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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 farming.


  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 business town.


  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 here–38 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 manufacturing departments,




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 produced.


  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 working year.


 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 all–a 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 Kitchins.

  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 enterprises.


  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 Province.


  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 millionaires.


  Another successful 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.


  The 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 intelligent people.

  Now 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.

  These 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.

  If 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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