FRASER, SIMON A., engineer and industrialist; b. October 1857 in New Glasgow, N.S., second of the four sons of Thomas Fraser and Isabella MacKay; m. 27 Dec. 1882 Emma A. Rogers (d. 1889) of River John, N.S., and they had two children; m. secondly Marion Ross of Margaree, N.S., and they had two children; d. 22 Nov. 1901 in New Glasgow.
The son of a prominent shipbuilder in James William Carmichael’s New Glasgow yard, Simon Fraser was a younger brother of Graham*, one of the founders of the steel industry in Nova Scotia. It was the practice in this industry to give potential leaders experience of operations by having them perform subsidiary roles early in their careers, and Simon followed this pattern, beginning in the late 1870s by making ships’ knees for Graham’s Nova Scotia Forge Company. He later became chief axle maker, holding this position until 1889. He was then appointed superintendent of the forge department of the Nova Scotia Steel and Forge Company, and in 1895 he assumed the same position at the Nova Scotia Steel Company, both companies in which his brother was prominent. These two firms were perhaps best known for their forged steel, and Simon laid the basis for their supremacy. The task of producing forged steel was more complex than that of making ordinary steel, requiring close supervision and technical expertise. Until the 1890s helvehammers, which made use of gravity and fulcrums and depended entirely on human skill in manipulating the steel being pounded, were employed in producing forged steel, and Simon had no equal as a hammerman. His influence seems to have extended beyond the shop floor, since it was apparently he who persuaded his brother to appoint as a sales agent Thomas Cantley*, later a significant figure in the Nova Scotia steel industry.
Simon’s positions showed that he was being groomed for a more important appointment, and when the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company Limited was formed in 1901 he became general works manager, taking charge of the plant at Trenton and the mines at Sydney Mines and Wabana, Nfld. By then he was known as a superior forge master and “Nova Scotia’s greatest metallurgical engineer.” His death that year, apparently as a result of overwork, was a severe blow to Graham, who had placed great confidence in him and had planned to make him his successor as manager. Graham’s resignation from Nova Scotia Steel and Coal in 1903 may have been caused in part by his inability to reconcile himself to his brother’s death.
A staunch Presbyterian and elder of James Church in New Glasgow, Fraser was a founder, first vice-president, and a trustee of the Aberdeen Hospital, served as fire chief, and between 1892 and 1894 was councillor for Ward 2. On seven occasions he was asked to become mayor but he declined each time. The measure of the respect he commanded in New Glasgow was demonstrated by his funeral, which was the largest the town had seen. Five hundred steelworkers preceded the hearse and the bells of the Roman Catholic church tolled, only the second time they had done so for a Protestant.
PANS, MG 1, 2155; MG 4, James Presbyterian Church (New Glasgow, N.S.), reg. of marriages (mfm.). Eastern Chronicle, 28 Nov. 1901. Halifax Herald, 10 Dec. 1902. Pictou Advocate (Pictou, N.S.), 29 Nov. 1901. J. M. Cameron, Ships and seamen of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia (New Glasgow, 1959). K. E. Inwood, “Local control, resources and the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company,” CHA Hist. papers, 1986: 254–82. L. D. McCann, “The mercantile-industrial transition in the metals towns of Pictou County, 1857–1931,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 10 (1980–81), no.2: 29–64. L. [D.] McCann and Jill Burnett, “Social mobility and the ironmasters of late nineteenth century New Glasgow,” People and place: studies of small town life in the Maritimes, ed. L. [D.] McCann (Fredericton and Sackville, N.B., 1987), 59–77. L. A. Sandberg, “Dependent development, labour and the Trenton Steel Works, Nova Scotia, c. 1900–1943,” Labour, 27 (1991): 127–62.