FEARMAN, FREDERICK WILLIAM, ship steward, hotel manager, merchant, meat-packer, and politician; b. 1825 in Norfolk, England, son of William Fearman, a shoemaker, and Elizabeth Calver; m. first 16 Dec. 1851 Elizabeth Holbrook in Hamilton, Upper Canada, and they had eight sons and three daughters; m. secondly 5 Jan. 1903 Lois Humphrey, widow of John Hamilton Nelles, in Bay City, Mich.; they had no children; d. 1 March 1906 in Hamilton.
In 1833 William and Elizabeth Fearman and their six children left the Norfolk village of Sandringham for Hamilton. Although the family moved to York on the Grand River in 1836, Frederick William Fearman continued to attend school in Hamilton, where he received his formal education under the capable instruction of Charles Ozen Counsell and William Tassie*. He left school around 1840 and it is known that from 1847 to 1854 he sailed as a steward on the Magnet, a side-wheeler of the Royal Mail Line that plied between Hamilton and Montreal. During the winter he worked in Hamilton as assistant manager of the City Hotel; for about two years after leaving the Magnet, he apparently had sole charge of the hotel.
In the spring of 1856, with only modest capital and limited credit, Fearman set himself up as a commission merchant and produce dealer on King William Street. The following year he relocated on Hughson Street and at about the same time established on Wentworth Street North at the Great Western Railway crossing what he later claimed was the first house erected in Canada for slaughtering as well as packing hogs. Prudent and self-disciplined, he never overextended himself, and he managed his opportunities to such good advantage that in October 1859 an agent for R. G. Dun and Company reported that this “gd. Methodist” and now “ranking active man” had a worth of some $5,000 or $6,000. By 1862 his worth had risen to $8,000 and his pork-factory was handling 1,500 to 2,000 hogs annually. But his success was short-lived. The scarcity of quality hogs in Upper Canada throughout the period of reciprocity with the United States and the rapid expansion of the American pork-packing industry during the Civil War forced him to close his plant and sell his machinery, buildings, and site in 1862. He then moved his provisions business to a more central location, on MacNab Street.
Despite this set-back, Fearman never abandoned his specialty as a pork-curer, which he continued to practise, so far as is known, in his new premises, buying carcasses directly from local farmers. In 1871 he employed five hands in that business and his annual output was just $35,000. Although he was the second largest pork-curer in Hamilton, he ranked well below Samuel Nash, whose 23 employees contributed to an output of $220,000. The value of Fearman’s production was also exceeded by that of nine meat-packers in Toronto, three of whom – Scott Davidson, William Davies*, and John Morrison – each surpassed $100,000.
It was not until the late 1870s that Fearman’s business showed signs of significant growth. In May 1878 he re-entered the meat-packing business by purchasing Nash’s packing factory on Rebecca Street, including all its tools and steam-driven machinery. He renamed it the Dominion Packing House and, following the implementation of the federal government’s National Policy tariff of 1879 [see Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley*], he erected new buildings for slaughtering, packing, sausage-making, and lard-refining. The National Policy was, in Fearman’s words, “the saving of the trade.” Not only did it prevent Americans from dumping hogs on the Canadian market, but it encouraged Canadian farmers to raise hogs. In August 1879 Fearman employed between 30 and 40 hands. Two years later his staff had grown to 50 and wages had advanced by 10 to 15 per cent. The new tariff allowed Fearman to increase his annual production rapidly, from an estimated 12,000 hogs handled in 1880 to 25,000 by 1882. His products, including the well-known Star brand of hams, bacon, mess-pork, tongues, and beef, enjoyed a dominion-wide reputation, and business was particularly good in the Maritimes. He engaged in some overseas trade but in 1880 it was only a “small item.” The continued expansion of his trade was interrupted by a fire in 1885, which gutted his factory. Heavily insured, he was soon back in operation, filling orders for a growing domestic business and for a foreign trade that was now no longer a sideline. By 1886 he was exporting between $10,000 to $50,000 worth of hams and bacon annually to England. Over the next five years his firm experienced substantial growth. By 1891 it was slaughtering between 30,000 to 50,000 hogs a year and its export markets had expanded to include the United States, France, and the West Indies.
