The West’s Biggest Young Man

An intimate sketch of a colossus of the prairies whose financial, industrial and commercial operations straddle the continent

JOHN HURLEY February 1 1929

The West’s Biggest Young Man

An intimate sketch of a colossus of the prairies whose financial, industrial and commercial operations straddle the continent

JOHN HURLEY February 1 1929

The West’s Biggest Young Man

An intimate sketch of a colossus of the prairies whose financial, industrial and commercial operations straddle the continent


THERE is a legend in Winnipeg that James Armstrong Richardson, president of James Richardson and Sons Limited, grain exporters, is a lineal descendant of King Midas, and that everything he touches turns to gold. Perhaps the legend is not so literally stated, but the belief is widely held. At any rate, it is a well-known fact that James Richardson has to conduct his buying with the utmost secrecy because of a strong public tendency to follow whatever lead he gives. His recent speculations in International Nickel—in which he is reputed to have made $10,000,000 had the effect of heightening the glamor which the man in the street has thrown around his personality.

As to the $10,000,000 profit in Nickel, it is known that he bought when it was selling around sixty-five— 75,000 shares, it is stated—and still held them when the stock touched more than 200. But when you ask him if it is true that he made $10,000,000 in this one speculation, he smilingly waves the question away

with the remark that he can’t tell just how much he did make, that market still being uncertain. He will admit that he got a certain amount of pleasure out of the transaction, in that so much of the stock is now held in Great Britain and Canada that control of this all important commodity may ultimately be vested in British hands.

"The Biggest Man in the West”

pEW would question the assertion that “Jim” _ Richardson, as he is more frequently called, is the biggest man in the West to-day. He is the transitional point between the ox team and the aeroplane, üehind him lies the harsh, pioneering days before the prairie was tamed. He is the polish that the West is rapidly acquiring. In the new school of men who sit behind shiny mahogany desks shrewdly weighing the future, he is in the forefront. Not only for what he represents, but for what he is—a man of large and extremely likeable simplicities; one utterly without pose, quite unaffected and genuine. Sincerity and simplicity are the qualities about him that impress the beholder.

In him lies the proof that the born nation-builder can find a fruitful field for his talents in other than the political field. To a man of the calibre of James Richardson the bandwagon atmosphere and front-page notoriety of politics are positively distasteful. It is often said in Winnipeg that James Richardson could be mayor of the city any time he expressed a desire to be, but, to most people, even that honorable function seems inadequate for his stature; and it is certain that he himself has no

ambitions for high office, even though he is possibly the most public-spirited citizen Winnipeg has Yet despite the unostentatious nature of his work, his influence has

been more far reaching and beneficial than many whose names are bywords.

His offices are on the tenth floor of the Grain Exchange. Below him is the famous wheat pit, that roaring vortex of gambling humanity. He can sit there and gaze out upon hundreds of thousands of acres of flat prairie land, a sight to stimulate the imagination of any but the dullest.

Knowing the vastness of his operations, the millions of bushels that find their way to the world’s ports through James Richardson and Sons Limited, the observer finds no difficulty in seeing in James Richardson a colossus of the prairies; a Paul Bunyan of the money marts, straddling a continent with the utmost ease and confidence.

One feels impelled to write of this man in Gargantuan terms. His very physical appearance denotes strength, solidity, a purposeful patience. He is six feet tall, big of frame and has every appearance of a rugged rock that one would like to cling to in almost any sort of a storm. In speech, as in appearance, he is blunt and direct—and very modest. No lover of cheap blatancies himself, he is sparing of words—except when he is talking about the “boys” who man his aeroplanes. But of that, more later. The words most frequently heard on his lips at the many meetings he has to attend are: “Well, gentlemen, let’s quit talking and do something.” The result of this policy is reflected in “Who’s Who.” There, contributing to the headaches of the secretary who keeps track of his appointments, he is listed in a manner which could turn Gilbert’s Pooh Bah green with envy. As evidence the following extract :-


President, James Richardson & Sons, Limited, Grain Exporters, Kingston, Winnipeg, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, and other branches throughout Canada, tenth floor, Grain Exchange, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Past President and Member, Winnipeg Grain Exchange; Past President and Member, Winnipeg Grain and Produce Exchange Clearing Association.

