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Winnipeg Ranchers: Gordon, Ironside and Fares [1]

by A. B. McCullough
Ottawa, Ontario

Manitoba History, Number 41, Spring / Summer 2001

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

In the 1950s and 1960s, visitors to Winnipeg were often driven around Armstrong’s Point and along Wellington Crescent to view the mansions surviving from Winnipeg’s days as the grain shipping and wholesale capital of Canada. One of the largest of these houses, 514 Wellington Crescent, owes its origin neither to grain nor to the wholesale trade but to cattle. [2] Its builder, James Thomas Gordon, was president of Gordon, Ironside and Fares (GIF), Canada’s largest exporter of cattle and the operator of the principal packing plant in Winnipeg in the years before the First World War. GIF also had the distinction of being one of the most important ranching companies in Canada with thousands of cattle on ranches in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Mexico.

Like the grain merchants and the wholesalers, the firm of Gordon, Ironside and Fares prospered by developing the resources and markets linked by the completion of the CPR. In 1881, four years before the completion of the railway, the Dominion Government, at the urging of eastern investors, instituted a policy designed to encourage ranching in the Northwest Territories. Leases of up to 100,000 acres of land were granted to prospective ranchers for 21 years at 1 cent per acre annually: the lessees were required to stock their range within three years. The government hoped to secure some revenue from the leased land and to provide a local supply of beef to replace the buffalo as food for Aboriginal People and for new settlers. Investors hoped to secure government contracts for beef and, when the railway was completed, to supply growing markets in eastern Canada and Britain. The policy was a success; the cattle population of the North West Territories grew from 12,872 in 1881 to 86,958 in 1885 and 231,857 in 1891. [3] Most of the cattle were in the District of Alberta; by 1884 Alberta ranchers began shipping to Winnipeg and in 1887 they made an initial shipment of live cattle to Britain. [4] The export of cattle to Britain proved profitable and expanded quickly; although they were not involved in the initial shipments Gordon, Ironside and Fares soon came to dominate the export trade. With the contacts, knowledge and capital gleaned from the export trade, they invested in ranching and meatpacking.

James T. Gordon was born in Tweed, Ontario, on 24 December 1858 to Irish immigrant parents. He migrated to Manitoba in 1878 were he worked for the Winnipeg lumber firm of Dick, Banning and Company. In 1882 he went into the lumber business on his own in Manitou, a settlement about 130 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. About 1884-85 he formed a partnership with Robert Ironside. [5]

James T. Gordon, circa 1903.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

Robert Ironside, the son of William Ironside, a Scottish millwright, and Catherine Airth was born in London, Ontario, in November, 1854. He moved to Manitou in 1883 as the agent of John Elliott and Sons, manufacturers of farm implements, until he formed a partnership with James Gordon. Gordon and Ironside dealt in lumber, grain and cattle; they had some beef contracts for the troops during the North-West Rebellion and supplied beef to gangs working on the Pembina Branch of the CPR. The partnership was dissolved following the Rebellion when Gordon moved to a neighbouring settlement, Pilot Mound. [6]

Robert Ironside.
Source: The Story of Manitoba, Archives of Manitoba

Both men continued to deal in livestock; in August 1887 The Winnipeg Commercial noted that Gordon had shipped “another” mixed car of cattle, hogs and lambs to Winnipeg from Pilot Mound. [7] Ironside began shipping to eastern Canada in 1887 and in 1890 made a shipment of cattle to Glasgow. He made money shipping fat cattle, which were slaughtered as soon as they arrived in Britain, but he lost on a shipment of stockers which were to be fattened by farmers in Britain. Realizing that only the best cattle would bear the heavy cost of shipment to Britain, Ironside made plans to finish cattle on grain before shipping them in future. The Commercial reported “The fact is that cattle can be fed just as cheaply in Manitoba as they can at Glasgow, and Mr. Ironside intends to work on this idea in the future. He has two car loads of stock still left which he intends to fit up in prime condition and ship to Liverpool this fall.” [8] In November 1891 the paper reported that Ironside had about 400 head of 2 and 3 year old steers at Manitou which he intended to keep as long as the weather would permit and then distribute among local farmers for stall feeding over the winter.” [9] The experiment of having local farmers finish cattle must have been a success as GIF was still doing it in 1907 when a farmer from Dominion City reported that he bought cattle from GIF at 4 cents per pound with a promise that the firm would repurchase the cattle at 5 cents per pound after 60 days of feeding. [10]

Gordon and Ironside reformed their partnership about 1890 and in 1891 shipped 1500 head to Britain. [11] These cattle came from as far afield as Prince Albert, Battleford, Edmonton and the ranching country of the Foothills. [12] The usual procedure in the mid-‘90s was for the partners to make a tour through the farm districts of Manitoba and the ranching districts of the Territories in the early summer. They would buy cattle for delivery in the fall when the cattle would be fat from a summer’s grazing. In late August one of the partners would go west to attend the fall roundups and select the cattle which were to be shipped and arrange for their loading and shipping east. The other partner would supervise shipments through Winnipeg and would sometimes travel with trainloads of cattle to see them loaded in Montreal for shipment overseas.

