By Haydn Brown.
Part 1 and 2 dealt with William Gooderham Senior and his son, William Gooderham Junior, respectively; they belonged to a prominent family line which had been well established in the Scole area of Norfolk throughout the 18th century, and probably much earlier. This final Part 3, is about George Gooderham, William Senior’s third son.
George Gooderham, destined to be both businessman and yachtsman, was born on 14 March 1830 in, or certainly near, Scole, Norfolk, England. He was William Gooderham Senior and Harriet Tovell Herring’s third son and brother of William Junior. George was fortunate to have been born into relative prosperity on the family estate, which his father worked as a gentleman farmer. At age two he was among a group of 54 people, led by his father, who emigrated to Upper Canada, arriving at York, Toronto on 25 July 1832. There the Gooderham’s joined James Worts, George’s uncle through marriage to his father’s sister, Elizabeth. James Wort had arrived in York the previous year and established, for himself and Gooderham, a wind-powered flour-mill at the mouth of the Don River.
After the founding of York in 1793, several mills were constructed along the lower River Don, James Wort’s mill was just one; his was amongst a variety of other mills which, initially at least, turned out cut timber, flour and paper products. By the 1850s, there were more than 50 mills along the Don and its tributaries. In the case of Wort’s mill, the founder, together with his partner, William Gooderham Senior, soon realised that water power was not enough and changed to steam driven engines. This was a shrewd move for their business expanded to a point when, in 1837, a distillery was added to the business. This was the catalyst of the Gooderham future fortune in Canada. James Worts died in 1834 and in 1845 his son James Gooderham Worts became a partner in the enterprise, which took the name Gooderham and Worts.
In his youth, and whilst the family concentrated on building an empire, young George attended Sunday school in accordance to the wishes of his evangelical Anglican father. George later became librarian at the Little Trinity Church, which was just north of the family home, close to the mill-distillery complex. This church also became the centre of his early social life, and it was where he met Harriet Dean, whom he married on 14 March 1851, his 21st birthday. During their marriage, the couple had four sons and eight daughters – all but one daughter survived infancy. Unsurprisingly perhaps, his father happened to be a warden of Little Trinity, and held this post for many years. George himself, was a frequent participant in vestry meetings and was vestry clerk in 1854. He rented a pew from 1852 to the 1880s, but in later years he attended St James’ Cathedral.
George entered Gooderham and Worts while young, to learn the trade, and on 1 Aug. 1856 he was made a full partner in the distillery, alongside his father and his cousin James. The Monetary Times attributed to his acumen and drive the major expansion of the business, which begun three years later:
“He offered, if permitted a larger share in the concern, to manage the enlargement he had recommended and to take the risk of its success.”
The risk of the expansion, completed in 1861 and estimated to have cost $200,000, was reduced through a price-fixing agreement reached sometime before 1861 with rival distiller John H. R. Molson and Brothers of Montreal. By at least 1863 George was superintendent of the Toronto factory.
George’s rapid rise was partly the result of his elder brothers’ decision to spurn the family’s distilling business. William had moved to Rochester, New York, in 1842 to become a merchant. James, the second-born, joined him at Norval, Upper Canada, in about 1850 to run a general store. In addition to being loyal to the distillery business, George was clearly technically proficient and a perfectionist:
“He knew the chemistry of his subject as well as its economy, and was accustomed to make minute tests of grain and of yeast under the microscope,” said the Monetary Times.
The 1859–61 expansion of the business included installation of automatic milling and distilling machinery; this came along when the mechanisation methods of making barrels for the oil industry were adopted by the large distilleries. The impact on some 40 coopers at Gooderham and Worts was dramatic; wages and hours at its barrel shops had, in 1870, been controlled by the Coopers International Union, but within two years the union’s grip had been broken by the new machinery. By the mid-1870s the mill’s 150 workers were producing one of every three gallons of proof spirits manufactured in Canada. George Gooderham played a large role in the growing efficiency of the distillery throughout this period.
As George’s father expanded into banking and railways, George followed. In September 1870 he was made a director of the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway, which, along with the Toronto and Nipissing Railway, was controlled by Gooderham and Worts and hauled freight for the company. Three years later he was made a Director of the Bank of Toronto, also controlled by Gooderham and Worts with his father as President.
