By Haydn Brown.
Ultimately, this is intended to be the story of three particular members of the same family line – a prominent line and one which had been well established in the Scole area of Norfolk throughout the 18th century, and probably much earlier – they were the Gooderham’s. It is a story which is long, hence the need to split it into three parts. This is Part 1 – about William Gooderham, the evangelical patriarch!
William Gooderham was born on 29 August 1790 in, or certainly near Scole in Norfolk, the second son of James and Sarah Gooderham. Very little is known about William’s childhood, except to say that when he was 12 years old, he left his father’s farm in Norfolk to work in the London office of his mother’s brother, an East Indies trader. Then, during the Napoleonic Wars, he joined the Royal York Rangers and saw action in the capture of Martinique in 1809 and Guadeloupe in 1810.
William survived the actual conflict, however, at the age of 21 years, he was invalided home after contracting yellow fever on the island. After he had recovered, he continued with the force as a recruiting officer for the remainder of the war, which lasted until 1815. During this period, he was said to have ‘acquired’ the means by which to pay off an £800 mortgage on his father’s farm at Scole, which he was to later inherit in 1820 when his father died. This initiative of his also secured a modest income for himself; it was also the first sign of his in-built ‘business acumen’ which was to hold him in good stead in future years. For the moment, however, he simply became a gentleman farmer, although his estate at Scole at the time was to suffer from the general decline in values of British agricultural produce, brought about in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) when food imports recovered and there was a resumption of American trade following their own Civil War of 1812–1815.
This economic downturn for land owners, plus the rural rioting during that period, must have been an influencing factor in William’s decision, eleven years later, to emigrate. However, before then and shortly after his father had died in 1820, William married Harriet Tovell Herring and began the process of rearing their family of thirteen children, of which at least five were born at Scole. During the whole process of rearing a family, William went from ‘gentleman farmer’ in Norfolk to becoming a very successful and wealthy distiller, businessman, and banker in far off Canada.
In 1831 Gooderham’s brother-in-law, James Worts, (1792 – 1834) instigated a large immigration of their two families to Upper Canada. Worts, being the first to emigrate, established himself as a flour miller at the mouth of the Don River near York, Toronto, and began construction of a windmill. The following year of 1832, William Gooderham followed in Worts wake, bringing over to York a company of some 54 persons: members of his own and of Worts’s family, as well as servants and 11 orphans. Once settled in York, William invested the substantial sum of £3,000 in Worts’s milling business and the two brothers-in-law formed the partnership of Worts and Gooderham. The partnership abruptly ended when in February 1834, several weeks after Worts wife, Elizabeth Gooderham, died during childbirth, James Worts committed suicide; he drowned himself in a well on his own company’s property. William, ever the businessman, not only continued running the company, but also changed its name to William Gooderham, Company.
In 1837 he then added a distillery to his business so that he could make efficient use of surplus and second-grade grain. Four years later he introduced gas for illumination and converted the entire plant from wind-to steam-power. Shipment of consignments to Montreal in the early 1840s illustrated Williams growing interests in the harbourfront area and in distant markets. Six years later he built his own wharf there and by the 1860s owned schooners on the Great Lakes. During this period of expansion, William took on his nephew, James Gooderham Worts the son of the drowned James, as a trainee. In 1845, this same young nephew joined William as a full partner; the firm’s name was changed to Gooderham and Worts. During the 1860s and 1870s the company enjoyed a pre-eminence in Toronto’s industry, transportation, and finance, as well as on the stock exchange.
The complex of buildings owned by Gooderham and Worts, and designated the Toronto City Steam Mills and Distillery in 1845, grew to become an industrial showpiece and made its owners the city’s largest taxpayers. A major expansion was begun in 1859 with a new, five-storey distillery built; it was acknowledged as the largest distillery in Canada West and had begun exporting to the English market. In early 1862 the costs of new buildings, which included storehouses and an engine house, and of equipping the old windmill with modern machinery were estimated at over $200,000 – (apprx. $5,000,000 (£3,676,925) in today’s terms?). A brick malthouse was later added. After 1862 the windmill was used for further distilling of the company’s premium brands, “Toddy” and “Old Rye,” which enjoyed both an English market and large sales in Canada.
On 26 October 1869, a spectacular fire destroyed a storehouse and a lumber pile and gutted the interior of the main milling and distillery building, causing considerable damage; unfortunately, the company was not covered by insurance. However undeterred, William Gooderham and James Worts rebuilt, and their business continued to grow further. In 1874–75 the company produced over 2,000,000 gallons, or one-third the total amount of proof spirits distilled in the country. By the late 1870s, Gooderham and Worts, in common with other Canadian distillers, had withdrawn from the English market and had turned increasingly to selling grain alcohol for the manufacture of such products as vinegar and methylated spirits, as well as the scent “Florida Water.” Although Gooderham and Worts delegated direct management and some degree of ownership in the 1860s and 1870s, they were primarily responsible for the success of the firm.