As they struggled to develop foreign markets, Ontario’s major pork-packers expended much effort encouraging the raising of productive stock (particularly for greater bacon content) and educating farmers on proper methods of raising and breeding. Although these concerns continued to occupy Fearman’s attention, the major issue that confronted him and the pork-packing industry during the 1890s was the tariff. As president of the Pork Packers’ Association of Canada, Fearman headed delegations to Ottawa in 1890 in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the government to redefine barrel-pork as mess-pork (the lumberman’s staple) and thus close the loophole, present since 1879, that American producers used to evade the higher duty on finer grades by packing them in barrels as well. The fact that better pork continued to be brought into the country at the lower, barrel-pork rate remained a sore point with packers, who thought the concession to lumbermen unfair. In a further unsuccessful attempt to close this loophole, Fearman and other members of the association again travelled to Ottawa, in 1892, when they argued for a uniform tariff of three cents on all cuts of pork.
Another aspect of the tariff question that alarmed Fearman was the support of both Conservatives and Liberals for some form of modified reciprocity with the United States. The idea had popular backing among Ontario farmers, but Fearman warned in 1891 that the free admission of cheaper American meats “would almost, if not entirely, destroy the pork packing industries of this country.” He could not pretend to hold his own against such giants as Armour and Swift, “with all the premises and conveniences that unlimited capital can command.” The uncertainty over tariff policy of the Liberal government elected in 1896 sparked considerable anxiety within the ranks of Ontario’s packers. In November of that year Fearman led a delegation to meet with several government ministers in Toronto and he vigorously pressed the industry’s case for maintaining existing rates in order to prevent American hogs from flooding the Canadian market. Among the matters considered by the joint Canadian-American high commission of 1898–99 was the question of trade relations. Early in its deliberations, in September 1898, Fearman warned Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier* that any lowering of the tariff as it applied to pork products would open the door to “outside and unscrupulous opposition” and would jeopardize the strong position enjoyed by Canadian packers in the English market for bacon.
Despite such worries, tariff protection remained intact under the Liberals and Fearman continued to prosper. After a second disastrous fire, in 1895, he rebuilt his factory, further enlarging it, and installed the most up-to-date machinery available. On 13 Jan. 1899 Fearman and his sons Frederick Chester, Robert Calver*, Henry Holbrook, and Frank Dingwall, all of whom had been associated with him in the business for many years, incorporated the firm under the name F. W. Fearman Company Limited. By now it employed 110 hands, the number of hogs slaughtered annually had increased to 78,000, and its export of hams and bacon to Great Britain accounted for two-thirds of its sales.
In 1906, after a series of strokes, Fearman died at his residence, Ivy Lodge, on Stinson Street. It was almost 50 years since this enterprising man had laid the foundation of what was to become one of the largest and most successful packing-houses in Canada, with an international reputation. His name stands beside that of William Davies of Toronto as one of Canada’s pioneer pork packers. It was men like Fearman who set the standards of hog-raising long before government experimental farms began issuing technical guidance.
Fearman’s deep sense of civic duty had helped bring about many improvements which earned him the respect of fellow citizens. He was one of the first advocates of a waterworks system for Hamilton. Uppermost in his mind were the city’s commercial interests. “Hamilton was noted for its dust and dirt,” he recalled. “The clouds of dust would sweep down York and King and Main streets, so as to put a stop to business and all trade suffered very much from this cause.” It was after one of those storms in 1855 that he successfully petitioned mayor Charles Magill to call the first public meeting “to take into consideration what was the best plan to provide water for the city.”
Fearman paid a good deal of attention to city planning and improvements in the United States. His observations there led him and others to plant along Park Street the first shade trees in Hamilton. The example was quickly followed until nearly all the residential streets were lined. He received a prize in 1856 from the Hamilton Horticultural Society for the “best invention” for protecting the young trees. In 1898, after an inspection of streets in Battle Creek, Mich., Fearman recommended that the dirt and deteriorating cedar blocks and asphalt of Hamilton’s streets be replaced with brick. He played a leading role in the movement to purchase Dundurn Park, the historical estate of Sir Allan Napier MacNab*, and in the establishment of a parks system, and was chosen to sit on the city’s first board of park management. At its inaugural meeting in February 1900, mayor James Vernall Teetzel proposed, in tribute to his outstanding contribution “in all matters of public interest connected with Hamilton,” that Fearman be its first chairman, which post he would immediately resign. The other members unanimously supported the proposal.
