COURIERS OF COMMERCE
Bare floors for beds, frigid rides behind jaded horses, payment in dried apples for goods supplied—such was often the lot of the men who preceded the steel in blazing the trails for Canadian industry. Many of them, after forty years and more of service, are still carrying on.
S. S. MOORE
TO A young man who, on a morning forty odd years ago, had crossed the frozen Assiniboine River, the prairie outpost of Brandon presented a frigid, if bustling scene. The rich agricultural areas of Manitoba, and beyond, had not long been thrown open to the ambitious homesteader. Hundreds of prospective settlers for the new West had reached the little settlement, to be overtaken by Winter. In below zero weather they were experiencing their first hardships as pioneers. The inrush of people had created an acute housing problem. Rows of tents provided temporary domiciles for most of the newcomers. For want of better accommodation, horses, too, were sheltered under canvas, their heads and tails, showing through the wind-tossed flaps, giving evidence of the general over-crowding.
Swinging his arms to keep warm, the solitary stranger passed the tented colony and paused to view the nucleus of a permanent town. On what a few weeks before had been bald prairie there now stood scores of frame buildings, dwellings and stores. “Main Street” was emerging from the slush. And to the traveler there came a vision.
Here, he mused, was transpiring the birth of an important market. The C. P. R. was steadily approaching from the East. In time the wholesale houses and manufacturers of the older provinces would have direct contact. No longer would it be necessary to ship goods via Chicago and St. Paul and tranship overland from the end of the steel.
B-r-a-n-d-o-n and W-e-s-t both spelled Opportunity.
The young man made his way to the structure which, despite its crudity, answered the purpose of a hotel, and asked for a room.
Yes, they could take care of him. “Number eleven, next floor.” Without further inspection the stranger inscribed “W. M. Gartshore” on the page of the register, and hurried away.
It was nearly midnight when he returned.
With a lighted candle the landlord led the way. In the dim, flickering light the traveler looked about “Number Eleven.” He expected no luxurious lodging, but what he saw almost unnerved him. Packed in a narrow room were eleven beds. In each of ten of them lay two men in various stages of undress and unwash.
All doing their sonorous best in nasal symphony.
That s yours, said the landlord, pointing, and handing over the candle as he moved toward the door. The traveler glanced down at his reservation. It was the eleventh narrow bed, already more than half occupied by a husky stranger who, snoring with wide-open throttle, kept a vast growth of untamed beard waving in the breeze.
Feeling that this was no time for protest, the traveler quietly removed the pillow and, covering himself with his great coat, laid himself down to rest on the harder but much more exclusive floor of the chamber of Old travelling men say that, when really keen, there is a moment just before sleep overtakes one, when the events of the day flash in review before the relaxing mind, and when plans for the morrow are dimly outlined. If such a film presented itself to the youth who lay upon the bare boards of that frontier hotel, he must have witnessed himself writing a telegram calling upon the McClary Manufacturing Company of London, Ontario, to rush one carload of cook and heating stoves to Brandon in care of W. M. Gartshore.
And the W. M. Gartshore who to day is president of the McClary Company, was the signer of that telegram.
Recalling that night, among the many others he spent roughing it as a courier of Canadian commerce, Mr.
Gartshore says that when he awoke in the early morning, the first sight that interested him was a view of the wintry landscape through the gaps in the walls, for the hotel had been built during the summer and the lumber had shrunk to such an extent that all problems of ventilation were automatically solved.
Two years later, Mr. Gartshore spent a night in a hotel at Cranbrook, B.C. Here again the dormitory was occupied by a varied assortment of the human species. At a late hour, in came a bibulous stranger waving aloft a lighted candle as an aid in the search for his bed. For some moments he staggered between cots. Then he tried to extinguish the light by stepping on it. The fire hazard was sufficient to discourage any further attempt at sleep on the part of the other guests.
It was young Gartshore’s mission to travel in advance of the westbound steel and to study conditions and opportunities provided by the opening of a new country.
Now, he is one of the veteran members of the Commercial Travelers’ Association of London, Ontario. The oldest surviving member is John Dronigole, of that city—the only living member whose name appears on the application for charter, dated 1877. Among the other names which have stood on the roster for decades are those of C. E. Sterling, vicepresident of Sterling Brothers, Toronto, who became a member in 1877; R. C. Macfie, 1877; R. G. Struthers, Toronto, 1877, and J. M. Dillon, of A. M. Smith and Company, 1878, who was registered a year ahead of Colonel Gartshore.
To these men, as to many of their comrades of the road scattered throughout the Dominion, belongs much of the credit for the development of Canadian commerce. They shared the vicissitudes of farflung trading, shared responsibility for its successes and laid the foundations on which succeeding generations of commercial men have built so well. To-day, warehouses and branches are strung across Canada from coast to coast, each with its travelling staff. Then, the traveler went far from his base to rely entirely on his own resources.
There are not a great many houses or industries in Canada that can recall that strenuous period in selling, a period in which there was very little ready cash in the country, when banks confined their operations to the few large centres of population, and when the travelling salesman was virtually a pedlar from homestead to homestead, from settlement to settlement.
