John W. Howry & Sons [ 1832 (Approx.) - 1902 ]

“The timber limits owned by the late firm of Boyd & Co. were sold at auction in Toronto on Wednesday last. The limits on Gull River and Burnt River waters were bought by J. W. Howry & Son of East Saginaw, Michigan, and the probability is that the timber thereon will be converted into lumber1 at Fenelon Falls” [FFG 25 Nov 1892; 4]. Howry, a prominent Saginaw businessman, operated the business along with his sons John2 and Kirk [FFG Historical Edition, 1991; 4).

In October 1893, members of the Howry firm were in Fenelon Falls examining the condition of the Red Mill south of the river, and “inspecting timber limits out north” [CP 20 Oct 1893; 8]. By March 23rd, 1894, the Howry firm had agreed to lease the Red Mill1 from the Smith Estate for a term of 8 years [FFG 23 March 1894; 4]. By early April the work of removing old machinery and refitting the red mill with all the latest equipment was well underway [FFG, 6 April; 4: 15 June 1894; 4] and an electrical plant was also to be well underway [FFG, 6 April; 4: 15 June 1894; 4] and an electrical plant was also to be installed [FFG 20 April 1894; 4: 19 Oct 1894; 5]. The first logs were cut on Wednesday, July 4th, 1894 [FFG 13 July 1894; 5], and later that month the mill was in full running order. In September railroad tracks were being installed throughout the lumber yard, and in October plans were afoot to install electric lights in the mill and yard [FFG 12 Oct 1894; 5]. By January 1895, a box factory and planning mill were under construction on the Howry property, and it was in full operation by May employing 150 men1. In that month, a locomotive was purchased to haul “trucks along the miles of track in the lumber yard” [FFG 17 May 1895; 4] which extended from the river bank over to Green Street.

During the summer of 1895 the Gazette reported a large number of industrial accidents involving the employees’ fingers and hands; other workers died of their injuries and some were killed outright1. Hand pleaded, “Is there no way of rendering the saws less dangerous to the men who have to work at them?” [FFG 22 Nov 1895; 5]. Nonetheless the employee wages were a great boost to the village economy, for by 1896 the mill employed 350 men. Even local agriculture benefited as great quantities of hay, oats and feed were purchased to supply the horses used by the Howrys in their lumber camps.

On Friday June 19th 1896, there was a spectacular fire in the lumber piling ground, and although no buildings were destroyed the financial loss was high. “Between 10 and 12 million feet of lumber, nearly five million shingles, 3 million laths and 3 thousand cords of wood were burned” [FFG 26 June 1896; 4]. There were hints in the Gazette of problems with creditors, and punitive US import duties on lumber, but these were accompanied by assurances that all would be well [FFG 14 Aug 1896; 4]. The final blow came on the early morning of Wednesday September 9th 1896, when the Howrys’ Red Mill burned to the ground. The Gazette even published a special issue to describe the event [FFG 9 Sept 1896]. The box factory survived, and was in operation by October [FFG 9 Oct 1896; 4].

By the spring of 1897 there was still no decision on whether or not Howry would rebuild, but in April the ruins were being cleared away, and by May the framing of the main building was completed [FFG 21 May 1897; 4]. Machinery continued to arrive throughout June and July, and by the end of the month [July] the mill was running at full blast [FFG 30 July 1897; 5].

In early December the mill shut down for the winter “after a very successful season’s cutting” [FFG 10 Dec 1897; 4], but all was not well. By January Howry’s mill at Fenelon Falls was declared insolvent and all their rights and privileges had passed into the hands of the Bank of Toronto1 [FFG 28 Jan 1898; 4]. Although the mill began operations again by April, problems continued, and it was only operating half time by the end of September. There were growing concerns for the future [FFG 30 Sept 1898; 4] as the Howry lease from the Smith estate lasted only until 1900.

In early November the Rathbun company offered to “rent and run” the Red Mill for eight years for a cash bonus of $8000.00, but at a public meeting held in Jordan’s Hall on Wednesday November [8th?] this request was voted down [FFG 11 Nov 1898; 4]. The public debate continued well into December and alternatives were discussed, although hope for the mill gradually faded1. “This Red Mill may run no more. The timber accessible to these waters and in sufficient quantities to employ a mill of anything but the smallest size and capacity is fast becoming a thing of the past…” [FFG 30 Dec 1898; 5]. The Howry mill never reopened. The age of the great lumber mills at Fenelon Falls was drawing to a close.

There was a sad and curious end to this story. In a June 1902 issue of the Gazette, the following appeared: “On Wednesday of last week we heard a report that J.W. Howry, head of the firm that formerly did business in the Falls, had poisoned himself somewhere in the States; but up to the time the Gazette went to print on Thursday afternoon, we saw no record of it in print, and it was too serious a matter to publish on the strength of a rumour. But it was quite true. Mr. Howry took a glass of morphine, with suicidal intent, in his room in a lodging house in Kansas City, Missouri, on the morning of the 9th of June and left a note stating that he had taken his life in consequence of business troubles with his son, J.H. Howry, and requesting his friends to keep everything from the papers….The deceased was about 70 years of age and made money out of dry goods and the lumbering business at which he was so successful that he is said to have been worth nearly a million dollars. Of course, he wanted more, and he and his two sons came to the Falls in 1894, acquired the Smith sawmill and timber limits, and for a time were regarded with awe as the possessors of great wealth, and admiration as energetic businessmen. But it soon began to be rumoured that they did not know anything about running drives of logs or cutting lumber, and their methods were extravagant and wasteful. In the Fall of 1896 the end came…” [FFPL 02:7].

363 A branch was at Fenelon Falls with the head office in Saginaw Michigan.

364 “[J.W. Howry & Sons] … also purchased at the same time about two hundred million feet — almost all virgin pine on the Trent waters; in fact they got the only virgin pine left on these waters, so the mill will be historical as having cut the last saw log that grew on the banks of the waters tributary to the Trent.” George S. Thompson’s Up To Date, or The Life of a Lumberman ([Peterborough : Times Printing, 1895]) : 71-72.

365 John H. Howry and his family lived in Fenelon Falls and managed the firm.

366 The mill is illustrated in George S. Thompson’s Up To Date, or The Life of a Lumberman ([Peterborough : Times Printing, 1895]) : [between pp. 64-65]. The Howry mill is on the left side, or the south side of the river. See text pp. 71-72.

367 Hand stated there were 150 employees, cutting 190,000 feet of lumber, and producing 75,000 shingles and 45,000 laths every day [FFG 19 July 1895; 4].

368 Laurence Welsh died of injuries on October 3rd, 1895 [FFG 4 Oct 1895; 5]. William Clark died of injuries on January 1896 [FFG 10 Jan 1896; 5]; Edward Metcalf was killed on Tuesday August 17th, 1897, aged 21 [FFG 20 Aug 1897; 4].

369 This is implied in the Gazette but not stated explicitly.

370 The 1904 Souvenir of Fenelon Falls suggests that once the business passed into the hands of the Bank of Toronto, they “wound it up as quickly as possible.” [10]

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