley
PC 122-3-1028

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Ogilvie Flour Mills Ltd.

Administrative History

In 1163, Gilbride of Airlie, of the noble stock of Angus, knelt before William the Lion, King of Scotland, and arose O'gille Buidhe, in Gaellic parlance "of the family of the yellow-haired." Thus began the lineage of the hydra-headed clan of Ogilvies & Ogilbies. Regardless of how the name was spelled, they were a formidable clan whose deeds traverse the path of Scottish history.

In 1750, Katherine and James Ogilvie celebrated the birth of their only son, Archibald. The family were tenant farmers in Stirlingshire, and, as the sole male heir, young Archibald grew to manhood and prospered. Fifty years later, as the father of eight with five sons to consider, Archibald realized that there was little prospect left in Scotland for his children. Britain was forced to maintain a large army during the Napoleonic Wars and a young man's choice was conscription or the payment of twenty pounds to provide a replacement. Ogilvie felt that his money could be better spent in the pursuit of an improved life for his family in Canada. He gathered his wife, three daughters, and his three youngest sons and set sail for the Colonies. In his possession were two thousand pounds and two fine French millstones. After thirteen weeks, his ship dropped anchor in the St. Lawrence River beneath the Plains of Abraham. Archibald first touched Canadian shores garbed in the family tradition, knee breeches and top boots, with his wig firmly queued beneath a beaver hat. By doing so he was advertising to all that he was a Scottish squire and a gentleman.

The Ogilvies' arrival in Canada was impeccably timed, supplies that England normally imported from the Continent had been cut off by the War. The timber used in building ships for the Royal Navy, once taken from the Baltic States, was now coming from Canadian forests. The St. Lawrence was teeming with timber cruisers placing produce in heavy demand.

Archibald decided on a tract of wilderness in Howick, near the Chateauguay River, some twenty-five miles south of Montreal. The first season, he and his family tried to carve out an existence from the feral land. The rigours of farming in a harsh and unpredictable climate did not agree with Archibald. For a price it was easy to rent a farm from the old Seigneurial holdings near Montreal and the following spring Archibald handed over the Howick tract to his son, William. Taking his wife, daughters and namesake, Archibald leased the Ermatinger farm less than two miles from the waterfront in the current district of Maissoneuve. The third son, Alexander, retraced his footsteps back to Quebec City, setting up the two millstones at Jacques Cartier on the St. Lawrence. Only the swollen population brought on by the timber boom enabled a Scotsman to compete with the seigneurial mills, often in the hands of the local church.

That same year, 1801, John Watson ,a maternal uncle of the Ogilvies', arrived in Montreal and set up his own mill. Watson chose Nun's Island Channel, where the river gains speed. An outbreak of cholera in Quebec City had a deleterious effect on trade. Ships would not enter the stricken port and Montreal was forced to import flour overland from New York at a cost of $16 a barrel. In 1811, Alexander joined John Watson at Nun's Channel adding his millstones to those of his uncle. In 1817, Alexander married his cousin, Helen Watson, and two years later took over the running of the mill following John's death.

The marriage of Alexander and Helen produced eleven children and it is this branch of the family that spawned the milling dynasty. The foundation was not built purely around the male heirs as many of the Ogilvie daughters married into prominent Canadian families. One daughter, Helen Ogilvie, married Matthew Hutchison, who worked for many years as a flour inspector in Montreal and subsequently ran the Ogilvie mill in Goderich, Ontario. Margaret Ogilvie married George Hastings and four of their sons played prominent rolls in the Lake of the Woods Milling Co. Ltd. Alexander's own sister, Helen, married James Goudie, the son of a Montreal merchant. Alexander grew tired of the milling business and wished to spend more time at his farm at Cote St. Michel, outside the walls of Montreal. He entrusted the running of the mill to his brother-in-law, James, who, in 1837, attempted the bold venture of closing the Nun's Channel operation and opening a mill at the St. Gabriel Lock of the Lachine Canal. The new mill, situated in Montreal on a bottleneck to the sea, began to tap into the growing commerce and industry of the area.

