Manufacturing Takes Hold in Brantford - Post 7

Inland community economies in the first half of the 19th century were local. Because of the poor conditions of the roads most staple items were crafted locally. This would change with the coming of the railways in the second half of the 19th century. The railway permitted goods manufactured inland to easily and speedily reach ports and other communities along the railway. The railway allowed small manufacturers with innovative ideas and products to grow through economies of scale; their goods were no longer confined to a local market. 

The opening of the of the Grand River Navigation Company’s canal to Brantford in 1848 turned Brantford into a busy forwarding centre, especially for flour, but also timber and agricultural produce. Then the arrival of the Buffalo, Brantford, & Goderich Railway in 1854 combined with Brantford’s central location all combined to attract industry to the Town. However, the farm implement manufacturing companies that built Brantford’s economy did not start to develop and flourish until the 1870s.

The Earliest Manufacturers

As discussed in my February column, Philip VanBrocklin started Brantford’s first manufacturing company, the Brantford Engine Works in 1844. This would evolve into Waterous Engine Works and become the first Canadian company in continuous operation for 100 years. It lasted 148 years. VanBrocklin started by producing stoves and plows.


In 1849 Justus Morton, who emigrated from Lyons, NY, established Morton & Co, at the corner of Dalhousie and Clarence Streets, where the Husky gasoline station is today, to produce stoneware. The company was locally known as Brantford Pottery. It was one of the earliest stoneware manufacturers in Ontario. In the 1870s the company enjoyed a near monopoly of the market for stoneware in southwestern Ontario. By the mid-1880s glass and sheet-metal ware began to chip away at the stoneware market. The company underwent several ownership changes, name changes and two fires, yet continued to produce stoneware through to 1906 when it closed.

Stove works

In 1850 B.G. Tisdale started a foundry which became known as the Brantford Stove Works. The company produced stoves and stove furniture. Stoves were a common product produced by foundries. William Buck started a tin and stove business in 1852 which he later merged into the Victoria Foundry. In 1866 the company moved from its west end Colborne Street location to premises on West Street bounded by Brant Avenue and William Street, were Tom Thumb Park is today. The business incorporated as the William Buck Stove Company in 1897. Buck’s Radiant Home stove for the kitchen and Happy Thought stove for the parlour became household names across Canada, Europe and Australia. In 1903 the factory moved to Elgin Street at the railway underpass, just east of Clarence Street. The McClary Company of London purchased the company in 1920 and the factory closed in 1931 when all manufacturing was moved to London.

Railway workshop

The Grand Trunk Railway Workshops were established in 1854 by the Buffalo, Brantford, & Goderich Railway. The workshops, which produced castings and railway equipment, were located along the Grand Trunk Railway tracks on Usher and Sydenham Streets. The workshops were closed and moved to London in 1897 when the City of Brantford aided the Toronto, Hamilton, & Buffalo Railway to complete its line from Brantford to Hamilton ending the Grand Trunk’s monopoly in Brantford. The workshop employed about 300 men at the time of its closing. Pratt & Letchworth, of Buffalo, NY, took over the works in 1900 and manufactured malleable iron castings. In 1912 Canadian Car and Foundry of Montreal purchased the company. It closed in 1952 when all operations were moved to Montreal. The company occupied all the land where the railway sorting yard is now. The pattern shop of Pratt & Letchworth is still in use today as retail space on Usher Street across from Yates Castle.

First farm implement manufacturer

Jesse O. Wisner came to Brantford from Wayne County, NY in 1857 and engaged in the manufacture of fanning mills. The company Jesse started became the Town’s first farm implement manufacturer. Jesse’s son, Wareham, started his own company in 1871 making seed drills. Father and son merged in 1872 to become J.O. Wisner Son & Co. The company amalgamated with the Massey-Harris Company in 1891. Their factory was located at Clarence and Wellington Streets.

Candies and biscuits

In 1863 William Paterson and Henry B. Leeming established a baking, confectionary, and cigar factory on the north side of Colborne Street where the parking lot of the Royal Bank is today. Lemming left the business in 1872, it was then solely operated by Paterson until his son joined the business in 1894. The business came to be known as William Paterson & Son Co. Limited. The business grew steadily making biscuits, chocolates, and candies. Cigar production was discontinued during WWI. George Weston Ltd bought the company in 1928. The plant operated until 30-May-1975.

Carriages and wagons

Carriage and wagon production began in earnest when Adam Spence founded City Carriage Works in 1857. Spence made carriages, wagons, buggies, and sleighs in a factory on the north side of Colborne Street between Charlotte and Clarence Streets. In 1864 a fire burned the factory to the ground. Spence rebuilt on Colborne Street at Echo St, where Laurier’s Dalhousie Centre is today. In 1866 Thomas and John Hext opened the Brantford Carriage Works at Dalhousie and Queen Streets. The output from this operation was largely sold throughout southwestern Ontario. Neither of these companies grew to become substantial, long lasting companies. Brantford Carriage Works ceased production in 1891. Adams’ Wagon Company started in Paris in 1863 and moved to Brantford in 1901, at the behest of Harry Cockshutt, to grow Brantford’s industrial base. The company located at the corner of Mohawk and Greenwich Streets. Adams manufactured wagons and buggies. Adams was acquired by Cockshutt Plow Company in 1911. In 1929 Adams was merged with other Cockshutt carriage companies and renamed CanadaCarriage and Body. In 1938 Canada Carriage was renamed Brantford Coach and Body. A new plant was built on Shaver Street in Cainsville in 1958 to replace the antiquated Mohawk Street factory. Brantford Coach and Body was sold to Trailmobile Canada in 1968. This plant closed in 1990 and production was transferred to the U.S.

The early manufacturers suffered regular setbacks, fire being the most devastating, but they rebuilt and continued. The boom and bust cycle of the economy caused havoc and companies changed hands on a regular basis. But there was a sense of optimism andthe Town continued to grow and attract new businesses. However, the best was yet to come.