MHS Centennial Business: Brown & Rutherford Company Limited

Brown and Rutherford Co. Ltd., was established as a small planing mill on Bannatyne Avenue in Winnipeg in 1872. Thanks to a brief history prepared by a grandson of the founder, and some wonderful family letters donated by the Browns to the Archives of Manitoba (MG8 B92), we can follow the first steps in the establishment of this early business.

Alexander Brown was born in Muirkirk, Ayrshire, Scotland in 1842 and had come to Canada in 1862, settling with the rest of his family in Galt, Ontario. He married Margaret Neilson in 1865, and on 21 April 1872 he and Thomas Rutherford left Galt to make their fortunes in Manitoba. They traveled by rail through Chicago and St. Paul to Fishers Landing and then by boat down the Red River, arriving in mid-May. They immediately started work building houses, one for their two families to share, and another house on each side.

By August one house had been rented by another recent immigrant, George Bryce. You may recognize the name. Bryce was the first minister of Knox Presbyterian Church, founded Manitoba College, and assisted in founding the University of Manitoba, teaching and administering in these institutions for many years and serving as the city’s first school inspector. He also was instrumental in founding the Manitoba Historical Society in 1879, so the connections between the Manitoba Historical Society and Brown and Rutherford date back more than a century and a quarter! In August, Alexander wrote to his wife, who was making arrangements to come out with their three children:

“You may bring my certificate of Church Membership. I attend Prof. Bryce’s Church and Bible class. I can’t say that I like him very much. He has rented the house we are working at for a Ladies School. He pays 30 dollars a month for it. So you see you have a College on one side of you and the Queen’s Printing Office on the other. Now what more have I got to say.” (Archives of Manitoba, MG8 B92:9).

Besides these three houses, they signed a contract to build four more 20 x 30 foot, one and one half storey houses for $1000 by November 1st. They also had an offer to do the carpentry work on a large hotel, and Professor Bryce had asked them to complete an addition to the Presbyterian Church because it was filling up rapidly. Alexander wrote to Margaret: “I think we will be better with the Hotel but perhaps you think a teetotaller should not work on a Hotel. Perhaps not, but if we don’t do it, somebody else will and it will be a winters work for us.” (p. 14). They built the hotel!

It was not until early October that the wives of Brown and Rutherford arrived in Winnipeg to live in the house built by their husbands. Although they were working from 5 AM to dark, they found time to begin a small saw and planning mill on Bannatyne Avenue. In 1873 Galt Machine Works supplied the machinery and the firm later expanded into lumbering timber berths on Lake Winnipeg in order to cut down on the high cost of importing wood. After Margaret Brown died leaving four children, her sister Isabella married Alexander Brown in 1880 and fit into the closely knit Brown-Rutherford partnership.

In 1882 they sold the original mill and moved to another factory with a lumberyard in Point Douglas near the Louise Bridge. Thomas Rutherford and Alexander Brown, obviously ideal partners, built identical large houses side by side at this new location. Despite fires in 1900 and 1912, the mill continued in family hands, and their sons rebuilt and expanded the business. A tug, The Granite Rock, was added to the assets as well as four new barges each capable of carrying 400,000 to ½ million feet of lumber. In 1932 they added the new Civic Auditorium [now the “old” auditorium and home of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba and the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives] to the long list of buildings for which they supplied the lumber and millwork. Others included Springfield United Church, the Hudson’s Bay Company downtown store, St. Vital Sanatorium and St. Paul’s College. The company stayed in the family’s hands until 1956 when it was sold to the Silpit Group, and through all these years has continued to do business in Point Douglas Sutherland and Higgins.

An MHS Centennial Business Award was presented to Brown & Rutherford by Judith Hudson Beattie in January 2001.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Brown and Rutherford Building (5 Sutherland Avenue, Winnipeg)

Memorable Manitobans: Alexander “Sandy” Brown (1842-1922)

Memorable Manitobans: Thomas Rutherford (1833-1912)

Northern Prairie Steamboats: Amelia Mac

Page revised: 30 May 2015