Pictonians at Home and Abroad
Pictou in the Business World
THE influence of Pictou
County in the development of the industrial and commercial life of Canada
has been highly important. Her enterprising sons have held positions of
responsibility throughout the length and breadth of the land; and her
mariners have trod the quarter deck on every sea. Only a few facts and
names however can be presented in this chapter.
Pictou County is fifty
miles long and about twenty miles wide, and contains 719,000 acres. It has
one of the finest harbors on the northern shore of the Province with three
fine streams,East, West and Middle rivers, flowing into it. Along the
shore the land is low and level, but in the interior it is hilly and
undulating with fine natural scenery. From Fraser's Mountain, Green Hill
and Mt. Thorn are to be seen ever-varying and most beautiful views of hill
and dale, sea and land, field and forest.
When the first settlers
arrived in Pictou the whole of the county was covered with timber of the
finest quality. White pine was particularly plentiful and common, but oak,
fir, maple and all bnds of wood were found of large size and in great
abundance, and afforded a valuable source of income to the inhabitants;
and the lumbering industry was then, as it has been of later years,
extensive and prosperous. In 1774 the first cargo of square timber was
shipped to Britain. In 1803, some 50 vessels were loaded in Pictou Town.
The cutting, hewing, hauling, rafting and shipping of ton timber, became
for some years the chief business of many of the people of Pictou. As the
timber was cut and removed men turned their attention more and more to
Pictou County has always
been considered one of the best agricultural counties in the Province.
With the exception of a few tracts of land here and there, the whole
county is fit for cultivation. The first Agricultural Society in the
Province was formed at West River. Jan. I, 1817, with the Rev. Duncan Ross
as President, Daniel Fraser, Treasurer, and John Bonnyman Secretary. They
imported seed grain, agricultural implements and Ayrshire cattle. In 1818
they held a ploughing match on Mr. Mortimer's farm, near Pictou. Prizes
were offered for the best acre of wheat, and for the man who could stump
and plough the greatest quantity of new land. A similar society was
organized on the East River in 1820.
Coal was first
discovered in Pictou County in 1798. Word was sent to England that there
was coal in abundance in Pictou; that it was found on the margin of the
East River; that it was accessible to ships of light tonnage, and that the
coal was of the best bituminous quality. A wealthy firm purchased the
ground. This was the beginning of Pictou's coal industry. In 1827 the
General Mining Association purchased the property, immediately commenced
active development, and, before the end of the year, were producing coal
on an extensive scale, using a steam engine for hoisting. Stellarton is
the largest coal producing center in the County, and is a thriving
The Acadia Coal Company
of Stellarton is the direct successor of one of the oldest mining
corporations of the County. That it survives until today, and possesses as
it does one of the most modern and the most complete coal-handling
equipments in the country, speaks volumes for the great value of the coal
fields of Pictou. It is said that the thickest coal seam in the world is
found here38 feet in depth. This company owns the Acadia Coal Mine at
Westville and the Vale Mine at Thorburn.
Fifty years ago a
wilderness of scrubby birch and hemlock covered the site on which the town
of Westville now stands, with a population of over 5000. In the year 1854
prospectors began searching for coal, and discovered the outcrop of a seam
on the north side of the town where the land slopes toward the Middle
River. The Black Diamond Company was the first to commence operations, and
was soon followed by the Acadia, and in 1868 by the Drummond. A railway
was completed to Granton and later to Abercrombie, where there are wharves
and all conveniences necessary for shipping coal. The works of the Vale
Colliery at Thorburn were started in 1872. Thorburn is prettily situated
and has a population of over 1200. A railroad six miles long leading from
the colliery to New Glasgow is in operation. The total coal production in
Pictou County for 1913 was 700,000 tons.
In looking at the
thousands of miles of railways in Canada it may be interesting to note
that the first steam engine erected in Nova Scotia was at the Albion
Mines, Dec. 7, 1827, and that the first railway built in Canada, and one
of the earliest on the continent, was by the General Mining Association
from its works at Albion Mines, six miles, to the old Loading Ground near
Abercrombie. It was begun in 1836 and opened in 1839. The rolling stock
came out from England, in a sailing vessel. In this vessel there were the
several parts of three engines, the names of which were the Samson, the
Hercules and the Hybernia. The Samson was named for Scotland; the Hercules
for England; and the Hybernia for Ireland. The Samson was the first one
set up and the one that made the first trip.