The business grew rapidly. In 1893 it purchased about 5000 head of cattle for $200,000.00 in the ranching country and exported about 9600 head to Britain; at the time Gordon and Ironside was said to be the second largest Canadian exporter of cattle. [13] In 1894 they shipped 19,335 head to Britain and in 1895, 33,907. In 1896 they shipped 27,057 head; this was more than a quarter of all the cattle shipped from Montreal and they were much the largest single shipper. [14] Gordon and Ironside continued to dominate the live cattle export business until it collapsed in 1912 and 1913. [15]

The firm throve by exploiting the phenomenal growth in the international beef cattle trade during the last half of the nineteenth century. Prosperity in Britain led to a growing demand for beef at the same time as trans-Atlantic steam navigation provided a means of shipping live cattle to Britain. [16] The export of live cattle from eastern Canada to Britain began in a small way in 1874 and grew rapidly; cattle were fattened on farms in Ontario and Quebec and then shipped to Britain. The completion of the CPR in 1885 made the shipment of western cattle a possibility; a trial shipment was made from Winnipeg to Glasgow in 1886. [17] In 1887, when the first shipment of about 700 head of western ranch cattle was made to Britain, Canada exported a total of 63,000 head. By 1906 exports to Britain exceeded 163,000 head with western cattle making up about half of the total. [18] Live cattle were one of Canada’s most important exports and for a few years they amounted to about 20%, by value, of Canada’s exports to the United Kingdom. [19]

Many of the Canadian cattle were slaughtered immediately after arrival in Britain or after being delivered to local butchers but a substantial number of were sold as stockers to be fattened by British farmers before being sold. In 1892 a combination of protectionist sentiment, concern about the spread of infectious diseases, and humanitarian concern over the conditions in which cattle were shipped, led the British to impose regulations (known as scheduling) which required the slaughter of all Canadian cattle within a few days of their arrival in Britain. This change was the primary cause of Canadian exports dropping from 101,000 in 1892 to 80,000 in 1894. [20] Eastern Canada was particularly hard hit because it exported a substantial proportion of stockers to Britain. Because of the heavy railway transportation costs, western Canada generally exported finished cattle rather than stockers; the finished cattle, particularly the wild ranch cattle, were normally slaughtered on arrival in Britain. Consequently the west was less affected by scheduling than the east and exporters based in the west, such as Gordon and Ironside, gained some advantage over eastern based rivals. Although scheduling was a serious blow to some parts of the trade, overall Canadian exports recovered within five years and continued to grow until 1906.

Eastern Canada also had a substantial trade in stocker cattle to the United States. In 1887 Canada exported 45,000 live cattle to the United States compared with 63,000 to Britain. Over the next five years tariff changes and health regulations completely destroyed the American trade. With the British market reduced and the U.S. market closed, Ontario farmers were forced to find new markets. In the 1890s many of them began to ship stocker cattle west for one or two years where they were finished on prairie grass before marketing. By the end of the century the western ranches received from 10,000 to 20,000 Ontario stockers and perhaps 25,000 Manitoba stockers annually. [21] When these cattle were shipped back east or to Britain as slaughter cattle the odds were that they would be handled by western shippers such as GIF.

Advertisement for Sweet Clover Brand Ham, Lard and Bacon, Gordon, Ironside and Fares Co. Ltd., Henderson’s Winnipeg Directory, 1918, page 77.

Both Gordon and Ironside had good political contacts and became spokesmen for the Canadian cattle trade. Ironside was a Liberal member of the Manitoba legislature at the same time as Clifford Sifton and he regularly wrote Sifton, who became the Minister of the Interior in 1896, regarding ranching policy. [22] As the president of the Canadian Live Stock Association he lobbied the federal government regarding export regulations. [23] Both he and Gordon were consulted when the Department of Agriculture investigated the system of shipping beef to Britain in 1902. [24] When Canada sent an exhibit of cattle to the Pan-American Exhibition in 1901, James Gordon made the selection. [25]

Gordon sat as a Conservative MLA for Winnipeg South from 1901 until 1910. He also had contacts in the financial world which would have been useful in financing cattle buying. A director of the Sterling Bank, he was also president of Royal Canadian Securities, a firm which invested both local and foreign capital in mortgages on urban and farm property and in discounts of agreements for sale of similar property. He was president of Monarch Life Assurance, of Standard Trust, of the Manitoba Permanent Loan Company, and of the A. Carruthers Company, a firm which dealt in hides, wool and furs. [26]