Member, Montreal Stock Exchange; Calgary Grain Exchange; Toronto Board of Trade; Montreal Board of Trade, Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce; Chicago Board of Trade; New York Produce Exchange; Director, Canadian Pacific Railway Company; The Canadian Bank of Commerce; Member, Canadian Committee, Hudson’s Bay Company; Director, International Nickel Company, Incorp.; The Great West Life Assurance Company; National Trust Company, Ltd.; Canadian Vickers, Ltd.; Fairchild Aerial Surveys (of Canada) Ltd. President, Eastern Terminal Elevator Co., Ltd.; Pioneer Grain Company, Limited; Saskatchewan & Western* Grain Co., Ltd.; Western Canada Airways, Limited; MacLeod’s Limited; “Ideal” Aluminum Products, Ltd.; Acme Manufacturing Co., Ltd.; Frontenac Floor & Wall Tile Co., Ltd. ¡Vice-President, Guardian Realty Co., of Canada, Ltd.; Director. Valley Camp Coal Co., Cleveland, Ohio; Kingston, Portsmouth & Cataraqui Electric Railway Co. Ltd.; and other Canadian Companies. Trustee, Queen’s University; Member of Council, Canadian National Institute for the Blind; Chairman, Finance Committee, National Council of Education.

A Fortune Builded on Wheat

_ _. . ,,T „ . , x, . . [—( A VING survived that impressive list you have some

idea of the multitudinous activities of the man whose grandfather arrived here from the bogs of Ireland in 1829. It was James Richardson’s grandfather who laid the foundations of the existing wealthy firm. When he died, his son, father of the present president of the firm, carried on the business of exporting barley from Canada into the United States by way of the lakes. The United States government put into effect a tariff that seriously curtailed barley exports, so Richardson, the elder, turned his attention to Western Canada and wheat. It might not be stretching a point to say that the United States government of that day was of great help in building up the Canadian West. At least, the knowledge that a ready market was available for all the grain grown was a great inducement to settlers to raise more. This fact may be more readily appreciated when it is realized that in 1869 the prairies actually imported 11,739 bushels of wheat and barley and 7,275 barrels of wheat. This seems difficult to believe now of a country that, in 1928, raised 798 million bushels of grain. As late as 1876 the grain production was only 1,233,000 bushels and the acreage was only 26,722. To-day there are five large farms that exceed that acreage. On the prairies in 1928 there were 36,000,000 acres sown to grain. In a measure, this was the result of the export grain trade providing facilities for selling. The trade, in effect, had said to the farmer; “Grow all the grain y ou can. We’ll buy it.”

It was in this work that the firm of James Richardson played such a 1 arge part. To-day, of course’ its activities embrace man y other fields, even though it is the greatest private exporter of grain in North America and one of the largest in the entire world.

The present president of

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the firm was one of four children born to George A. Richardson, son of the original Irish immigrant. He and the late Captain George Taylor Richardson entered the grain business with their uncle, Harry W. Richardson, on the death of their father. James Richardson was born at Kingston, August 21, 1885. Those who knew him then say that, as a lad, he was “big and wholesome,” fond of outdoors, of sailing, fishing, hunting and all forms of sports. He attended the Kingston Public School and matriculated into Queen’s University in 1902. The Richardson home in those days was the headquarters of athletes. He graduated in 1906 with the degree of Bachelor of Arts.

“As with many other distinguished men, the brilliance of his subsequent career was not presaged by outstanding success as a student,” one who knew him carefully remarks. But he did earn for himself something which he still holds, namely, a reputation for “squareness.”