In 1830 the first
steamboat was seen in the Harbor of Pictou. The "Richard Smith" was put in
operation by the same company. She was commanded by Capt. McKenzie. The
first steamer to cross the Atlantic wholly by her own steam power was
coaled in and sailed from Pictou Harbor in 1833.
The first attempt to
smelt iron in Pictou County was made by the General Mining Association in
1828, the year after the Company had commenced operations in this field.
Just previously, iron ore had been discovered near McLennan's Brook, a
short distance from the company's colliery. The ore was sent to England
for analysis and, a favorable report having been made by the company's
chemists, a deeper interest was aroused in the latent possibilities of the
country. In 1829 an attempt was made to manufacture pig iron. For this
purpose a blast furnace was erected at Albion Mines, the first in Canada.
Iron was smelted to the extent of about 50 tons. The ruins of this furnace
were standing until 1855.
In 1872 the Hope Iron
Works, afterwards the Nova Scotia Forge Company commenced operations in
New Glasgow with a capital of $4000 with a view to manufacturing railway
and marine forgings. Six years later, the works were removed to a larger
site, upon the banks of the East River, in the present town of Trenton. As
the enterprise prospered, the principal shareholders of the company
decided to engage in the manufacture of steel, at the same time organizing
for this purpose a new company called the Nova Scotia Steel Company with a
capital of $160,000. The first steel ingots were made here in July, 1883,
being the first produced in Canada on a commercial basis.
One of the chief
difficulties encountered by the Company was that of obtaining suitable
ore. In 1894, the well known Wabana iron ore deposits of Bell Island, Nfd.,
was acquired. This deposit now forms the chief source of ore supply for
the furnaces of the Province. In 1900, after purchasing the coal and other
properties of the General Mining Association in Cape Breton, the Nova
Scotia Steel Company was reorganized, and assumed the present name of the
Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company. New Glasgow is the seat of the
finishing mills, forges
and machine shops. The company's axle-shops are world famous. It is
claimed that this branch of the New Glasgow plant has produced a greater
number of axles per day than any other works in the Empire. There are said
to be none of the same capacity on the continent of Europe. Fish-plates,
tie-plates, trackspikes, nuts and bolts of the various standard sizes are
Another important new
enterprise is the Eastern Car Company for the manufacture of railway cars.
It was formed in 1912, and is virtually a creation of the Steel Company. A
splendid site has been secured for it on the east bank of the East River,
adjoining the Nova Scotia Steel Company. The shops and plant when complete
will be capable of an output of 30 cars per day, and about 9000 cars per
In a survey of the vast
consolidated interests of the Nova Scotia Steel Company and the Eastern
Car Company, it is difficult to realize that if, 30 years ago, one had
visited the upper corner of the Graham Shipyard, in the town of New
Glasgow, one would have found there the parent of it alla small forge,
whose main product was the iron-knees which were used for the wooden ships
then being built there. Let it be noted that this company owes its
existence largely to two sons of the soil, Graham Fraser, and G. Forrest
McKay of New Glasgow. They now, naturally, possess a fair share of this
world's goods, but their greatest reward for perseverance and toil in
comparative obscurity in early days, must be the gratification of seeing,
in less than four decades, their little forge shop expand into what is one
of the largest steel industries in Canada. These men, along with Thomas
Cantley, the present capable General Manager, have done a great work for
Pictou County and for all Canada.
The Town of Pictou was
long the second in importance in the Province, and it still enjoys a
peculiar character and charm of its own. It has good reason to be proud of
its history and institutions, its men and its ships. The comer stone of
the first house in Pictou was not laid until 1789. but once it started,
the growth of the village into a town, was rapid. The first leading
business man in the, town was Edw. Mortimer, an Englishman who came to
this country while yet a young man, without means, went into the timber
and fish business, first representing a Halifax firm in Pictou and then
for himself. He first located himself a little above Mortimer's Point.
near Squire Patterson whose daughter he married. Here he put up a small
building, intended both for a house and a store. Afterwards he removed to
the Point near the Stone House, where he had his home and where he built
two large wharves out to deep water. Here he amassed a small fortune. He
died suddenly, in 1819, at the age of 52, and his estate dwindled to
practically nothing. He built Norway House, one of the historic and
interesting places in the town.