Visitors to the Gooderham and Worts establishments after 1861 were said to bestruck by their massive size, by their cleanliness, by the fully automatic milling machinery which further distinguished the operation from most others in the province, and by the shelters for the livestock alongside the distillery. Just as the distillery had grown out of the mill, a livestock operation, begun in the 1840s, was an offshoot of the distillery business. William first raised pigs and then cattle, fattened on the nutritious swill that was a by-product of distilling. A dairy herd numbering 22 in 1843 grew into a dairy and beef operation which by 1861 was fattening about 1,000 animals a year, but at that time the herd was probably no longer owned by Gooderham and Worts. When improved transportation opened an English market, only beef was produced and by the end of the decade there were sheds for 3,000 animals near the distillery.
In the expansion of their facilities after 1859, Gooderham and Worts included a siding to the Grand Trunk Railway, large enough to hold 14 carriages; they were to be prominent among Toronto businessmen interested in the narrow-gauge railways promoted by George Laidlaw, a former employee. The partners’ interest in railways grew naturally out of the needs of their mills and of the Toronto flour-mill and distillery complex. In 1870, on terms favourable to themselves, they advanced a loan large enough to give the bonds of both the Toronto, Grey & Bruce and the Toronto and Nipissing railways a market value.
Thereafter their influence increased in the operation of the two lines, especially the Toronto and Nipissing railway of which William Gooderham Senior had become a provisional director upon its incorporation in 1868. Even before William Gooderham Jr became President of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway Company in 1873, the Gooderham interests were the railway’s main customer, and the Toronto terminal of this line was established conveniently near the distillery and cattle sheds. Although family control of a railway, built with much public funding, did not escape criticism, defenders of the line pointed to the need for Gooderham’s capital to launch the enterprise and to finance its chief activity, which involved buying cordwood in the north and storing it to season before transporting it for sale in the city.
When William Gooderham became President of the Bank of Toronto in 1864, a post he held until his death, he embarked on the last of several careers, leaving James Worts to look after their joint interests in the Bank. The Bank’s combination of conservative investment policy with internal efficiency and innovative management bore the mark of William Gooderham. Under him the Bank achieved an enviable reputation for stability which brought it a growing share of business. Its stocks remained at a relatively high price, even during the recession in the 1870s.
On a personal front William Gooderham, ever the ‘conservative’, avoided the public eye and shied away from exposure as a member on the first publicly elected school board in 1850; his only real venture into politics was as City Alderman in 1853 and 1855. At the same time, he was staunch evangelical Anglican, and a leading member of Little Trinity Church (which was near his distillery) and its warden from 1853 to 1881. William was also a lifelong freemason, and served as President of the York Pioneer Society from 1878 to 1880. His charitable activities were both personal (he took a growing number of orphans under his protection) and institutional. He represented the board of trade on the trust of the Toronto General Hospital, and along with Worts and William Cawthra he contributed the $113,500 (possibly valued around $3 million today?) needed to build a new wing for patients with infectious diseases.
William died on 20 August 1881 in Toronto, Ontario, having taken the opportunity during the last three or four years of his life to turn much of his business over to his third son, George, who had already become a full partner in Gooderham and Worts. It seems that William’s eldest son, William Junior, President and Managing Director of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway from 1873 had an inglorious career in other businesses and was to die in 1889. William’s second son, James, had already been killed in an accident on the Credit Valley Railway in 1879. Three other sons of William, Henry, Alfred Lee, and Charles Horace, were to be employed in branches of the family concern. The Reverend Alexander Sanson of Little Trinity Church eulogized William as a type of patriarch.
Even after providing for his children, William Gooderham left an estate which amounted to approximately $1,550,000 at first valuation (possibly valued around $40 million today?). Obituaries stressed the breadth of his influence in the business community and his contribution to the city’s growth from a town of “three or four thousand inhabitants, and little wealth” to the ‘metropolis’ in 1881. Gooderham built his Empire by combining the principle of dealing in articles of widespread consumption with a sensitivity, which he retained as he grew older, to the opportunities offered by new techniques and new markets. Not bad for this man from Scole, Norfolk, England.
THE END OF PART ONE -PARTS 2 AND 3 TO FOLLOW.
Dianne Newell, “GOODERHAM, WILLIAM (1790-1881),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed January 4, 2021, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gooderham_william_1790_1881_11E.html.
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