The organization and supervision of the shipment of tens of thousands of cattle must have taxed the resources of the two partners and in 1897 they took in another partner, William Henry Fares. The firm became Gordon, Ironside and Fares. Fares was another Ontario native, born 6 July 1858 in Lobo Township. Trained as a butcher in Sarnia, he moved to Emerson, Manitoba in 1879. In partnership with George Christie he became a well known cattle buyer in both Manitoba and Minnesota before joining Gordon and Ironside. He gradually assumed responsibility for most purchasing and for the supervision of the company’s ranches while Gordon took charge of the company’s packing operation and Ironside handled the export operation. [27] Fares maintained interests outside of the firm; from 1898 he was a partner with James Ryan in Ryan and Fares, Winnipeg dealers in live stock; he was also a partner in Smith and Fares, ranchers and dealers in live stock at Rush Lake, Saskatchewan. [28]

William Fares.
Source: The Story of Manitoba, Archives of Manitoba

At some point the company established a working relationship with Pat Burns of Calgary. Like Gordon, Bums was born in Ontario to Irish immigrant parents. He began his career as a small time cattle buyer at Minnedosa about 1885; his first large contracts involved supplying beef to railway construction crews. He followed these contracts west to Calgary and by the late 1890s he was a major buyer in the Foothills country. He established a slaughterhouse in Calgary and a chain of butcher shops in British Columbia and Alberta. By focussing on the domestic market he was able to buy lower quality cattle which would not bear the cost of export; as a result, he did not compete directly with Gordon, Ironside and Fares who bought higher quality, export cattle.

Ranchers suspected the two firms of collusion and price fixing. They also accused GIF of taking undue advantage of its position as the dominant exporter to manipulate both rail and ocean freight rates. Producers’ complaints led to Burns and GIF being investigated by the “Beef Commission” of 1907. Both Bums and Gordon denied any attempt to fix prices or to divide up the market. The commissioners found that Burns did not compete in the export market and in fact sold the export steers which he bought to GIF; the commissioners considered that this arrangement was a legitimate one and that it benefited sellers because Burns was willing to take both their export cattle and their domestic slaughter cattle. [29] The commissioners did not comment on the issue of manipulation of freight rates but there can be little doubt that GIF would have benefited from economies of scale and from its position as the major shipper of western cattle.

In the 1880s and early 1890s range cattle were sold in the fall when they were fat from a summer’s grazing. Few range cattle received anything more than emergency feed during the winter and they were not generally in condition to be sold in the late winter, spring or early summer. In consequence of this seasonal marketing pattern, cattle often glutted the market in the fall and early winter. To even out market deliveries, Pat Burns began to feed some cattle hay over the winter so that they could be marketed in the late spring and early summer. [30] Gordon and Ironside had experience with winter feeding in Manitoba and they may have been following Burns’ example of establishing feed camps when they wintered 1200 head of cattle at Namaka east of Calgary and another 3000 head near the forks of the Red Deer and the Saskatchewan in 1896. [31] From winter camps to ranches was a small step and about 1896 Gordon and Ironside established the Two Bar Ranch in the Wintering Hills south of the Red Deer River. For ten years the company ran between 5000 and 10,0000 head of cattle on the Two Bar. In spite of the size of herd, the company never owned more than the quarter section where the ranch headquarters were built. Its range was simply unoccupied crown and CPR land; GIF probably paid no rent on the land. This practice was not unusual. In the years after 1892 when the government modified its lease policy drastically, many ranches gave up their leases but continued to operate as squatters until homesteaders occupied the range. GIF sold the Two Bar herd in the fall of 1906, thereby missing the disastrous winter of 1906-07 which ruined many ranchers. [32]

The firm did suffer heavy losses on another large ranch, the Bar U, which it had bought in 1902 in partnership with George Lane. The Bar U had been organized as the North West Cattle Company in 1882 with the financial backing of the Allan family of Montreal. Over twenty years it gained the reputation of being the best managed of the major ranches but the death of Andrew Allan in 1901 put its future in doubt. George Lane seized the opportunity and made an offer of $220,000.00 for the ranch which consisted of about 18,000 acres of deeded land, extensive leases, numerous buildings, 3000 cattle and 500 horses. [33] Lane, an American cowboy, had come to Canada in 1884 as foreman of the Bar U. He left the ranch in 1887 and worked as a cattle buyer for Pat Burns and for Gordon and Ironside. By some accounts, he became a partner in GIF [34] but when the firm incorporated in 1901 he was not among the shareholders. In 1902, when he made the offer on the Bar U, Lane had acquired his own ranch but he was not so wealthy that he could finance the deal on his own and he brought in GIF as equal partners.

