R.C. (Robert Charles) Smith [ 1817 - 1886 ]

  • Lumber 1862 (Approx.) - 1900 (Approx.)

There is no evidence that R.C. Smith ever lived in Fenelon Falls, but for four decades his lumbering business dominated much of the economy; more so than any other businessman. R.C. Smith began his career milling in Prince Edward County but soon returned to his home town of Port Hope. Shortly thereafter he became involved in the lumber business and eventually had controlling interests in lumber operations at Rice Lake, Longford, and Fenelon Falls amongst others. At the height of his career he had over two hundred men in his employment [PHG 4 June 1886; 4].

Smith had mill operations at Fenelon Falls from the 1860s, possibly as early as 1862. The foreman of their mill, a James Whistle, was drowned in May 1864 [CP 3 June 1864; 2], and a letter from J.S. Smith of Toronto to the Department of Crown lands, dated 8 October 1868, (concerning the company’s claim to the right to use a bay of Cameron Lake in front of Lots 25 and 26 in the 10th concession of Fenelon) claims the company had been in business “for many years.” This letter certainly refers to “previous occupants of the mills” and this may indicate that some of their operations were in James Wallis’s old buildings. “Smith’s Mill” is mentioned in May 1864 when the timber slide at Fenelon Falls was swept away [PR 6 May 1864; 2]. “A good deal of lumber is made and shipped from mills at Fenelon Falls…” stated the Canadian Post in 1864; three scows at the wharf [in Lindsay] on Wednesday last were the property of Chas Smith of Fenelon Falls… [CP 28 Oct 1864; 2].

John D. Smith arrived in Fenelon Falls around 1867 to manage the mill operations for his uncle, and for 14 years, until October 1881, John D. was the main representative of the Smith Company. The Smith firm operated the lumber mill on the south side of the river, and a grist mill on the north side. The grist mill is listed in Fuller’s 1865/66 Directory entry on Fenelon Falls, and it would appear that a new saw mill was built about 1869, for James Dickson notes the Smith’s new mill cut the first log on July 14th 1869. These operations continued throughout the 1870s, and the firm opened a wheat market in 1877 [CP 28 Sept 1877; 3]. According to the 1871 Census the two Smith mills had been running for five months (the work was seasonal), employed 110 men, had processed 120,000 logs, and produced 12,000,000 feet of lumber.

In spite of their initial success, the firm was in trouble by 1876. The saw mills were closed in August “arising out of the commercial stringency” [CP 18 Aug 1876; 1] and a meeting of the creditors took place in Lindsay on September 21st to arrange payments for unsecured creditors, and to refinance the Fenelon Falls operations [CP 22 Sept 1876; 3]. Controversy dogged such arrangements [CP 22 Dec 1876; 3] and in February 1879 a lawsuit commenced contesting the claim of a Mr. Babcock of Montreal who held a mortgage against the company; the lawsuit continued well into the 1880’s.

The effect on the local economy was long-term. The “…apparently interminable lawsuit between the members of the late firm of Smith & Co. and other causes have reduced the village to a state of stagnation which has driven away not a few of the inhabitants and depressed the spirits of those who remain” [FFG 23 April 1881; 30 June 1883; 2].

The Smiths owned much of the industrial town site of the village, and the surrounding land. They had control of the water power, the saw and grist mills, and much of the shoreline of the river and Cameron Lake. In 1880 the Smiths’ influence was evident when Lossing & Secord of St. Catharines expressed interest in building a “paper pulp factory” at Fenelon Falls”… [T]he only obstacle, as far as the locality is concerned, will arise from a difference of opinion between [Lossing & Secord]…. and Mr. [J.D.] Smith as to the rental of the necessary power…”. The Gazette hoped to report on future negotiations [FFG 17 July 1880; 2]. None were evident. Smith also owned the property on which the new lock was built in 18821. The Government paid R.C. Smith $14,200 for the “small amount of canal property required” [Angus; 169]. When the Napanee Mills Paper Company began it too had to purchase land from the R.C. Smith company [FFG 3 March 1883; 2: 5 May 1883; 2]. Delays, lawsuits and negotiations for access to water power continued at least until 1900.

The Smith firm did make some attempt to get their operations going again. Their fortunes had been looking up in 1881 when the firm recommenced construction of an addition1 on the large stone flour mill that was “intended to be ready for work by the time this year’s wheat crop is harvested”. The building was commenced four or five years ago (fall 1875 according to one source), and the walls reached a height of about eight feet, but the break-up of the firm of Smith & Co. caused the work to be stopped, and the subsequent litigation prevented its resumption until 1881. “The building, like the old one, is of stone, but it will be double the size and four instead of two stories high, and is intended to contain five runs of stones…” [FFG 30 April 1881; 2]. The work continued on through the summer and into September [FFG 14 May 1881; 2: CP 2 Sept 1881; 3].

