CARRUTHERS, JAMES, grain merchant and financier; b. 13 Aug. 1853 in Toronto, son of Andrew and Janet Carruthers; m. there 9 Feb. 1875 Louisa Coleman, and they had three sons; d. 19 Sept. 1924 in Montreal.
James Carruthers was born into a family of Scottish immigrants from the Dumfries region who came to Toronto towards the end of the 1840s. His father worked for a long time for the mail service of the Grand Trunk Railway Company, earning enough to buy a house. Despite his modest origins and apparently only a few years of education, Carruthers was to have a brilliant career as a businessman, skilfully turning his varied professional experiences to good advantage.
Carruthers probably had his first contact with the grain business at the beginning of the 1870s, when he went to work for the Toronto firm of T. C. Chisholm. Around 1875 he was hired by the Montreal and Toronto grain merchants Crane and Baird, and he was in charge of the company’s Toronto office. At the time, barley was moving through this port in large quantities, and wheat was just starting to be produced in western Canada. He became a partner in the firm in 1879 but left it in 1885 to join with James Sylvester Norris in founding a grain trading company, Norris and Carruthers. Norris lived in Montreal, where the company owned an office and a warehouse, while Carruthers lived in Toronto, where it rented premises in the Board of Trade building. At almost the same time, the first shipments of western grain reached Montreal, thanks to the link between Winnipeg and Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Ont., established by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company in 1883. Norris and Carruthers dissolved their partnership towards the end of 1893, and the latter immediately founded the company that would become the largest grain exporting firm in Canada, James Carruthers and Company.
By the mid 1890s Carruthers was a prosperous merchant, living in an elegant neo-Romanesque residence on Toronto’s prestigious Jarvis Street. His firm had offices in Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg, and would soon open one in New York. In 1898 he also became a shareholder in a large grain elevator company in Manitoba. In addition Carruthers was very active in the chambers of commerce and grain exchanges in Canada and the northern United States, and he made numerous business trips to Great Britain. This extensive network was very useful to him from 1900 to 1920, when exports of Canadian wheat became the engine of Canada’s economic growth. He carved out the lion’s share of this trade for himself, and by the early 1910s he became known as “Canada’s Wheat King.”
The grain export business naturally led Carruthers to collaborate with various maritime shipping companies. This sector was completely reorganized in 1913, when Canadian and British businessmen formed Canada Steamship Lines by purchasing and merging a number of shipping companies, including the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company. The new investors, who had a big stake in the grain business, chose as their president its most eminent representative, James Carruthers. In 1913 he had to answer critics anxious about the creation of this quasi-monopoly. Then in November the brand new, ultra-modern freighter James Carruthers sank on the Great Lakes, with its cargo of grain, during a violent storm. He resigned in 1919 after opposing the boards of directors in Montreal and London, England, which were recommending the payment of generous dividends at a time when he wanted to build up a large reserve as a hedge against the volatility of the Canadian wheat market. As it turned out, the price of wheat collapsed at the beginning of the 1920s.
Carruthers was famous also for his activity in the financial and industrial sectors. He had been first vice-president of the Sovereign Bank of Canada in 1902 and was a director of the Dominion Bank from 1907 to 1923. He also had interests in insurance and trust companies. At the same time, he had investments in, among other things, the mining industry - including a coalmine on Vancouver Island - and the largest fish refrigerating company in Prince Rupert, B.C.
As a grain merchant, Carruthers expressed his opinion on several important political issues, generally through the press. He supported protective tariffs, a system favouring the Canadian bourgeoisie to which he belonged. Conversely, in 1911 he firmly opposed the plans for commercial reciprocity put forward by the government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier*, predicting, among other things, that the Montreal malt industry would begin processing Russian barley instead of Canadian. The western farmers, however, did not fear competition and even called for free trade with the United States. In the face of the determination they showed, in 1913 Carruthers had to change his views. During World War I he took part in all the political discussions to ensure that the Allies would have the supplies they needed - to the considerable benefit of James Carruthers and Company Limited.
James and Louisa Carruthers had three sons, all of whom worked in his businesses. The eldest, George Andrew, was in charge of the company’s Winnipeg office and later enlisted in the army. The other two died very young, Edgar around 1907 and William in 1915. Shortly after Edgar’s death, James Carruthers left Toronto and settled permanently in Montreal, which by then had become the country’s principal grain port. He and his wife lived in new apartments and stylish hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton. He remained active in the business world, made substantial donations to hospitals, and purchased military matériel for the Canadian army during World War I. He was a keen sportsman and between 1906 and 1908 he and Sir Hugh Montagu Allan* bought large parcels of land on which the Montreal Jockey Club’s racetrack was built. Many of the Montreal bourgeoisie, as well as an impressive number of dignitaries, attended his funeral in September 1924.
The enormous success enjoyed by James Carruthers stemmed largely from his ability to take advantage of a favourable combination of circumstances. At the time of his death, the grain business was still a commercial sector that could attract his grandson, George Andrew Carruthers, and he entered James Carruthers and Company Limited in Winnipeg in 1923.
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