In 1905 Lane and Gordon, Ironside and Fares leased an additional 62,561 acres of crown land in the vicinity of the Bar U for 21 years. At the same time the partners leased a huge tract of CPR land on the plains between the Bow River and the CPR mainline in the Brooks area. Although the ranch suffered heavy losses in 1906-07 it recovered and for two decades ran perhaps 20,000 head of cattle as well as the largest herd of Percheron horses in the world. [35] The Bar U in the sheltered foothills was used as a nursery for cows and calves while the lease on the windswept plains to the east was used to fatten mature steers. Much of the credit for the ranch’s success went to Lane who was the active partner in the company and GIF’s involvement was largely overlooked. Nevertheless, the firm remained a half owner of the ranch until 1920 when GIF’s interest in the Bar U was sold to Lane for $750,000.00. [36]

During these years GIF operated several ranches independently of Lane. From 1903 it was part of a consortium headed by Donald McEwan of Brandon which leased 219,000 acres of the Blood Indian Reserve for grazing. [37] In 1907, with 6000 to 7000 head on the lease, the company sold 2000 head of steers. [38] The ratio of sales to herd size is an indication that the lease was being used to as a steer ranch: that is two or three year old steers were bought, placed on the lease, fattened for two years, and marketed. There is evidence that as early as 1906 Mexican cattle were being put on the lease and in 1912 the High River Times reported that GIF was stocking the lease with thousands of Mexican steers. [39] When the lease was renewed in 1913, McEwan’s name was dropped from the lease in favour of that of Gordon, Ironside and Fares which kept about 3000 to 5000 cattle on the reserve until the early 1920s. [40]

Abattoir of Gordon, Ironside and Fares, Winnipeg, circa 1903.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

In 1896 GIF wintered about 3000 head near the forks of the Red Deer and the Saskatchewan and about the same time established the SC ranch in the area. Andrew Gordon, a nephew of J. T. Gordon, managed the ranch until 1905 when GIF sold the cattle, about 12,000 head, to the Bar U. This sale was probably linked to the Bar U’s leasing of CPR land in the Brooks area. [41] In 1909 and 1910 GIF bought the remnants of three large ranches in southwestern Saskatchewan, the 76, the Turkey Track and the T Bar Down. The 76 brand was a famous one which had originally been registered by Morton Frewen, an uncle of Winston Churchill, for his Circle Ranch in Montana’s Powder River country. By 1909 it belonged to the Canadian Land and Ranche Company which had 25,000 acres near Crane Lake. [42] The Turkey Track and the T-Bar Down were large American ranches which had ranges in the Whitemud River Valley and had been crippled by the winter of 1906. In 1914 GIF acquired four large, fenced, leases in the area where these ranches operated. Philip S. Long managed the leases, which ran about 12,000 cattle, for the firm until 1920. At that time GIF sold most of the leases to Pat Burns, retaining only one, the 80,000 Sand Lake Field. Fares and Long took over the Sand Lake Field lease and operated it as a horse ranch, the Seventy Mile Ranch, until the lease expired in 1926 and the land was opened for settlement. [43]

GIF also had a 200,000 acre ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico. [44] At the turn of the century Mexico, under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, welcomed foreign investment and many Americans and a few Canadians established large ranches in the north of Mexico. They improved the local cattle and exported large numbers to U.S. and Canadian ranges as stocker cattle. [45] GIF bought the ranch in 1902 and kept a herd of 12,000 head on it. The firm regularly shipped trainloads of cattle north to fatten on its Canadian ranges. [46] In 1902 the Nor’West Farmer noted that a shipment of 750 head of GIF Mexican cattle which were unloaded at Claresholm was causing comment; many ranchers felt the Mexican cattle were diluting the quality of Canadian ranch cattle. Nevertheless GIF, and other ranchers, continued shipping Mexican cattle north. The shipments to the Blood Reserve which the High River Times reported in 1912 [47] must have been among the last from the Mexican ranch. The Mexican Revolution disrupted the trade and by 1913 GIF had sold its Chihuahua property for a price in excess of $300,000.00. [48]

The company expanded beyond ranching and cattle buying, building an abattoir in Winnipeg adjacent to the CPR yards in 1898-99. The abattoir expanded steadily; in 1906 it was said to have a capacity of 1000 hogs and 500 cattle per day; in 1914 it covered eight acres. GIF built another slaughterhouse in Moose Jaw and established storage and distribution points with cold storage plants in Kenora, Sault Ste. Marie, Fort William, Port Arthur, and Regina. [49]

To accommodate these diverse interests the partners incorporated in 1901 as Gordon, Ironside and Fares Company Limited with a capital of $1,000,000.00 and 10,000 shares. Each partner held a one-third interest in the company and acted as a director. The company’s purpose, outlined in the letters patent, reflected its expanding interests: the importing exporting, shipping and raising of live stock; the manufacturing, producing and packing of live stock; cold storage; and related business. [50]