Montreal experienced unprecedented growth in the early 1840s, reaching a population of 57,500. Alexander Walker Ogilvie, the seventh child of Helen and Alexander, wrote in his boyhood diary that the land of Montreal Island was becoming too valuable to farm and that he would have to choose another livelihood. But as was often the case in Colonial times, circumstances in Great Britain altered greatly the new Canadian boom.

The Irish potato blight of 1846 caused the removal of all duties on foodstuffs eliminating any colonial preference and destroying Canada's advantage in the British market. Concurrently, the bottom fell out of the British railway boom as timber crews came out of the woods that spring to find their logs unsaleable. The United States made matters worse by passing the Bonding Acts, designed at diverting the growing traffic from Upper Canada into American ports.

Following the ebb, the flow of commerce of the Canadian economy rebounded by 1850. The lure of the Canadian west beckoned and with it came British investment companies willing to take a chance on any get rich-quick-scheme, often to the detriment of their investors. This influx of cash and the general optimism in the Canadian hinterland soon returned Montreal to prosperity. James Goudie and his nephew, Alexander Walker Ogilvie, witnessed huge grain shipments entering Montreal from the Lake Ontario settlements. As many as 500,000 bushels of wheat passed through Montreal on the way to Great Britain. Goudie and Ogilvie believed that there was a market for flour and formed a partnership in 1852. This injection of new blood into the company was vital for the previous year, Ira Gould had leased sufficient water from the Lachine Canal to operate several runs of millstones and had built the City Flouring Mill on lands adjacent to the Goudie-Ogilvie property. Gould's challenge forced Goudie and Ogilvie to renovate their operation. The resulting Glenora Mill added a new wing to the Goudie grist mill, relegating the older structure to storage space. The new mill stood four storeys high and contained equipment for such things as polishing barley. A steam engine was installed to assist the waterwheel.

Young Alexander Walker took to the milling business with exceptional zeal. The grain being produced in the older settlements was beginning to deteriorate, so he purchased grain from as far west as Niagara to assure the quality of his flour. He was also blessed with good fortune. In 1854, the Crimean War cut off Continental grain supplies, sending British buyers to Canada for wheat surpluses and available flour. At the same time, American mid-west was burgeoning from squatters' shacks into full-fledged cities, eager to trade with Canada. That option was made all the easier when the United States passed the Reciprocity Treaty.

In 1855, James Goudie was able to retire knowing that Alexander was more than capable of running the business. He relinquished his remaining interest in the company to Alexander's younger brother, John, who had recently returned to Cote St. Michael to help his father, Archibald, run the family farm. The sign on the Glenora Mill now bore the name A.W. Ogilvie & Co. The brothers had scant opportunity to bask in their accomplishments. Eastern Canada's wheat was rapidly declining and a Commissioner of Crown Land's report in 1856 suggested that there remained little quality land to be settled east of the Great Lakes. Annexation by the United States posed a very real threat and Canadian survey parties were dispatched to the Far West in search of suitable land for an ever growing population. Minnesota and the Dakotas were already being settled and a mill at St. Anthony's Falls (Minneapolis) was grinding 120 barrels of flour daily. Glenora flour was selling well from the St. Lawrence to Newfoundland and into the Maritime Provinces. The Ogilvie brothers felt that expansion westward was the natural progression. John Ogilvie began to push westward exploring new settlements and laying down offers to purchase against the upcoming harvest.