A Study in Contrasts
THE early history of the McClary Company is typical. It was in 1849 that John McClary, a tinsmith, began to manufacture tinware in a small way. In a few years he had added heating and cooking stoves to his line. His first road representative was his brother, Oliver McClary, a school teacher. Throughout Western Ontario the latter drove his horse and rig, peddling the wares turned out in the London shop. The business grew, and at one time there were seventy-five rigs on the road, each serving a different route. There was little money in the country, and products of the farm, such as sheepskins and wool were taken in exchange. Even dried apples were npt refused. One of the first carloads of food products ever shipped to Western Canada consisted of apples which had been cured by the housewives of Ontario in their kitchens, and which had accumulated in the McClary storehouse in the ordinary course of trade.
In 1879 the firm shipped its first carload of stoves west to Winnipeg. The consignment was shipped via St. Paul to St. Boniface, whence it had to be conveyed across the ice to Winnipeg. Robert Wyatt, a McClary foreman, was charged with the task of selling these stoves. It is said that Wyatt, arriving on the scene, did not relish the outlook and wired that he was returning. A return message insisted that he remain and sell the carload. Once in Winnipeg he found this easier than he had expected, for there was a red-hot demand for stoves and other household equipment. The prospect appealing to him more strongly, he opened a store and became wealthy. But in those days it was seldom necessary to remove wares of this kind from freight car to store. Sales were made direct from the car to the user.
It is a far cry from the travelling salesman of to-day, with every modern facility at his command, back to his predecessor with horse and rig, who arrived home from his trip with a load of farm produce taken in payment for his wares; back to the men who slept on bare boards in the ice-coated rooms of western frontier hotels. The first stage of the transition came with the American Civil Wrar and a flood of cash in exchange for much needed supplies. Then, also, came the railways, easing the way of the pioneer and the man of commerce, speeding marketing facilities, assassinating distance. But while time has altered methods of business, old contacts remain. Colonel Gartshore is authority for the statement that on the books of his firm are current accounts now running into the fourth generation.
Typical also of many Canadian houses is the long employment record in the McClary industry. From office boy, up through the sales department to an executive position, is the not unusual course. Colonel Gartshore himself is a striking example, while John Foote, manager of the Toronto branch, and at one time a member of the traveling staff, has a record of forty years. George Clarke, at present general sales manager, was an office boy twenty-five years ago. In fact, one might almost conclude from instances of this kind that stability of position rather than inclination to change, is characteristic of the Canadian traveling salesman.
Travelling Under Diiffculties
JM. DILLAN, executive head of A. M.
• Smithand Company, wholesale grocers London, has been with this firm for more than half a century. In fact, had his late partner, A. M. Smith, lived but a few weeks longer, they would have been jointly associated for fifty-four years. Recounting his experiences as a travelling salesman in Western Ontario, Mr. Dillan states that as a junior it was his duty to call upon the merchants in smaller towns and villages. He could not touch the larger centres, which were covered by more experienced men, until there came a time when his sales actually made a better showing than that of the senior. He was then promoted. It was all driving, and to cover the ground from London west, consumed from two to three weeks. At that time there were no banks between London and Windsor. The salesman was expected to collect on accounts, and Mr. Dillan states that he has carried as much as $8,000 about with him at one time. For convenience, the Hiram Walker Company, of Walkerville, would give a cheque for the amount of his collections against their bank in London.
“At that time,” said Mr. Dillan, “the house carried nothing but staple lines, such as teas, sugar, molasses and vinegar, and these were all sold in bulk. Package goods came later. Merchants had a positive identity, knew their business perfectly, and built up a reputation on quality and capacity to serve. To one house in Amherstburg, the Burkes, we would sell several hundred cases of tea at one time. Of course our contact with such firms was not as frequent or direct as it is to-day, but buying in this commodity, and some others, was done in a very large way and probably twice or three times in the year. ' Molasses was a favorite household commodity.
“Yes, I can look back with genuine pleasure to those days when we covered the highways and byways with horse and rig,” continued Mr. Dillan. “There were some hardships, it is true, but few misadventures. I recall one night at, I think it was Stoney Point, where I found it impossible to secure hotel accommodation on account of some kind of celebration which had brought the settlers in from miles around. Finally a customer fixed up a place for me by spreading blankets on one of the counters. The store was a common meeting place, but I snoozed away in spite of the noise created by the general sociability.”
C. E. Sterling, another member of long standing in the Ontario Commercial Traveler’s Association, frequently travelled with Mr. Dillan, carrying his samples of boots and shoes in two trunks upon the rig. To say that the travelers in this section to-day must carry four and five trunks only indicates slightly what the present day variety in footwear styles means to the shoe wholesaler. In the early days feet were just as useful but hardly as ornamental as in these days of abbreviated skirts. The high shoe for ladies and the top boot for men have almost disappeared. In fact, many of the present generation would be sadly at sea if asked to describe a bootjack or whence came the term “bootlegger,” which has come down from the time when high boots were useful for concealing other things besides the lower limbs of the wearers. Where there was one style of shoes forty years ago, there are ten to-day, and prices have jumped from three dollars and five dollars to eight dollars, ten dollars and twelve dollars. The specialty boot and shoe store has entirely superceded the general store in larger centres of population.