The company prospered during the next decade; James Gordon built his palatial home on Wellington Crescent in Winnipeg. [51] In 1909 each of the senior members received a $14,000 bonus in addition to their salaries which were increased from $6000 to $10,000.00; the company also issued a 46% dividend. At the same time GIF’s capital was increased to $4,000,000.00. [52]

Robert Ironside died in 1910 in Montreal where he had lived since about 1897. His widow, Annie Gordon, a cousin of James T. Gordon, and his two sons, Robert Gordon and Charles Frederick Ironside continued to play an important role in the firm; together they held 37% of the outstanding shares. [53]

The firm’s annual report for 1913 gives an overview of its financial position and it holdings before the war. Its principal assets were the abattoir and several ranches. The packing house and related property, buildings and equipment were valued at slightly over $1,000,000.00 and the abattoir inventory was valued at another $500,000.00. GIF owned 26,443 acres of land (valued at $396,650.10) at Crane Lake, Saskatchewan, and its half interest in 45,882 acres at the Bar U and at Rush Lake was worth $412,169.08. Cattle at the wholly owned ranches were valued at $315,519.06; those in which GIF had a half interest (probably the Bar U cattle) were worth $860,588.20. Finally, the firm listed $309,757.46 in unpaid instalments on the sale price of property in Mexico as an asset. Total net assets were given as $4,020,988.51; the principal liabilities were $2,172,000.00 in outstanding shares and $1,250,000.00 in 6% debentures. Net earnings over the three years, 1910-1912 averaged $278,000.00. [54]

Figure 1: Annual exports of live cattle to Britain and the United States, 1868-1920.


Year

Britain

USA

Year

Britain

USA

1868

0

40,667

1895

85,863

882

1869

0

61,967

1896

97,042

1,646

1870

0

104,609

1897

120,063

35,998

1871

0

77,550

1898

122,106

87,905

1872

0

19,454

1899

115,476

92,834

1873

0

22,391

1900

115,056

89,989

1874

63

36,671

1901

119,050

46,244

1875

455

34,651

1902

148,927

31,743

1876

638

20,809

1903

161,170

10,432

1877

4,007

13,851

1904

148,301

3,517

1878

7,433

17,657

1905

159,078

3,696

1879

20,587

21,316

1906

163,994

4,726

1880

32,680

16,044

1907

149,340

8,184

1881

49,409

7,323

1908

124,015

23,612

1882

41,519

15,914

1909

143,661

16,130

1883

37,894

23,280

1910

140,424

12,210

1884

53,962

30,593

1911

113,795

7,576

1885

69,446

67,758

1912

47,868

9,807

1886

60,549

25,338

1913

9,878

180,383

1887

63,622

45,765

1914

0

145,722

1888

54,248

40,047

1915

1,752

179,016

1889

60,000

37,360

1916

0

104,227

1890

66,965

7,840

1917

0

147,077

1891

107,689

2,763

1918

0

200,666

1892

101,426

551

1919

159

453,606

1893

99,904

402

1920

320

236,642

1894

80,531

256

 

 

 


Although its profits rose to $443,217.00 in 1916-17, [55] GIF was in financial difficulty by the end of the war. The live cattle trade with Britain had collapsed shortly before the war; it was a victim of declining supplies as farmland replaced ranchland in western Canada and of competition from exports of chilled beef from other countries. [56] The establishment of the Union Stock Yards in St. Boniface in 1913 isolated the GIF plant in north Winnipeg. GIF, and most other packers, opposed the establishment of the Yards on the grounds of expense [57] but it also seems probable that they were hostile to a project which was an attack on their dominant position in marketing. Gordon, who was at the core of the company, was in poor health and there were rumours that his health affected the company’s management. In 1918 GM found it necessary to bring in a new partner, the Toronto firm, Harris Abattoir Company Limited. A new company, Gordon, Ironside and Fares Packers, Limited, was formed with a capital of $3,000,000.00. Twenty thousand of the 30,000 shares were issued; GIF held 45% and Harris Abattoir Company Limited held 55%. The new firm, with J. T. Gordon as president, leased the existing abattoir and acquired its meat packing and distribution business. The original OF continued as a holding company and as the operator of the ranches. CIF Packers lost heavily as a result of excess capacity and the fall of prices at the end of the war; in 1921 Harris Abattoir announced that it had written off its investment of $1,100,000.00 in GIF Packers. At the same time GIF Packers failed to meet the interest on its debentures and the plant was taken over and operated by the bondholders. The rescue operation was unsuccessful and in 1925 GIF Packers abandoned its old plant in Winnipeg (the Moose Jaw plant had been closed in 1920) and built a new one adjacent to the Union Stock Yards in St. Boniface; at the same time the company name was changed to Harris Abattoir (Western) Limited. [58] In 1927 it became part of Canada Packers Limited.