The 1860s brought another decade of feast and famine to the Canadian economy. Fortunately for the Ogilvies, they brought brother William Watson on board in 1860 to help navigate the company through the eddies of a turbulent time. Initially, the American Civil War brought a huge increase to Canadian business, causing Montreal factories to operate non-stop to cover all the war orders. More millstones were added to Glenora to keep up with the demand as the price of flour rose steadily. The Ogilvies rented extensive storage space to house all their grain pouring in from Western Ontario. However, at War's end the victorious Union government took steps to block all Canadian imports, forcing many companies into ruin. A.W. Ogilvie & Co. was not among the casualties. The brothers cautious, well-organized approach to the milling business not only allowed them to ride out the rough economy but galvanized their position as one of the country's leading millers.

The company's new found security enabled a more pronounced division of labour amongst the brothers. John undertook the supervision of the family's interests in Ontario with an eye toward Western expansion. William Watson oversaw the administration of the company in Montreal, freeing Alexander to pursue public duties and to concentrate on the growing financial problems that were plaguing the flour industry. Alexander was elected to the Quebec Legislature by acclamation in 1861. His two terms in office were characterized by the most cordial of relations with his French-Canadian colleagues, for he spoke perfect French, albeit with a Scottish burr.

While administering a successful business, he still found time for a staggering list of responsibilities that included: Alderman for the City of Montreal, Justice of the Peace, President of the Workingmen's and Widows' Benefit Society, President of the St. Andrew's Society, the St. Andrew's Home, Caledonian Society, Royal Montreal Curling Club, Life Director of the Montreal General Hospital, Director of the Exchange Bank of Canada, Sun Life Assurance Co., and the Montreal Building Society.

A trip to Europe brought Alexander in contact with the "Hungarian Process" of milling that combined stone and roller grinding. The method produced flour of such fineness that Ogilvie introduced the steel reduction rolls to his Glenora Mills in 1871. By 1874, his myriad of outside duties caused him to resign his position leaving William Watson in charge. In 1881, he was appointed to the Upper Chamber of the Senate. In 1884, Senator Ogilvie was one of a select few that toured the Western reaches of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Candaian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) General Manager, William Van Horne, held the Ogilvie name in the highest regard. When once asked by a visiting Brit what the national flower of Canada was, he replied, "Ogilvie flour of course."

The 1870s were years of expansion for the Ogilvies. In 1872, at John's behest, a mill with a 250 barrel capacity was built at Seaforth, Ontario. Two years later, a mill with twice the capacity and an elevator were built at Goderich. The elevator served the dual purpose of storing local grain, as well as the water-born shipments from Western Canada. Later that year, John Ogilvie ventured to the Dakota Territory and purchased the first parcel of hard spring wheat to be shipped to Eastern Canada. The 800 bushels proved to be of magnificent quality. The success of this experiment led the Ogilvies to push for the growing of hard wheat in the Canadian West. For ten years, John Ogilvie was a lonely visionary to the potential bread-basket available on the Canadian Prairies. In 1881, a mill was begun in Winnipeg and the first elevator in Manitoba appeared at Gretna. This was a calculated move for the arrival of the first Manitoba hard wheat in Britain had been a sensation. The early tests on the Manitoba product confirmed a grain of unsurpassable quality. The first export of wheat from Western Canada occurred in 1885 when the Ogilvie's sent a small shipment from the Winnipeg Mill to Scotland. The company received a staggering offer from British military for a half million dollar shipment. An order that far outstripped the companies ready supply but was a harbinger of the untapped economic potential in the Canadian West. By 1887, the Ogilvie's held two million bushels of Manitoba wheat in their elevators prompting competitors to complain that the company was out to corner the market. The future was so bright that not even the death of John Ogilvie in 1888 could dampen the desire to push westward.

The Ogilvies had no intention of selling wheat while the possibility of milling flour existed. They planned to tackle the rival Minneapolis millers head on and entered the British market on a major scale. To that end, the Royal Mill was erected in Montreal in 1886 with an adjoining 200,000 bushel elevator. This new mill gave the firm a total production capacity of 5500 barrels per day. To solidify their strangle-hold on the industry even further, the company purchased City Flour Mills from the heirs of Ira Gould in 1893. That same year, in view of widespread want and hunger in Winnipeg, Ogilvie presented five thousand pounds of Hungarian flour to the city relief committee. The Company further encouraged further gift-giving by other local firms.

