McCLARY, JOHN, manufacturer; b. 2 Jan. 1829 in Westminster Township, Upper Canada, son of John McClary and Sarah Stark; m. first 1853 Mary Ann Drake (d. 1862), and they had two daughters; m. secondly 1866 Mary Jane Pavey (d. 1909); d. 11 Dec. 1921 in London, Ont.
A native of New Hampshire, John McClary Sr married in Pennsylvania and about 1817 settled with his family in Westminster. Since John Jr was the 11th of 12 children, his future lay away from the family farm. An older brother, Oliver, trained him as a tinsmith and in 1849 John went to work for him in nearby London. John left for California the following year when, as he later recalled, “gold fever set in.” In San Francisco he decided that, amidst the thousands of seekers, a tinsmith could profit, so he established a shop. In 1851 his business was burned out and, after an unsuccessful try for gold, he returned to London.
The brothers formally resumed business together as J. and O. McClary on 1 Jan. 1852, and moved to expand. They added a foundry to make stoves, which would become their mainstay, and hired others to sell their products. John even visited the factory of the Meriden Britannia tin company in Connecticut to study the latest developments in the trade. In 1871 they created a limited liability company, McClary Manufacturing, with the stated intention of producing stoves, tin, copper, and pressed wares, agricultural implements, and other ironware and machinery. Aided by the protectionist National Policy, the firm introduced new lines, including a profitable range of enamelware in 1880, and established warehouses in Toronto and Montreal (1879), Winnipeg (1880), Vancouver (1894), Saint John (1901), and Hamilton (1902). In 1882 the company had secured a dominion charter and within two years it was exporting to Britain, the West Indies, and Australia. Its rapid rebuilding after a fire in 1888 led the London Advertiser to exclaim “there is probably no firm in Canada that has such a reputation for hustling.” Following Oliver McClary’s death in 1902 John ran the business on his own. A state-of-the-art factory completed in 1904 to replace the foundry facilitated new models of stoves and furnaces.
During these decades of growth John McClary had become involved in other businesses, notably as a director and vice-president of the Ontario Loan and Debenture Company and the London Life Insurance Company. As well, he was a founding director of the London and Western Trusts Company Limited. He invested widely, but McClary Manufacturing would remain his focus. One of London’s more prominent industrialists, he was active in 1881 in the formation of the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Exchange and then of the Board of Trade.
McClary’s relations with labour were shaped in the 1880s through encounters with the aggressive iron-moulders’ union. An unsuccessful strike in 1882 left the firm non-union; in 1885 renewed resistance, supported by the Knights of Labor, produced dismissals. Four years later McClary gave a defensive explanation of the affair before the royal commission on the relations of labour and capital, which also pressed him for answers on price-fixing by the Stove Manufacturers’ Association, to which he belonged. McClary and the moulders clashed again in a vehement strike in 1905-6, which led to a long feud; in 1909 unionists were still boycotting his products.
A different image of McClary emerged in sympathetic manufacturers’ journals and promotional pieces on London. In 1906 Industrial Canada (Toronto) called him “an ideal employer of labour.” “Although he runs an open shop, complaints from employees receive the quickest attention.” Examples of his concern included the employees’ benefit society founded in 1882 and the welfare department set up in 1910. This paternalism was continued after McClary’s death by his son-in-law William Moir Gartshore, who assumed control of the company. Its sale in 1927 to General Steel Wares Limited of Toronto ended the family connection.
A Methodist and an ardent imperialist, McClary had been a staunch Conservative. Though he never held elected office, he wrote frequently to newspapers and public figures to express his views. His heavy-handed opposition to the free trade agreement of 1911 attracted particular attention. In its obituary the Advertiser noted his passion for “questions of the day.” His style of hands-on management in business was becoming outdated when he died, but the presence of McClary employees and trust company representatives as pall-bearers at his funeral suggests the wide respect he had nonetheless enjoyed.
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