James Gordon died 21 December 1919. [59] His death effectively ended the history of GIF and the settlement of his estate revealed the extent of its decline. His 5607 shares in Gordon, Ironside and Fares, with a nominal value of $560,700.00, had no market value. The company, with an authorized capital of $4,000,000.00, owed the Dominion Bank $1,581,000.00 and had outstanding debentures totalling almost $2,000,000.00. In addition it owned a 45% interest in GIF Packers which had bank indebtedness totalling $3,277,000.00 on a nominal capital of $3,000,000.00. As president of both companies Gordon had given his personal guarantee on all of the bank loans. [60]

GIF’s principal assets were its ranch lands. As part of the settlement of the estate, Standard Trust negotiated the sale of GlF’s half-interest in the Bar U to George Lane for $650,000.00 cash and the assumption of $100,000.00 in debts. Most of the ranches in Saskatchewan were sold to P. Burns. Fares took over one of the Saskatchewan leases, the Sand Lake Field, which he operated as a horse ranch until 1926. The Gordon home at 514 Wellington Crescent was sold for $85,500.00. In spite of these sales, the estate was insolvent with apparent liabilities exceeding assets by $4,868,396.55 in 1922. [61] Although Gordon, Ironside and Fares Company (Limited) continued to exist until the late 1930s it became inactive with no assets and extensive liabilities.

Gordon, Ironside and Fares was a classic Winnipeg story of the decades before the Great War. Taking advantage of Winnipeg’s position on the railway, GIF prospered by selling the products of a booming prairie agriculture in world markets. For twenty years the firm dominated the trade in live cattle between western Canada and Britain. It integrated forward into meatpacking and back into ranching. When the export of live cattle to Britain collapsed and the wartime market boom failed, GIF was unable to make the transition to a new economy. Like many other Winnipeg firms, it fell victim to the bust which is as much a part of export economies as is the boom. What distinguished GIF from many Winnipeg firms was its focus on livestock rather than grain. This focus helps to explain how a firm in Winnipeg built one of the largest ranching empires in Canada. Appropriately, as James Gordon lay dying he “imagined himself back among the cattle days in the west.” [62]

Notes

1. Much of the research upon which this paper is based was originally carried out to support the development of the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site by Parks Canada. I would like to thank Simon Evans, who was a colleague in that research, for commenting on this paper.

2. Rosemary Malaher, Crescentwood, Winnipeg’s Best Residential District, Manitoba History, 24, Autumn 1992, p.25.

3. Canada. Department of Agriculture. Census of Canada, 1891. Bulletin No.7. (Ottawa: March 1892); for an account of the growth of ranching, see David H. Breen, The Canadian Prairie West and the Ranching Frontier, 1874-1924 Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983.

4. Canada, Report of the Minister of Agriculture for 1884, p. 136; Canada. Report of the Minister of Agriculture for 1887, p. 198-99.

5. Frank Howard Schofield, The Story of Manitoba: Biographical, Illustrated, Vol. II, (Winnipeg: S. J. Clarke, 1913), pp. 40, 688; Pembina Manitoba. 100th Anniversary and Reunion, July 2-8, 1979, p. 50-51; Provincial Library of Manitoba, clipping file, Winnipeg Telegram, ? March 1907; Manitoba Free Press, 22 December 1919, pp. 1, 9, “J. T. Gordon Dead After Long Illness”.

6. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume XIII, 1901 to 1910 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), pp. 498-99; Schofield, The Story of Manitoba, Vol. II, pp. 40, 688; Pembina Manitoba, p. 50-51; Provincial Library of Manitoba, clipping file, Manitoba Free Press, 13 Oct. 1910, “Robert Ironside Dies in Montreal.”

7. The Commercial, Winnipeg, 27 Aug. 1887, p. 377, “North West Trade and General News;” The Newspaper Reference Book of Canada (Toronto: Published by the Press Publishing Company Ltd., 1903) p. 139.

8. The Commercial, Winnipeg, 29 Sept. 1890, p. 27; Ibid., 13 Oct. 1890, p. 75, “Manitoba”.

9. The Commercial, Winnipeg, 2 Nov. 1891, p. 147, “Manitoba”.

10. Manitoba Free Press, 15 August 1907, pp. 1, 9, 10, “Butchers Before Beef Commission”.

11. Schofield, The Story of Manitoba, Vol. II, p. 690; The Newspaper Reference Book of Canada, p. 139.

12. The Commercial, Winnipeg, 2 Nov. 1891, p. 147, “Manitoba.”

13. Macleod Gazette, 4 Aug. 1893, p. 2, “Alberta Cattle”; Ibid., 18 Aug. 1893, p. 2, “Editorial Notes”; The Commercial, Winnipeg, 4 Dec. 1893, p. 283, “Manitoba”.