Other work was also underway; a large stone kiln was built for the purpose of burning the refuse and sawdust from the saw mill on the south side of the falls [CP 29 April 1881; 3] and further additions were made to the saw mill during the winter of 1881/82 [FFG 31 Dec 1881; 2].

Nonetheless problems continued to bedevil the firm, and John D. Smith’s departure in October 1881 was an ominous sign1. As a result of the litigation as to its owner, the Grist mill in the village was closed in April 1883, causing real hardship for area farmers who had to travel elsewhere (Bobcaygeon and Lindsay), and for local merchants who lost out on their business. The sawmill shut down as well. Construction on the new stone grist mill had also been stopped, leaving it unfinished3. “As long as the (older) smaller mill was operating at a profit the lawyers permitted its operation to continue, but when repairs were needed it, too, was closed.” Later that month the “40 year old” mill started to collapse and was largely ruinous by the end of the month.4

By 1884 business was brought to a standstill at the instance of Mr. Smith’s bankers due to the heavy debt of the firm [CP 19 Aug 1887; 1]. On November 25th, 1885, R.C. Smith auctioned off “all his stock of sawed lumber” from his yard in Fenelon Falls [FFG 21 Nov 1885; 2], and soon afterwards a “Notice” dated 14 January 1886, announced: “Having disposed of all his lumber, the undersigned [R.C. Smith] begs to thank his customers for past favours, and to notify those indebted to him by note or book account that, unless their indebtedness is settled for without further delay, their accounts will be placed in court for collection” [FFG 16 Jan 1886 ; 2]. R.C. Smith did not live long enough to sort out his business affairs; he died in Port Hope on June 1st, 1886 [CP 4 June 1886; 6] [PHG 4 June 1886; 4].

On Thursday, May 5th, 1887 the Smith Estate was auctioned in Toronto but while the timber limits were all disposed of, no one purchased the mills or other property at Fenelon Falls [CP 6 May 1887; 7]. While this may have produced the rumours that the estate planned to recommence operations if appropriate concessions were offered by the village [CP 19 Aug 1887; 1], they remained unfounded. Further auctions were attempted in 1889: The mills and village property in Fenelon Falls, and the timber limits belonging to the estate of the late R.C. Smith, are advertised to be sold by auction on Thursday, September 5th, by Oliver, Coate & Co. of Toronto; …if not sold, they [the mill and property] will be leased upon reasonable terms, and it matters little to Fenelon Falls whether they are sold or rented… [FFG 23 August 1889; 4]. Again, the mills did not sell, and the estate continued to hold auctions of various properties throughout the 1890s.

The Gazette faithfully reported the arrival and departure of the Smith estate executives in the village as negotiations continued on the use of the mill properties and the water power. Hand despaired of any success when an 1890 proposal to establish a woodenware factory apparently went nowhere; potential purchasers were unwilling to pay the asking price. “It is heartbreaking to see our splendid water power lying almost idle and our population decreasing year by year…” “There have… been from time to time so many reports, which were never verified, of the intention of the executors to sell or lease part of the property that we do not feel very hopeful of their doing so now… [FFG 24 Oct 1890; 4]. In 1891 the Smith Estate offered land to the village on condition that factory be put upon it [FFG 13 Feb 1891; 4] and although interest was expressed by two parties [FFG 17 April 1891; 4 : 22 May 1891; 4] no apparent agreements were made. Negotiations also failed in 1892 when English capitalists looking at investments in Canada came to the village and expressed interest in the water power [FFG 10 June 1892; 4]. There were always rumours of successful negotiations [FFG 17 June 1892; 4], but these proved to be false.

Thrilling news finally arrived in May 1893 when it was announced that McDougall and Brandon had purchased the stone mill, the red mill and the Smith farm from the Smith estate [CP 5 May 1893; 8] for their North Star Roller Mill. The Red mill was probably not part of the bargain for it was successfully leased to John W. Howry & Sons for a term of eight years in March of 1894 [FFG 23 March 1894; 4]. Francis Sandford was also able to purchase water power from the Smith’s when the dam was reconstructed later that year [FFG 24 Aug 1894; 4: 7 Sept 1894: 4].

Various negotiations continued up to 19001, but the burning of the Howry mill in 1896 [FFG 9 Sept 1896; 1] was really the end of Smith’s influence in the village. With its industrial dreams literally going up in flames, the village no longer had the money or the raw materials to attract the lumber industry to this part of the province. Smaller manufacturing firms were all it could hope to entice, and as the population continued to dwindle, attracted to the big cities and to the west, Smith’s holdings were of decreasing value. Therefore it was not surprising that the Smith Estate sold most of its water rights to the Light, Heat & Power Company of Lindsay in February 1900 [Angus; 330-1].

