By Haydn Brown.
Part 1 dealt with William Gooderham, senior of three prominent members of the same family line – a line which had been well established in the Scole area of Norfolk throughout the 18th century, and probably much earlier. Part 2, here, is about William Gooderham Junior – a son who fell short of his father’s expectations!
William Gooderham Junior was born on 14 April 1824 at Scole, Norfolk, England, eldest son of William Gooderham Senior and Harriet Tovell Herring. Very little is known about William Junior, except that at the tender age of eight years he accompanied his father when the family sailed to York, Upper Canada in 1832. After receiving a grammar school education in Toronto, he refused, in 1842, to join his father’s milling and distilling firm and instead moved to Rochester, New York where he took up a mercantile career. Born into an evangelical Church of England family, William Jnr was converted to Methodism while at Rochester and became a strong temperance advocate. Then on 14 April 1847 he married Margaret Bright whose sister, Sarah, had married his cousin, James Gooderham Worts, in 1840. There were no children.
About 1850, William Gooderham, and his younger brother James, opened a general store at Norval in Halton County, West Canada. The business was not profitable and closed in 1859. William then became the Toronto-based partner in the Boston grain firm of Taylor Brothers, but when his misjudgements proved costly, the partnership was ended. Other ventures were equally unsuccessful and several times Gooderham had to be rescued by friends and relatives.
In the 1870s Gooderham was, however, named vice-president and managing director, and in 1873 became president and managing director, of the Toronto and Nipissing Railway Company, then controlled by Gooderham and Worts. He remained head of the railway until its heavy losses forced an absorption in 1882 into the group of lines consolidated as the Midland Railway of Canada. In 1871 he was an incorporator of the Confederation Life Association and represented family interests on its board of directors until 1872. Failing health and his wife’s illness caused him to withdraw gradually from active business management in the early 1880s. This was probably a sound move for as his obituary in the ‘Toronto World’ was to point out “His record as a business man tells of confidence placed in talents he did not possess.”
Two events shaped the last decade of Gooderham’s life. First, his own illness and that of his wife (who had become an invalid in 1875) brought about a reconversion to Methodism and, with it, William was to enter upon a career of evangelism which lasted to the day he died on 12 September 1889 at Toronto, Ontario. The second event which shaped matters was that, in 1881, he received some $300,000 from his father’s estate. With this money William launched himself into careers in finance and philanthropy. He invested large sums in the shares of several corporations and was elected to their boards. Of his investments, only the Central Bank of Canada proved to be a serious misjudgement, for when that institution failed in 1888, he was named ‘a liquidator’, probably because of his known rectitude and the fact that he owned a large number of shares. With double liability, his losses exceeded $40,000. Nevertheless, his estate was valued at approximately $450,000 at his death – (approx. $11,000,000 in today’s terms?).
In spite of his eccentric behaviour, which included importuning strangers in public places to proclaim the Word of God, his generosity to religious organisations was admired. He personally supported missionaries in India, the Canadian northwest, and in the South Sea islands; assembled a quartet of young people with whom he paid regular preaching visits to hospital wards; gave sermons in various Protestant churches; and financially supported numerous charities. He was a director of the Toronto Willard Tract Depository, a member of the Toronto General Hospital Trust, and chairman of the executive of the China Inland Mission. In 1888 he gave $25,000 to erect the Toronto Christian Institute. He died the next year preaching to destitute men at a Salvation Army haven.
Gooderham’s Will created a sensation. It was instrumental in ending the delay in the implementation of the Act of 1887, with the amalgamation of the federation of Victoria University at Cobourg with the University of Toronto; the move provided, in addition to a $75,000 permanent endowment, for $125,000 to be paid to Victoria on the condition that it moved to Toronto. Federation with the University of Toronto was proclaimed on 12 Nov. 1890 and the transfer was completed in October 1892. In addition, William bequeathed $150,000 to organisations such as the Upper Canada Bible Society, the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Christian Associations, the Boy’s Home, Girl’s Home, and homes for infants, the Toronto Home for Incurables, the House of Industry, and the Salvation Army.
THE END, PART 3 TO FOLLOW.
Leo A. Johnson, “GOODERHAM, WILLIAM (1824-89),” 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_1824_89_11E.html.