14. Simon Evans, “Canadian Beef For Victorian Britain,” Agricultural History, Vol. 53, No. 4, (October 1979), p. 757; NA, RG17, Vol. 2748, File 121675. Railway Rates Upon Farm Products. Special Report. (Part 1 - Findings of Fact) on Railway and Ocean Transportation of Live Stock from Chicago and Toronto to British Markets. Prepared for the Minister of Agriculture. Montreal 1897.

15. Jim Silver, “The Origins of Winnipeg’s Packinghouse Industry: Transitions from Trade to Manufacture,” Prairie Forum, 19, 1, (Spring 1994), p. 24.

16. See Richard Perren The Meat Trade in Britain, 1840-1914 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978) for an account of this trade.

17. The Commercial Winnipeg, 30 Nov. 1886, p. 184.

18. Canadian Cattlemen, Vol. 1, No. 1, (June 1938), p. 21; Evans, “Canadian Beef For Victorian Britain”, p. 755, Figure 2.

19. Evans, “Canadian Beef For Victorian Britain”, p. 750.

20. Canadian Cattlemen, Vol. 1, No. 1, (June 1938), p. 21.

21. Simon Evans, “The Passing of a Frontier: Ranching in the Canadian West, 1882-1912.” University of Calgary, Department of Geography, PhD Thesis, May 1976), p. 214; Manitoba. Legislative Assembly. Sessional Papers, 1903, No. 6 ... Report of the Department of Agriculture and Immigration for the year 1902. p. 285.

22. See NA, MG27, D15, Sifton papers. Ironside’s career as an MLA was undistinguished although he did second a motion introducing a bill which would have given Manitoba women the vote in 1893. Manitoba Legislative Assembly. Journals of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. From the 2nd of February to the 11th March, 1893 (Winnipeg: Queen’s Printer, 1893), p. 71.

23. NA, RG17, Vol. 2738, File 97895, Ironside, to Minister of Agriculture, 14 Sept. 1896.

24. Canada. Report of the Minister of Agriculture for the Dominion of Canada for the Year Ended October 31 1902, pp. 145-46.

25. The Nor’West Farmer, 5 Nov. 1901, p. 671 and 677.

26. Manitoba Free Press, 22 December 1919, pp. 1, 9, “J. T. Gordon is Dead After A Long Illness”; Henry J. Boam, compiler, Ashley G. Brown and Philip H. Morris, ed., Twentieth Centuries Impressions of Canada, Its History, People, Commerce, Industries and Resources (London and Montreal: Sells, Ltd., 1914), pp. 607-8.

27. NA, RG95, Vol. 1486, Gordon Ironside and Fares Company (Limited), minutes, 26 April 1909.

28. Schofield, The Story of Manitoba, Vol. III, p. 700.

29. Farm and Ranch Review, (Calgary) Apri11906, “Alberta ‘Beef Monopoly’ Inquiry;” Alex. Middleton and Alex. M. Campbell. “Report of the Beef Commission in Alberta,” Report of the Department of Agriculture for 1907 (Edmonton: Jas. E. Richards, Government Printer, 1908), p. 43; Gordon’s testimony before the commission is reported in the Manitoba Free Press, 16 August 1907, pp. 1 and 7, “Low Salaries and Poorer Profits”.

30. Grant MacEwan, Pat Burns: Cattle King (Saskatoon: Western Producer Books, 1979), pp. 131-36.

31. L. V. Kelly, The Range Men: The Story of the Ranchers and Indians of Alberta, (Toronto: Coles Publishing Co., 1980), p.298.

32. NA, MG27, II D 15, Reel C-452, p. 2986, Ironside to Sifton, 5 Dec. 1896; Canadian Cattleman, December 1942, p. 101; Glenbow, M2402, Gordon Ironside and Fares; John Julius Martin, The Prairie Hub. “An Outline History of Early Western Events” (Strathmore, Alberta: The Strathmore Standard, 1967), p. 67; Glenbow, M 867, William Murphy manuscript, Part 2A, “Two Bar Ranch”.

33. Calgary Herald, 5 Feb. 1902; Norman Rankin, “The Boss of the Bar U,” Canada Monthly, 9(5), (March 1911), p. 332; Edward Brado, Cattle Kingdom: Early Ranching in Alberta (Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1984), pp. 120-23.

34. Manitoba Free Press, 22 December 1919, pp. 1, 9, “J. T. Gordon Dead After Long Illness”.

35. NA, RG2, Z-28, Reel T-5002, No. 1159D, Order in Council Approved 11 April 1905; Simon Evans, “George Lane: Notes on a Life,” Unpublished Manuscript, Parks Canada; Alice Carey Cayford, “Homesteading on the Bow,” Alberta History, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Summer 1993), pp. 12-14; NA, RG15, Vol 1210, File 145330-3 Regulations, Lane to Greenway, 1 June 1904.