709 Variant entry: Robert Smith, Richard Smith. See also Smith & Co.

710 Archives of Ontario. Township Papers. Fenelon. Concession No. 10. [Dept of Crown Lands, 1868, No. 8735]. Attached to this letter is another letter, possibly dating from October 1862, regarding an application for the leasing of the Bay in Cameron’s Lake. In a reminiscence of early days published in 1876, an article states the first day’s work at the “old mill” began in August 1863 [CP 29 Dec 1876; 1].

711 This is a speculation on the author’s part. See also under Smith & Co.

712 The following appeared in the 1865 Canadian Post: “The extensive saw mill owned by Mr. Charles Smith is now working day and night. Forty-four saws are almost constantly in motion, and about 50,000 feet of lumber is manufactured in 24 hours, besides large quantities of lathing. The mill, only completed last year, filled up with the latest improvements in machinery, situated at the head of steam navigation, contiguous to a splendid pine region, and worked with energy and skill, can not fail should lumber go up to a fair price, to prove a highly remunerative concern.” [CP 2 June 1865; 2].

713 See under Smith, John David

714 Smith’s blacksmith shop and driving shed were torn down in the fall of 1882 for the construction of the canal. By 1883 he had a new blacksmith shop on the south side of the river.

715 Other such events included the following: 1886: The Village and R.C. Smith in lengthy court battle over the expropriation of Water Street and the appropriate compensation [FFG 23 Jan 1886; 2]. 1891: the Smith Estate offers land to the village on condition that factory be put upon it [FFG 13 Feb 1891; 4]. Interest was expressed by two parties [see FFG 17 April 1891; 4 : 22 May 1891; 4] but no agreements were made. 1893: One-fourth of the water power was leased to McDougall and Brandon [CP 5 May 1893; 8]. 1894: Negotiations by the Howrys for the lease of the Red mill from the Smith executors was announced in March 1894 [FFG 12 Jan 1894; 6 : 23 March 1894; 4]. One half of the [water] power was leased along with the Red mill on the south side of the river to J.W. Howry & Sons. 1894: F. Sandford was sold a “frontage” on the dam of 13 feet sufficient it is estimated to give at least 100 hsp to power his factories [FFG 24 August 1894; 4 : 7 Sept 1894; 4]. 1896-1900: There was a proposal to sell the Smith estate’s remaining water power to the Lindsay Electric Company as early as 1896 [FFG 17 April 1896; 4]. Things do not appear to have been finalized until February 1900, when the Light, Heat & Power Company of Lindsay had acquired the power rights from the estate of R.C. Smith, those rights having been assigned to the estate when the Smith property was expropriated for lock construction in 1883 …. [Angus; 330-1]. 1898: Smith estate causes delays to the construction of a new Stave factory, as they own the land on the shore of Cameron Lake [FFG 28 Jan 1898; 4]. The crisis is averted when the factory site is moved elsewhere in the village. 1898: Rathbun proposes renting the mill and yard property on the south side of the river and using the water power owned by the Smith estate [FFG 11 Nov 1898; 4 : 18 Nov 1898; 4]. Nothing comes from the negotiations.

716 Some sources say this was an addition to the old mill, others say it was a new larger mill.

717 V.J. Nesbitt was the manager for R.C. Smith in 1882.

718 See FFG 9 Feb 1884; 2. “What we have a right to complain of is that we have no grist mill at all, and have not had any since the early part of last spring, and without the slightest sign of one being provided by the Smith estate.” See also FFG 24 May 1884; 2.

719 The stone mill was almost complete: “The roof is being put on R.C. Smith’s new grist mill…[ CP 2 Sept 1881; 3]. In 1889 Hand states that “the capacious and substantial stone building that was intended for a grist mill is as good as new and suitable for many purposes…. [FFG 23 August 1889; 4].

720 See Suggitt [266] for a full account. See also the photo of the ruined mill between pp. 24-25.

721 In December 1890 the executors of the Smith Estate auctioned various village properties including the Clifton House and surrounding properties, the Maryboro Lodge house and property and much of the land currently known as Oak Street [FFG 21 Nov 1890; 5]. In April 1892, they offered for sale or rent the “Smith Farm” just outside the village boundary [FFG 15 April 1892; 4], and in June 1894 they sold land to Thomas Robson [FFG 15 June 1894; 5]. In August 1895 “the eight lots abutting on the lots on the south side of Francis Street West and fronting on Oak Street” were all disposed of by the executors of the Smith estate [FFG 9 Aug 1895; 5]

722 See for example FFG 23 Aug 1889; 1.

723 Some examples: 1896: There is a proposal to sell remaining water power to the Lindsay Electric Company [FFG 17 April 1896; 4. 1898: The Smith Estate cause delays with new Stave factory [FFG 28 Jan 1898; 4]. 1898: Rathbun’s Lumber Co. proposes renting the mill and yard property on the south side of the river and using the water power owned by the Smith estate [FFG 11 Nov 1898; 4 : 18 Nov 1898; 4]

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