DICKSON, SAMUEL, lumber manufacturer and industrialist; b. 1810 in County Cavan (Republic of Ireland); d. 26 April 1870 at Peterborough, Ont. He was married and had five daughters.
Samuel Dickson emigrated from Ireland to the Peterborough area in 1830 and found employment as a distiller with John Hall, also a native of County Cavan, a fellow Presbyterian, and prominent local businessman. Hall owned the Mill Reserve on the Otonabee River at Peterborough which included a grist- and sawmill, but financial difficulties forced him to relinquish ownership of the property in 1838. Dickson, recognizing the advantages of the river bank location for waterpower, rented the mill from its new owner and began to manufacture pine lumber in 1839.
The key to the expansion of Dickson’s business was control of adequate water-power to allow larger milling operations. He had abandoned the Mill Reserve by 1851 and built a new mill across the river in Otonabee Township. Later Dickson also built a steam mill on the eastern side of Little Lake. The steam mill, however, was soon exchanged with the lumber firm of Ludgate and McDougall for mill rights on the old Mill Reserve. This last transaction was a calculated effort by Dickson to gain riparian rights on both sides of the Otonabee River at a centrally located site with abundant water-power; by 1870 he had amassed power rights which gave him virtual control of the river in Peterborough.
The rise in production of Dickson’s mills reflected his skilful acquisition of sites and a rapidly growing market for Peterborough timber. In the early 1840s Dickson was producing square timber for the British market, as well as sawn lumber. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 encouraged lumbermen like Dickson to increase their production by opening a large American market to Canadians.
The impact of the American market was demonstrated by a dramatic rise in the production of lumber in Peterborough County. In 1851 it produced 11,589,000 board-feet, whereas in 1861 its production increased to 63,599,000 feet. Dickson’s mill had an output of 1,000,000 board-feet in 1851, 800,000 feet being produced for the foreign market and the rest for the domestic market. By 1866, despite several short-term slumps in the lumber trade during the late 1850s and early 1860s, the Dickson Lumber Company had increased its production to 6,000,000 board-feet per year. To reach this market Dickson shipped his lumber to Port Hope on Lake Ontario and from there to Albany, N.Y., which served as the distribution centre for the major markets on the eastern seaboard of the United States.
Dickson’s production at Peterborough was surpassed in the 1860s only by that of Campbell and Company at Nassau Mills, George Hilliard at Blythe Mills, and Ludgate and McDougall, Little Lake. His firm had not only improved its physical plant but had also acquired large new timber limits, moving its logging operations north from Buckhorn into the fine pine stands in the townships of Cavendish, Anstruther, Harvey, and Anson. As well, Dickson had established a large flour mill to help supply his camps and had set up a woollen factory just below his power dam in Peterborough.
In 1870 Samuel Dickson’s invested capital in his sawmill operation alone was approximately $100,000 and the mills provided jobs for over 150 men. He was beginning to develop his large real estate and water-power interests for other industrial purposes besides the manufacture of sawn lumber. Having brought his son-in-law, T. G. Hazlitt, into the company in 1865 as assistant manager, Dickson apparently felt freer to plan new business ventures, to participate more fully in public affairs, and to take a more active role in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church. A lifelong Conservative, he was elected to the Peterborough town council in 1870. But Dickson’s career was cut short after he fell into the spring torrent of the timber-choked Otonabee River on 25 April 1870; he died of his injuries the following day.
PAC, MG 26, A; MG 55/24, 341; National Map Coll., “Romaine’s map of the town of Peterborough and village of Ashburnham . . .” (1875); RG 1, L3 (index); RG 31, 1851 census, Otonabee Township; 1871 census, Ontario, district 56, schedule 6 (industrial census), town of Peterborough. Thomas White, An exhibit of the progress, position and resources of the county of Peterboro . . . (Peterborough, [Ont.], ). History of the county of Peterborough, Ontario . . . (Toronto, 1884). A. R. M. Lower, The North American assault on the Canadian forest: a history of the lumber trade between Canada and the United States . . . (Toronto and New Haven, Conn., 1938; repr. New York, 1968). T. W. Poole, A sketch of the early settlement and subsequent progress of the town of Peterborough . . . (Peterborough, [Ont.], 1867). Peterborough Examiner (Peterborough, Ont.), 5 May 1906.