William Gooderham Snr. died on 20 Aug. 1881 and his two Gooderham and Worts partnerships of the mercantile business and the distillery were merged, James Gooderham Worts and George becoming sole partners. Most of his father’s estate passed to George and William Gooderham Jr, their brother, James, having died in 1879. Worts was elected president of the Bank of Toronto with George as vice-president; however, Worts died on 20 June 1882. The following day George was elected to the presidency, which he held until his death. He also gained control of Gooderham and Worts, and soon applied to parliament to have it transformed into a joint-stock corporation. George also became president of Gooderham and Worts Limited.
George then spent much of the remainder of his life broadening the base of his wealth by investing in real estate, mines, and financial services. In 1887 he, together with other Toronto backers founded twin firms, Manufacturers’ Accident Insurance Company and Manufacturers’ Life Insurance Company, and succeeded in securing Canada’s prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, as president of both. George became president of this company, on 22 June 1891, after Macdonald’s death. He then oversaw a steady expansion abroad throughout the 1890s and went on to head many more Companies.
In both distilling and finance, George’s cautious temperament and attention to detail helped bring success. His greatest talent lay in identifying and exploiting economic linkages. At the distillery, the company controlled more and more stages of production, from the field to the barrel, and profited from such industrial by-products as waste mash, which was fed to the company cattle. In financial services, George’s directorships linked a bank, a trust company, a mortgage company, a life-insurance company, and accident-insurance companies. This horizontal integration spread his personal investment risk but, more important, it helped to identify opportunities for profit. George’s companies thus remained relatively stable during periods of economic turmoil.
Between 1889 and 1892 George Gooderham built an enormous Romanesque-style mansion at the northeast corner of Bloor and St George streets, in Toronto’s newly fashionable Annex neighbourhood. The chief designer was David Roberts Jr, whose father had been architect for the 1859–61 expansion of the mill-distillery complex. George christened the house ‘Waveney’, after the river that flowed past his birthplace in Norfolk. This imposing mansion, now housing the York Club, was a rare display of wealth from a man who otherwise preferred to stay out of the public eye.
George indulged a passion for yachting in his later years. In about 1880 he bought the racing schooner Oriole, which he moored at the east end of Toronto Bay by the distillery. It was replaced in 1886 by Oriole II, which won the Royal Canadian Yacht Club’s Prince of Wales Cup in six of the next seven years. He was vice-commodore of the club from 1884 to 1887 and commodore in 1888. He was also one of six investors in the cutter Canada, which won the first challenge for the Canada Cup, on Lake Erie on 25 Aug. 1896.
Gooderham held a number of exclusive posts in which he associated with other members of Toronto’s élite. He was at times master of the Toronto Hunt Club, a director of the Ontario Jockey Club, and a captain in the reserve militia. He was also a senator at the University of Toronto and a trustee of the Toronto General Hospital. In the field of music, he joined impresario Frederick Herbert Torrington in organizing two ventures: the Toronto Music Festival (1886), of which he was honorary president, and the Toronto College of Music, which he served as president. As a Conservative, he donated to the party but never stood for political office.
Chronic bronchitis forced an ageing George to flee Canada each winter for warmer climates. His condition prompted trips to the Mediterranean and the southern United States. Several weeks after his return from Florida in 1905, he developed pneumonia and died at his Toronto home at age 75.
He left an estate estimated to have been worth more than $15 million. “The accumulation of such a fortune in one man’s hands marks an epoch in the development of Canada,” a eulogist wrote in Saturday Night. “His Will, made public in August 1905, declared the value of his holdings to be at least $10,000,000; he was thus one of the richest men in the country. The composition of the estate showed how effectively George Gooderham had diversified. Almost 90 per cent of his father’s wealth in 1881 had been invested in the distillery; When George died, on 1 May 1905, his distillery investment represented only about a third of his fortune.
Though he had accumulated seven times the wealth of his father and though his financial and real-estate investments touched the lives of thousands, George Gooderham remained broadly unknown. His funeral was small and his legacy was soon dispersed. His Will placed the distillery in the hands of his four sons. The two eldest sons, William and Albert, were to manage the operation and, at the end of ten years, were to be given the right to purchase the business outright. The presidency of Gooderham and Worts passed to William, who held the position until the family’s sale of the distillery in 1923. George’s father would have been proud of him!
Dean Beeby, “GOODERHAM, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed January 4, 2021, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gooderham_george_13E.html.
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