Beckels Wilson in "Nova
Scotia" speaks of Norway House as the best house in Pictou, perhaps the
best built private one in Nova Scotia, with its walls a foot and a half
thick, fine fat timbers, plenty of honest freestone, and a great dry
cellar and as sturdy today as the day he built it.
Other business men of
the early days of Pictou were John Dawson, Thomas Davidson, George Smith,
William Mortimer, John Patterson, Abram Patterson, Henry Hatton and James
Dawson who was the first bookseller in the Province outside of Halifax.
William Matheson, Rogers Hill, began on a small scale and afterwards moved
to West River, where he did a large country trade. Robert McKay began
business in River John soon after Ed. Mortimer's death, with whom he had
been a clerk.
River John was at one
time a prominent center for shipbuilding and business enterprise. The
leading men were the McKenzies, the McLennans. the Henrys, and the
Business being now well established, a number of merchants combined to
build a vessel to be a regular trader between Pictou and the Old Country.
She was called the Enterprise and was built by Thos. Lowden, and launched
in 1820. Captain Lowden may be considered the father of the ship building
art in Pictou. He was a native of the South of Scotland and settled in
Pictou town about 1788. In 1798 he launched the ship Harriet, which was,
at that time, considered the largest and finest ship built in the
Province. In 1825 came the terrible financial crisis in the mother country
which for a time killed the shipping and timber business in Pictou. The
day on which the intelligence came was long known as "Black Monday."
Of what may be called
the second generation of Pictou's business men, the late James Primrose,
was one of the most prominent. He was the father of the late Hon. Clarence
Primrose, Senator, and of the late Howard Primrose, almost equally
prominent in their generation. James Primrose, senior, was a son of the
Scottish manse, and came to Nova Scotia in his youth without any pecuniary
endowment. By means of untiring industry and scrupulous uprightness,
characteristics which he has transmitted to all his descendants, he made
his way rapidly to the front in business and finance. He constructed at
the east end of the Town, the handsome dwelling familiarly known as "The
Cottage," now occupied by his grandson James and his two sisters, Miss
Primrose and Miss Rachael.
Associated for a time in
business with Mr. Primrose was the late A. P. Ross, barrister, who early
withdrew from the Bar to devote himself to commercial and industrial
More or less
contemporary with these were such other successful business men as the
late James Purves, William Gordon, William H. Davies, Roderick McKenzie,
John Crearer, J. D. B. Fraser, John Yorston, James Kitchin, David
McCulloch, John T. Ives, William Ives, James Ives, James Hislop, A. J.
Patterson, Robert Doull, Daniel Hockin, Richard Tanner, James P. McLennan,
David Fullerton, all of whom made their mark in business, and most of whom
have left descendants prominent in the social and public life of the
The history of New
Glasgow dates back to about the year 1809. At that time there were not
more than a dozen houses in the place. Today, it is a large industrial and
business centre with a population of over 7000. The men who founded New
Glasgow were James Carmichael, John McKay, Hon. James Fraser, James
McGregor, Roderick McGregor, Alexander Fraser, John McKenzie, George
McKenzie, Thomas Graham and John Cameron. New Glasgow was fortunate in its
founders, for they were men possessing fine business ability and great
force of character. They were not only interested in the commercial growth
and progress of the town but in its moral and religious life. Most of the
men were officers in the church; some of them took a deep interest in
state matters; many were zealous advocates of temperance, and all of them
staunch upholders of law and justice. The credit of selecting New Glasgow
as a business centre for East Pictou belongs to James Carmichael who
opened a store there about the year 1810.
In the early days of New
Glasgow shipbuilding was the chief and only industry in the place. From
1840 to 1870 saw its palmiest days. Vessels of all sizes were built,
numbers of which made successful voyages to all parts of the world,
commanded by captains born and trained in the county. Prominent and
foremost among the shipbuilders of New Glasgow was George McKenzie, who
not only built the largest vessels of the day, but commanded several of
them. He made New Glasgow noted as one of the shipbuilding centers of Nova
Scotia, and probably did more than anyone else to make the town.
The opening of the
Albion .Mines Railway in 1839 gave a great impetus to the business life of
New Glasgow. Consequently a large number of merchants started business
there from that time to 1850, among whom were Alexander Douglas, John F.
