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William Christie
Largest biscuit maker in Canada

WILLIAM CHRISTIE. "BY the death of William Christie, President of the firm of Christie, Brown & Co., Limited, Canada has lost one of her most successful business men. Coming to Canada from Scotland in 1849, as a young man of 20, Mr. Christie built up his business from year to year, until at the time of his death he was at the head of the largest biscuit manufacturing concern in Canada.

Mr. Christie was not only successful in his own business, but gave much of his time and attention to questions of interest to the country at large. He was for over 20 years a member of the Canadian Manufacturers' Association, served on its committees for a number of years, and was at one time Vice-President. In him the Association loses a valued member and an enthusiastic friend. At the special meeting of the Executive, on Tuesday, June 19th, the following message of condolence was sent to the family of the deceased:

Toronto. June 26th, 1900. Mrs. William Christie, Queen's Park, Toronto.

Dear Madam,—Whereas, God in His infinite wisdom has seen fit to remove from our midst by death, our friend and associate William Christie, one of the oldest members of our Association, and at one time its Vice- President. We, as an Association, wish to pay
tribute to his sterling worth, his high character as a remarkable member.

There really was a Mr. Christie.

Scottish apprentice baker William Mellis Christie co-owned his first bakery in Toronto in 1853, five years after he arrived from Huntly in Aberdeenshire. Five years later, he was winning awards for his cookies.

Christie went into partnership first with his father-in-law, James McMullen, and then, in 1868, his former boss Alexander Brown (for whom he worked when he first arrived), to expand the business.

Christie’s first bakery turned out more than 4,300 boxes of biscuits by hand each year.

He took a keen interest in the quality of his product, which would lead to the company slogan, “Mr. Christie, you make good cookies.” Among the most popular Christie invention: “pirate” cookies, a combination of oatmeal and peanut butter.

Expansion and relocation brought Christie, Brown and Co. to downtown Toronto where, in 1874, the factory covered an entire block at Adelaide (then Duke) and Frederick Sts.

By the 1880s, Christie’s was the largest cookie and cracker maker in Canada, the Canadian Encyclopaedia reports.

By 1890 in Toronto, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography reports, about one of every five workers in the baking industry was employed by Christie.

As his fortunes rose, the once poor baker’s apprentice joined Toronto society and built a mansion for his family on Queen’s Park Cres. He helped found what would become the Canadian National Exhibition in 1879.

Christie died in his Queen’s Park mansion in 1900; the family sold the business in the 1920s and eventually it was taken over by the American National Biscuit Co. (Nabisco) which is now owned by Kraft.

Mr. Christie first came to Toronto in 1848. He was still a teenager back then, but he had already spent a few years as an apprentice to a baker back home in Scotland. When he arrived in Canada, he got a job working at a bakery on Yonge near Davisville. He’d spend his nights baking bread and in the mornings he would push a handcart down into the nearby village of Yorkville — still its own municipality back then — to sell his goods.

Things went well. Within a few years, he owned his own company. He partnered with his old boss and started winning awards for his cookies. In 1860, when he just was 30 years old, Mr. Christie already employed a staff of five people baking by hand. From there, the business expanded quickly. By 1874, the steam-powered Christie, Brown and Company factory took up an entire city block. (The building is still there between King and Adelaide a block east of Jarvis; now it’s part of George Brown College.) The business kept right on growing. By the time the 1800s drew to a close, Mr. Christie employed two out of every three people in the entire Canadian biscuit manufacturing industry.

When he died of cancer in June of 1900, William Mellis Christie was one of the most famous businessmen in Canada. He’d built a fortune, travelled around the world, and became a public figure in our city: a trustee of the University of Toronto and a member of the Board of Trade. Christie Street was named in his honour. His mansion stood in one of the highest profile spots in Toronto: across the street from Queen’s Park at the corner of Wellesley. That’s where he passed away. As he was laid to rest in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, his son Robert inherited everything: the money, the business and the Christie Mansion.

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