Shortly after graduation he was made manager of the Toronto office of the firm. He was then twenty-two, but bore his responsibilities well. Within five years his ability had won him promotion to the supervision of all western branches, with the status of vice-president. He moved to Winnipeg then, in which city the real headquarters of the firm were established. During the war, with markets in a chaotic state and grain price fluctuating erratically, a dependable food supply became of crucial importance. James Richardson’s services were given to the Allied Wheat Commission. He supervised the distribution of wheat to the 284 mills of Eastern Canada. Later, as vice-president of the Wheat Export Company, he was second in command of the purchasing and forwarding of grain from Canada to the Allies. Shortly after the end of the War, and on the death of his uncle, James Richardson became president of the firm. He was later honored with the presidency of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange.

An Adventurer in New Fields

TAMES RICHARDSON built up his J firm to its present size not only by extreme efficiency as an organizer, but by a cautious adventuring into a future that he saw clearer than anyone else.

Western Canada Airways, Limited, is one instance of this. Mining in Central and Northern Manitoba owes a great debt to James Richardson. Mining promises to be an exceedingly important industry to Manitoba, but transportation facilities were lamentably inadequate— until Jim Richardson took hold. He increased the snail-like pace of the industry by literally giving it wings. It is in connection with his Airways, Limited, that Richardson discloses the idealism that is latent in him. He is, at the same time, a boy getting a large and impressive “kick” out of a new toy and a knight flying to the rescue of a neglected continent. Of all his activities, none, it is safe to say, gives him more genuine and spontaneous pleasure than his air lines. And of nothing is he prouder than the “boys” that man these planes. Even when discussing them he always attributes any success the company has had to the “boys.” It takes no very profound gifts of insight to know that, in this, as in other instances, the commercial instinct was far in the background. There are many people in Kingston to whom this will require no emphasizing, but of that more later.

His modesty is heart warming. “I did not and don’t know much about aeroplanes,” he deprecatingly said when speaking of his fleet of twenty-five planes that are now breaking air lanes in the trackless north, “but I’ve handled shipping on the lakes, and I know you’ve got to keep your ships on the move to make them pay. When they’re tied up at the docks they’re like so many stabled horses eating their heads off. It seemed to me aeroplanes should pay eventually if the principles of lake shipping were applied to them.”

Speaking of his “boys” he said, “You know, they are splendid fellows that are attracted by flying in the North. They’ve got the spirit of adventure in them, and the game arouses an esprit de corps and knits them together as it did the old Northwest Mounted Police.” It is a new little empire he is opening up; an empire of the air that, eventually, will stretch from Winnipeg to Vancouver. And in a country of such vast and difficult distances as Canada, the future lies to a great extent in its airways.

He Could Afford to Lose!

GEEN on more prosaic grounds, the ^ unusual characteristics of James Richardson are still to the fore. A manufacturing concern in Kingston struck bad luck during the war and was about to close down, throwing many men out of work. The Jim Richardson magic saved it, but that isn’t the story. The shareholders were anxious to quit, so he offered them the choice of staying with him in charge or selling their stock -at a price considerably above the market although much below par. Most of them sold, and received the surprise of their lives, when, the industry having prospered, they received from Richardson the difference between what they had sold for and the price of their original investment. When asked why he did it Mr. Richardson merely shrugged his shoulders and said he could better afford to lose money than the shareholders.

When his brother, Captain George Taylor Richardson, was killed in Flanders, James made the fitting and spacious gift of a football stadium to Queen’s as a memorial.

Such a man, it can be well understood, is little short of idolized by his associates. They love him for his essentially human qualities.

He was married to Muriel Sprague, of Belleville, May 21, 1919, and has two boys and two girls. He does not use tobacco or touch liquor. His interests in life lie almost entirely in his home and office, but not quite.

He has a farm near Winnipeg and frequently goes over it with an old crony. The two of them will solemnly inspect the buildings and fences and hold conferences sitting on a rock as to the best way of fixing, perhaps, a barn door which has come off one of its hinges. Having gravely arrived at a decision, they will roll up their sleeves and set to with hammers and screwdrivers, having a whale of a time. Meanwhile, it is probable, important directors of companies are advised that Mr. Richardson is out of town on urgent business and cheques amounting to hundreds of thousands await a signature from the hand that is so lustily swinging a hammer. Of such very human qualities is Jim Richardson mal ».