36. Provincial Archives of Manitoba, Court of Queen’s Bench, Probate, App#1185, G761, Estate of James T. Gordon.

37. NA, RG10, Vol. 3571, File 130, Part 19, Reel C-10101, Agreement dated 16 May 1903; Hansard 4 May 1904, p. 2554. GIF’s involvement in this consortium is first mentioned in the Manitoba Free Press, 13 June 1907, “Beef Commission at Lethbridge”, p. 1.

38. Manitoba Free Press, 13 June 1907, “Beef Commission at Lethbridge”, p. 1.

39. Glenbow, M1788, Blood Agency Files, Box 5, File 39; High River Times, 27 June 1912, “Blood Reserve Lease”.

40. Glenbow-Alberta Archives, Blood Agency files, Box 5, File 36 and 37 and Box 8, File 61 and 62; Manitoba Free Press, 22 December 1919, pp. 1, 9, “J. T. Gordon Dead After Long Illness”; Annual Financial Review. Canadian. 1913, Vol. 13, p. 224; Frederick W. Ings, Before the Fences: Tales from the Midway Ranch (np: sn, 1980) p. 153 puts the number of cattle on the lease 10,000.

41. Eva Delday, Brooks: Between the Red Deer and the Bow, ed. Pearl Thomas, (Brooks: Eva Delday, 1975), p. 26; Rae B. Gordon, “Buffalo to Beef,” Canadian Cattlemen, 3(4) March 1941, pp. 527, 530.

42. Don C. McGowan, Grassland Settlers: the Swift Current Region During the Era of the Ranching Frontier (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Centre, 1975), p. 77; S. E. Warren, “Some Memories of the Old ‘76’”, Canadian Cattlemen, 12(2), Sept. 1949.

43. McGowan, Grassland Settlers:, p. 77; S. E. Warren, “Some Memories of the Old ‘76’”, Canadian Cattlemen,12(2), Sept. 1949, p. 21; D. M. Loveridge and Barry Potyondi, From Wood Mountain to the Whitemud: A Historical Survey of the Grasslands National Park Area History and Archaeology, No. 77. (Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1983), pp. 137-46.

44. The Nor’West Farmer, 1903, p. 329 “Mexican Cattle”.

45. Manuel A. Machado, The North Mexican Cattle Industry, 1910-1975: Ideology, Conflict and Change, p. 5.

46. High River Pioneers’ and Old Timers’ Association. Leaves from the Medicine Tree, p. 278.

47. The Nor’West Farmer, 20 June 1902, p. 497; High River Times, 27 June 1912, “Blood Reserve Lease”.

48. Annual Financial Review. Canadian. 1913, Vol. 13, p. 224.

49. Henderson’s Manitoba, Northwest Territories Gazetteer and Directory for 1899 (Winnipeg: The Henderson Publishing Co., circa 1899) p. 772; Henderson’s Moose Jaw Directory for 1913 (Winnipeg: Henderson Directories Limited, circa 1913) p. 52; Boam and Brown, The Prairie Provinces of Canada:, pp. 92-93; NA, RG17, Vol. 988, File 159525, Report on the Conditions in Canadian Meat Packing Houses by W. W. Moore, September 17, 1906.

50. NA, RG95, Vol. 1486, Gordon Ironside and Fares Company (Limited).

51. Malaher, Crescentwood, Winnipeg’s Best Residential District, p. 25.

52. NA, RG95, Vol. 1486, Gordon Ironside and Fares Company (Limited).

53. NA, RG95, Vol. 1486, Gordon Ironside and Fares Company (Limited); Schofield, Story of Manitoba, Vol. 2, p. 691.

54. Annual Financial Review. Canadian. 1913 Vol. 13, p. 224. The Rush Lake property was probably at the CPR station east of Swift Current where Smith and Fares were live stock dealers.

55. Annual Financial Review. Canadian. 1917 Vol. 17, p. 232.

56. Evans, “Canadian Beef For Victorian Britain”, p. 759-761.

57. Manitoba Free Press, 24 January 1914, “Closing of C.P.R. Plant is Strongly Opposed by Packers”.

58. NA, RG95, Vol.678, Harris Abattoir (Western Ltd.); A. J. E. Child, The Predecessor Companies of Canada Packers Limited: A Study of Entrepreneurial Achievement and Entrepreneurial Failure (MA Thesis, University of Toronto, 1960), p. 160-611.

59. Manitoba Free Press, 22 December 1919, pp. 1, 9, “J. T. Gordon Dead After Long Illness”.

60. Manitoba. Court of Queen’s Bench, Probate, App.#11858 G761.

61. Manitoba. Court of Queen’s Bench, Probate, App.#11858, G761; Glenbow, M160, Burns Foundation Papers, D, Ranch business, 1896-1960. Box 11, File 202. Mule Creek Cattle Co. 1924-26.

62. Manitoba Free Press, 22 December 1919, pp. 1, 9, “J. T. Gordon Dead After Long illness”.

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