Railways, telegraph, telephone, interurban trolley, truck and bus lines and the motor car have enabled the manufacturer and merchant to establish their marketing on more scientific lines. Still, there remain sections of the country in which the traveling salesman must reach his customers either by motor car or horse and rig. There are routes in the north country having no rail contact which must be served. That part of the country embracing the Island of Manitoulin is an example of this. To James Granger, President of McMahen Granger Company, London, this is a trip which has strong appeal. It has had his personal attention, and for thirty years he has rarely missed an opportunity to cover this particular field. Illness has kept him at home during recent months but he looks forward with keen pleasure to the time when he may again pack his samples for his favorite itinerary.
“The trip has come to be almost a matter of longing to me,” said Mr. Granger. “I have made many warm friends in Manitoulin and I will say that you can go far and find no more genial or kindlier people. In winter and summer we have maintained contact with that territory. There have been hardships, but these have been counter-balanced not alone by good business, but by enjoyable associations.
Hazards of the Northern “Beats”
WINTER traveling in that country has its hazards. One trip across the ice, frozen between Spanish Station and the mainland, stands out vividly. In addition to a number of passengers, the sleigh carried my sample cases. The ice was showing a tendency to crack, but so long as we ran parallel with the fractures there appeared to be no danger. The trail finally ran across the cracks and then the trouble began. One side of the sleigh went through and the frightened driver shouted that all was lost. One of my trunks slid off and so did I, more with the hope of easing the load than saving the trunk. The other passengers jumped and ran away from the sleigh. Very gingerly and with a gradual pull the bus was dragged to safety, the case was recovered and, thoroughly alarmed, we proceeded, reaching our destination in safety.
“On such trips it was customary to stop at hotel or farmhouse wherever night overtook us. We were always welcomed as one of the family and many times we have joined the domestic circle, which included the children, at a game of cards or other evening pastimes.
“The merchants of that North country, are, for the most part, buyers of staples, and two trips yearly were formerly all that were necessary. To-day, however, we see them much more frequently. Last year our salesman covered the ground three times and he has been there as frequently this summer.”
Mr. Granger related an interesting incident of former years concerning one of his customers. This man, he had heard, was inclined to slip occasionally, and Mr. Granger on one occasion did not appear anxious to sell. The merchant noticed this and remarked upon it with some show of resentment. Mr. Granger thereupon told him the reason why, and urged the desirability of a change for the better. Before parting, an order was placed, and from that day there was no better customer. He steadied himself and, just prior to his death, advised that his estate should be willed to Mr. Granger, whose influence, he maintained, had been the factor in his success. Protesting that he had no claim of any kind upon the good man’s estate, Mr. Granger directed that it be placed with the next of kin as in the ordinary course of events.
It was in 1883 that John Dronigole, the only surviving charter member of the Ontario Commercial Traveler’s Association made his first trip westward, with a line of crockery. He reached Winnipeg via Chicago, whence, through virgin country he proceeded to Port Arthur and Fort William. It was a scouting trip, largely. There was no demand for Crown Derby, but the trip nevertheless paid for itself and laid the foundation for future business. Ten years later, in 1893, Mr. Dronigole was able to go by all-Canadian trail to Edmonton, then with a few hundred population, and on up to Prince Albert. Demand for crockery of quality was as modest as the country was primitive, but in succeeding years Mr. Dronigole saw the Western market develop a demand which, for high-class selection, was the equal of that from any part of older Canada.
Each of the five Travellers’ Associations in Canada has on the honor roll names that are familiar wherever merchandise is bought and sold. Recently the secretary of the Commercial Travellers’ Association. Toronto, was asked for a list of older members. He was able to select the following fifteen names representing a total of more than 600 years’ active membership or an individual record of forty years or more:
E. Fielding, Toronto; S. M. Sterling, of Ogilvie’s, Toronto; Thomas McQuillan, of Dominion Textiles Company, Montreal; James M. Redmond, Toronto; Walter J. Barr, of Goldsmith Stock Company, Toronto; M. T. Lester, of Lester Publishing Company, Toronto; A. E. Klippert, Toronto; M. C. Ellis, of P. W. Ellis and Company, Toronto; Charles W. Dunning, Toronto; William T. McClain, of Goldie and McCulloch Company, Galt, Ontario; David D. Briad, Toronto; Arthur F. Hatch, of the Stanley Works of Canada, Hamilton; William A. Tate, of the Canada Vinegar Company, Toronto; Henry B. Jackman, of J. and J. Taylor Company, Toronto and George E. Challes of the Riordon Sales Corporation, Montreal.
From these veterans of the early days, the younger generations of travelling 1 salesmen have gained much by way of inspiration and enthusiasm. These men have pjssed through strenuous times. Many are still carrying on as executives or sales directors while their sons and sons’ sons maintain contact with the market which they so courageously helped to develop.
This is the second of two articles dealing with the men who blazed the wag for Canadian trade. The first article, bg Frank Phillips, appeared in the June 1 issue.