In 1866 Fearman had made a brief foray into municipal politics when he was elected to represent St Patrick’s Ward on city council. The following year he was elected to the board of education, and during his 18 years of service he sat at various times on all of its standing committees. In 1884 he was its chairman. During the second half of the 1880s he figured prominently in the establishment of the Hamilton Public Library. He was one of the first members of its board and became chairman in 1891.
The attention that Fearman gave to Hamilton’s school and library systems reflected not only a deep concern to foster a distinctive Canadian character but also an acute awareness of the British historical tradition. It was his consciousness of Canada’s Anglo-Saxon heritage that led him in 1889 to join other prominent Hamiltonians in founding the Wentworth Pioneer and Historical Society (subsequently shortened to the Wentworth Historical Society), of which he later became president. Fearman also found an outlet for his pride in Canada’s free institutions and his love of stimulating discourse on public issues in the Hamilton branch of the Canadian Club. A man of wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, he took a lively interest in the affairs of the Hamilton Association for the Advancement of Literature, Science, and Art.
Religion occupied a central place in Fearman’s life. He held various offices in Wesley Methodist Church and later at Centenary Methodist Church. He was president of the St George’s Society, a member of Barton Lodge (masonic), a member of the advisory committee of the Boys’ Home, and a patron of the Girls’ Home. On the business side he sat on the Board of Trade and was a director of both the Hamilton Street Railway Company and the Hamilton Gas Light Company.
In everything that he did to promote the good of the community, Fearman exemplified John Wesley’s doctrine that character, or the perfectionism of will and disposition, is the principal determinant of social welfare. It was this reliance upon personal qualities that made Fearman such a success and authority in his vocation. His enterprise and shrewd judgement enabled him to ride out the hard times and overcome disaster to build up a business renowned for square dealing and the quality of its products. Fearman was never spoiled by prosperity and he did his full share in aiding the progress of Hamilton and its citizens.
Frederick William Fearman is the author of “Fifty years ago,” Hamilton and its industries . . . , comp. E. P. Morgan and F. L. Harvey (2nd ed., Hamilton, Ont., 1884), 14–16, and of “The pork production of Canada,” Farming, 14: 268–71.
AO, RG 8, I-1-D, 1898, file 6031; RG 22, ser.205, no.6543; RG 55, I-2-B, liber 54: f.51. Baker Library, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 25: 105, 159, 228E (mfm. at NA). City of Hamilton, Ont., Assessment rolls, St Andrew’s Ward, 1857–61; St Mary’s Ward, 1862–74; Ward 5, 1875–1906. HPL, Board of Park Management, minute-book, 10 Feb. 1900; Scrapbooks, Richard Butler, “Saturday musings,” 4: 13; H. F. Gardiner, 124: 13–14; Joseph Tinsley, “Old Hamiltonians,” 47, 49–50. NA, MG 26, A: 25741–46; RG 31, C1, 1861, Hamilton, St Andrew’s Ward, dist.1: 17; RG 72, 69, no.1601. Univ. of Guelph, Ont., Dept. of Geography, Canadian Industry in 1871 Project, CANIND71 database (created from 1871 census data), URBIND71 and RURIND71. Wentworth Land Registry Office (Hamilton), Deeds, Hamilton, no.18313, 6 May 1878. Daily Times (Hamilton), 1 March 1906. Hamilton Spectator, 17 Dec. 1851, 16 Jan. 1866, 1880–1900, 6 Jan. 1903, 1 March 1906, 20 Nov. 1915. Canadian Grocer (Toronto), 4, 18 April, 16 May 1890; 25 March 1892; 26 July 1895; 20 Nov. 1896; 9 Jan. 1903. Directory, Hamilton, 1856. Middleton and Landon, Prov. of Ont., 4: 488–89. Prominent men of Canada (Adam), 462–64.
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Cite This Article
Peter Hanlon, “FEARMAN, FREDERICK WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 5, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fearman_frederick_william_13E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Peter Hanlon|
|Title of Article:||FEARMAN, FREDERICK WILLIAM|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1994|
|Year of revision:||1994|
|Access Date:||June 5, 2023|