There’s Money in Metals

Back in the ’70's Billy Harris, messenger boy, earned $1.50 a week; to-day he directs a plant that covers five acres

W. BANKS January 1 1929

There’s Money in Metals

Back in the ’70's Billy Harris, messenger boy, earned $1.50 a week; to-day he directs a plant that covers five acres

W. BANKS January 1 1929

There’s Money in Metals

Back in the ’70's Billy Harris, messenger boy, earned $1.50 a week; to-day he directs a plant that covers five acres


FROM the office of a factory covering a ground area of five acres stepped a heavily built man, a man who walked, nevertheless, with surprising lightness and ease. In an age of smoothly-shaven faces his neatly trimmed beard—of the type known as “Imperial”— aided the impression he gave of a personality as vigorous as it was unique.

Briskly, almost jauntily, he stepped into a glittering car which stood at the kerb and seated himself at the wheel. Groups of overall-clad workmen stood around. To them he called out: “Who’s going my way?” Fc? answer a number of the sons of toil piled themselves into the big car, loading it to capacity.

Rather an unusual thing for a man, obviously of importance in a huge plant, to do. But not at all Unusual for this man—characteristic, rather.

For the man who was giving those workmen a lift was William Gean Harris, president of the Canada Metal Company, Limited, and if there is one man more than another differing in every essential from the “Babbitt” of modern fiction, it is this same William Gean.

The Canada Metal Company is a solid, huge expression of the truth of the statement that to the right man Canada truly is a land of opportunity. Its head moved

to Toronto from Lindsay when he was seven years old. Followed a brief—a very brief attendance— —at a public school and the future president of a great Canadian corporation entered the world of business. His salary was a dollar and a half a week and he occupied the responsible position of messenger and handy boy to George Doughty, a dealer in metals. This stunning stipend was augmented by small increases from time to time. And young Mr. Harris put the increases back into his business. In other words he saved his money.

He must have saved it to some tune, for with his seventeenth year we find the erstwhile employee of George Doughty, launched in business for himself as a dealer in metals. It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that the embryo manufacturer’s capital was extremely limited and, if he was to stay in business, that he must needs depend upon quick and profitable turnovers. He made them; metals were bought and sold the same day. His line of credit was represented by a stark cipher and the symbol suited perfectly his method of doing business at that time. The Canada Metal Company —this was nearly fifty years ago—was housed in a little old residence in the heart of downtown Toronto, but a fair business was done there, for a year later young Mr. Harris had two men on his payroll. Had he added his own name to this roll it might w'ell have numbered some twenty more, for the eighteen-year-old metal merchant managed to do at least twenty men’s work.

Following the practice of his messenger-boy days, William G. Harris, to use his own words, “never thought of money for any purpose than to pay my way.” If he found himself with a ten dollar bill not earmarked for some immediate use, back it went into the business. This proved to be sound finance, and it wasn’t long before Canada Metal absorbed another business, run, curiously enough, by a man also named Harris.

Then, in 1883, the young head of Canada Metal decided to go into the manufacturing end of the business. His method was characteristic: he didn’t bother his head trying to borrow capital—though he could have obtained it easily enough—he just started up “all on his own.” His tools and equipment were all housed in the little dowmtown house, and he both made his solder and babbit and sold it.

Hard work? Yes, but it rapidly brought its reward. Earnings increased rapidly and, following the Harris custom, as rapidly were used in the expansion of the business.

Where Canadianism Was Good Business

LET US look aMhis business to-day! As I have said, * Canada Metal is now an establishment covering over five acres of ground, and three additional acres have been purchased recently for expansion purposes. The products of the company are legion, starting with non-ferrous metals and alloys which are converted into a bewildering diversity of products. Newspapers and printers, plumbers, machinists and makers of machinery, electricians, canners, hardware merchants, general merchants—a thousand and one different firms apd industries—use Canada Metal products. The company also owns and operates the Graham Nail Works, the Aristocratic Manufacturing Company, making a line of plumbing supplies, and Canada Foils, Limited. The last-named makes the foil wrappings and coverings that have come into almost universal use in the last few years. • ■

Between five and six hundred skilled artisans operate the most modern machinery and equipment in the Toronto plant, while another two hundred skilled workmen are employed in the branches at Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Quite an oak to have grown from the acorn represented by the little house in downtown Toronto!