William Watson Ogilvie, like his brother, Alexander, had many civic responsibilities. He was President of both the Montreal Board of Trade and the Montreal Coin Exchange. He was the first flour miller to be elected President of the Canadian Manufacturers' Association and sat as a director with the Bank of Montreal, the Montreal Transportation Company and the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company. He was a member of the Montreal Harbour Board as well as being a Director of the Sailors' Institute.

In 1895, Ogilvie acquired Stephen Nairn's oatmeal mill in Winnipeg. That same year, William Watson hosted a group of Minneapolis millers at a banquet in Winnipeg. One of the guests, C.A. Pillsbury, of the great American milling combine, toasted the host as "the largest individual flour miller in the world."

G.R. Stevens, O.B.E., offers this interesting insight into the milling business in his book, Ogilvie in Canada Pioneer Millers 1801-1951: "During these pioneer years, when the milling industry was wracked with growing pains, a bitter struggle ensued between the millers and the farmers over the relative freight rates of wheat and flour. Few were as fortunate as the Ogilvies, who had both the raw material and the manufactured article to sell. In due course wheat won, with profound effects upon the milling industry. It became profitable to carry wheat rather than flour to centres of consumption; yet because of improvements in milling practice it did not pay to build little mills all over the place. A few large mills, strategically situated, proved the answer in Canada."

As the century drew to a close, new and well-equipped mills began to spring up in many British ports. This practice permanently effected the market for imported flour as four out of every five bags of flour consumed in Great Britain were ground locally. The fifth bag was invariably used as a blend. One of the companies lucky enough to cut into that final 20% share of the market was Ogilvie. G.R. Stevens used this quotation from the British Baker's Manual of 1898 to illustrate the high regard with which Ogilvie flour was held: "Popular Penny Cakes for Counter Tray and Window - For these lines there is something about Vienna flour which absent from nearly all of the others. There is only one flour that comes near it. That is made by Ogilvie's Royal Mill in Canada."

These words would have made fitting epitaphs for the two remaining Ogilvie brothers. After nearly a century in the milling business, the family was about to undergo a radical transformation. On January 12, 1900, William Watson Ogilvie died suddenly. In a fitting tribute, the Montreal Stock Exchange suspended operations for the day. Obituaries from across Canada stressed the prominent roll that "The Miller King" played in the development of the North-West Territories.

Two years later, on March 31, 1902 Alexander Walker Ogilvie died. The Montreal Gazette had this to say, "the death of few men would leave a deeper feeling of regret, or recall more sincere esteem and respect."

On May 30, 1902 the executors of William Watson Ogilvie sold the flour mills and seventy country elevators to a Canadian owned syndicate. The new president was Charles Rudolph Hosmer, a Montreal financier, born in 1851. He took his first job as a telegraph operator in 1865, moving on to manage a Grand Trunk Railway office the following year. Hosmer became the manager of the Dominion Telegraph Co.'s Kingston office in 1870, joining the Buffalo office the following year and becoming superintendent of the company in 1873 at Montreal. He held this position until the company merged with Great Northwestern Telegraph Co. In 1881, he effected the organization of the Canada Mutual Telegraph Co. He remained the president and general manager of this operation until he joined the Canadian Pacific Railway as head of the telegraph department in 1886. Hosmer retained general management of C.P.R. telegraphs until his retirement in 1899. He was a director of the Bank of Montreal, C.P.R., Postal Telegraph, Sun Life Assurance of Canada and several other companies. His term as president of the newly formed Ogilvie Flour Mills Co. Ltd. ran from 1902-1927.