McDonald, James Fraser, Downie, William Fraser, Basil Bell, Thomas R.
Fraser, Angus Chisholm, Thomas Fraser, George W. Underwood and John
Cameron. Associated with these as prominent citizens were William
Lippincott, Robert McGregor, John Miller, William Chisholm, David
Marshall, Kenneth Forbes, and George McKay who exerted a large influence
in the development of the town at a later period.
Among the early business
men of Stellarton were James Mitchell, James Wentworth, Donald Gray,
Alexander Grant and James Keith. In Merigomish, R. S. Copeland was for
many years a leading shipbuilder. Later on David Patterson built ships in
Merigomish Harbor. John Logan, tanner, the founder of the present
community of Lyon's Brook, was a prominent business man in his day.
Many natives of the
county have made a place for themselves outside of Pictou in the business
and industrial world. Beginning with Newfoundland, the late Hon. A. M.
Mackay was Manager of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company. He was born
near Pictou in 1834 and died in 1905. From early life he was distinguished
for his wonderful memory and had a positive genius for figures and
mathematics. He began life first as a teacher, next as a telegrapher and
was one of the first to read a message by sound. For nearly half a century
he retained his position, putting the company on a successful basis and
serving it with great fidelity. Like Cyrus Field he had a firm belief in
the ultimate success of the laying of the Atlantic Cable, and he had a
large share in bringing it to a successful completion. Judge Prowse of
Newfoundland says no man can rob Mackay's memory of this undying honor.
Perhaps the oldest
representatives Pictou has in Montreal and those who have made the
greatest material success are: Mr. David H. Fraser and his brother, Wm. H.
Fraser The Fraser brothers are sons of Hugh J. Fraser, whose home was on
the West River near Durham. They are now voted among Montreal's
business man is Archibald Ross of the firm of Ross & Greig, second son of
the late David Ross of Saltsprings. Mr. Ross is a Mechanical Engineer and
the firm acts as manufacturers' agents.
Mr. A. P. Willis,
another Pictonian has made for himself a reputation and at the same time a
fortune by putting musical instruments into thousands of Canadian homes.
Mr. Willis was born near Millsville in 1845. In 1873 he migrated to
Montreal where he engaged in the sewing machine business. and selling of
pianos and organs. After 25 years of selling, Mr. Willis decided to
manufacture; and the company's factory at Montreal turns out about 4000
pianos every year.
Mr. Alpine McLean, born
near New Glasgow, was for many years a prominent business man in Boston
engaged in the wholesale flour and feed business. He was a leader in the
moral and religious work of the city. He died in 1913.
Hugh R. McGregor was
born at Brookville, Pictou County 1859. When he was 12 years of age he
moved to Providence, R. I. In 1877 he went to Brown and Sharpe to learn
the machinist trade. In the third year of his apprenticeship he was
appointed Assistant foreman of the building of Milling Machines, and in
1898 to the position of Mechanical Superintendent. The Brown & Sharpe
Company employ over 5000 men and at the present time are manufacturing 39
different Milling machines. The names of many other Pictoniails of
influence and business enterprise might be added if the writer knew of
their location and business.
county bas made an enviable record in the past; it is still to do great
things in the future. Pictou of today and Pictou of yesterday! What a
contrast: The change seems almost miraculous, from the forest primeval to
the present verdancy of its hills and valleys, with their well-tilled
fields. Upon every hand, now, are comfortable homes, pretty villages,
towns laid out with care, handsome churches, modern school houses, fine
academic buildings. intersecting railways, vast coal and iron industries.
and a population of thirty-six thousand enterprising, progressive and
my task is done. It has been an arduous duty, yet a pleasant one. It has
been an honor and a privilege to pay a tribute to these noble men and
women who did so much for God and native land.
resolute men and women, who in strict morality and with high ideals laid
the foundations of the social fabric enjoyed by us today were spiritual
seers and heroes. They won for us our fame, our freedom and our fortune.
Too many of us have never fully acquainted ourselves with their heroism
and their achievements.
every Pictonian were as well acquainted with the history of his native
county as he should be, and as proud of it as he might well be, he would
have a higher appreciation of the splendid moral and material heritage his
forefathers left him, and would in common loyalty seek to honor their
memory and emulate their virtues.
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