And this business has been made possible by its founder’s unshakeable belief in Canada as a land of opportunity, in the soundness of the Canadian character, and in the virtue of the typically Canadian habit of saving and thrift.

The tin-foil unit of the company’s business is a striking example of this. When it was decided to enter that field a few years ago, foil was imported into this country from the United States. To-day, Canada Foils, a Canada Metal Company subsidiary, is able to handle the Canadian trade. This was not an accomplishment of a day. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent upon the necessary building, plant, equipment and experimental work, and then months passed before results in the way of profitable orders began to reward courage and faith. The lead used for the foil-making comes from British Columbia and the tin from Singapore. Reference to these two essentials which are also used in other products of the Canada Metal Company is one way in which W. G. Harris answers questions about Imperial trade. Financial returns from the foil-making enterprise did not appeal to Mr. Harris more than the thought that his establishment was turning out one more product that would make its way into additional thousands of Canadian homes. Incidentally, the lead Continued on page 47

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now procured from British Columbia was formerly purchased in the United States. “The mineral development in this country in the last few years,” says Mr. Harris, “ought to convince anyone that this is a country to stay in and work in.”

W. G. Harris can’t understand why so many Canadians desert their own country for the far-off pastures of the United States. Or, if he does understand the reason prompting an individual exodus he deplores it. He said to me: “The one tariff I would like to see Washington erecting would be against our youth. Uncle Sam is far too wise for that, though. He wants Canadians; they make good citizens. We should keep them. Our governments and politicians, businessmen, schools—everyone who will aid—will have to join to help fit our young folks into the opportunities their country has for them.” The Harrises—for there is a W. G. Harris, Jr., vice-president of the company and a mighty aid to his father—have a remarkable gift for recognizing their own products, whether they can see the trade mark or not. On one occasion a large user of Canada Metal’s products handed Mr. Harris, Sr., a number of filings. One by one he put them into his mouth and bit hard on them. Finally he handed one

of the filings to his customer, telling him that this particular piece of metal came from the Canada Metal’s factory. Astounded, the customer asked how the trick was done. “Very simple,” laughed Harris. “On one of the filings I could make no impression with my teeth. That one I knew had been made the way I mean our products to be made.”

Hard Work and Good Planning

NOW that the Harris, Jr., to whom allusion has just been made, can shoulder much of the detail work of Canada Metal’s huge operations, his father has leisure for travel. This has resulted in two things: It has enabled

“The Canada Metal Man,” as he is known to hundreds of Canadians, to indulge what amounts almost to a passion for travel and observation of Canadian economic conditions. It refreshes his deep faith in his country. He declares

that every year he sees Canada progressing until the tale of it is like a new book of wonder. Not that this man of consuming energy fails for a moment to keep his finger on the pulse of his business. “Not much sense in building up a big business and then taking it easy on the assumption that its own momentum will carry it along. That never did work with a private business or a nation. Hard work and good planning make the right kind of power to keep the machinery going in either case.” This opportunity for travel has accomplished a rather curious sea-change: it has converted a brilliant business man into a more than usually expert camera man. Whenever Mr. Harris comes upon something which he thinks is of more than ordinary importance, he takes a little moving picture camera from his grip and “says it with film.” The result is that he has a collection of film Canadiana which has interested hugely all who have been

privileged to view it. It ought to be exhibited publicly, for it records the reactions of a keen mind to many things of which the average Canadian knows nothing.

The president of Canada Metal, in addition to business and taking moving pictures has one other hobby—gardening. And the reason for this hobby is a logical one. In a characteristic letter he wrote to a friend a little while ago, he argued that gardening, business, and Canada have two things in common: a lot of digging and planting must needs be done if the flowers of success are to adorn the gardens of either business or the Dominion.

The story of W. G. Harris ought to be an inspiration to every young man. To start at scratch with a salary of a dollar and a half a week and, without borrowing or relying on anyone for assistance, to build up a huge business, seems very much like the legendary man who lifted himself by his own bootstraps. But Mr. Harris will not have it so. To him it was a fortunate accident of birth that has made him what he is. He was born in Canada, a Canadian of the Canadians and, he thinks, this ought to be enough to start any man of energy on the highroad to success.