The new company needed someone with a strong knowledge of the milling industry. Frederick William Thompson filled that roll as the inaugural vice-president and managing director. He was born in 1862 and joined Ogilvie at the age of twenty. By 1889, he had been appointed manager of the company's business in the Northwest. Thompson took a prominent roll in the federal election of 1911, speaking out against reciprocity with the United States and opposing wider Imperial relations. He died prematurely in 1912.

The original director with the longest seniority was Sir Montagu Allan, who sat on the board from 1902-1951. Allan was born in Montreal in 1860 and was the founder of the Allan Steamship Co. and Matilda Caroline Smith. He was President of the Merchant's Bank from 1901-1922. Allan was created a knight bachelor by King Edward VII in 1906 and decorated Companion of the Victorian Order in 1907.

The other two original directors were Sir George Alexander Drummond and Sir Edward Seaborn Clouston. Drummond was born in Edinburgh in 1829, emigrating to Canada in 1854. He was a manager of John Redpath and Son, sugar refiners of Montreal. In 1879, he founded the Canada Sugar Refining Co. In 1882, he was elected a director of the Bank of Montreal, advancing to the vice-presidency in 1887 and presidency in 1905. In 1904, he was knighted.

Clouston was the son of a Hudson's Bay Co. Chief Factor and was born at Moose Factory on Hudson's Bay in 1849. He joined the bank of Montreal as a clerk in 1865. By 1887, he had risen to assistant general manager and became a first vice-president in 1906. He was created a baronet in 1908.

Just prior to the sale of A.W. Ogilvie & Co. and the W.W. Ogilvie Milling Co., F.W. Thompson received the Duke and Duchess of York at the company's Winnipeg mill. The royal couple carried out the customary inspection and the Duchess was said to be impressed by the cleanliness of the facility. At the end of his Canadian tour, the Duke succeeded to the title of Prince of Wales. On March 1, 1902, the W.W. Ogilvie Milling Co. received the Royal Warrant from the Comptroller of the Household as Flour Millers to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. When the Prince ascended the throne as King George V, the Appointment was terminated. However, in December 1912, a new Warrant was received as "Purveyors of Flour to His Majesty", an honour that the company held until December 11, 1939. The renewal of the Warrant indicates that the earlier recognition had not been a matter of protocol. It indicates that following the visit to the Winnipeg mill, Ogilvie flour had been adopted by the royal household.

Scope and Content

The first Ogilvie family mill was erected at Jacques Cartier in 1801. While the collection does not contain records back to the Company's inception, there are land deeds dating back to 1847 and material running concurrently up to 1983. The files include financial records, income tax returns, shareholders lists, balance sheets, and ledgers. The legal records include deeds, land titles, and agreements. The corporate files (including ledgers) consist of Board of Directors minutes, annual reports, letters patent, and correspondence from several Ogilvie Flour Mills Co. Ltd. presidents. There are administrative records that offer a glimpse into the day-to-day running of a flour mill with renovation costs and personnel files. The fond contains bound volumes of The Jolly Miller, the Company's publication. There are over 400 blueprints outlining the building of several facilities and close to 1500 photographs.

 

Collection Reference: MSS 120, PC 122, MC 3  
Inclusive Dates: 1847-1983
Collection Contents: 23 m. of textual records, 1408 photographs, 150 slides, 15 paintings, and 419 technical drawings
Access Conditions: None

 

Ogilvie Flour Mills fonds

Image Gallery

Ogilvie Flour Mills, Ltd., Horsedrawn Trolley
PC 122-3-1028

 

Ogilvie Flour Mills, Ltd., Delivery truck
PC 122-2-803

 

Ogilvie Flour Mills, Ltd., Promotional Advertisement
MSS 120, Box 80, Folder 4

 

Ogilvie Flour Mills, Ltd., Royal Household Flour Ad
PC 122-3-1019

 

Ogilvie Flour Mills, Ltd., Promotion Advertisement (3), an ad from the Canadian Baker and Confectioner
MSS 120, Box 80, Folder 4