GURNEY, EDWARD, iron-founder; b. in 1817 in Steuben Township, Oneida County, N.Y., son of Byrem Gurney; m. Nancy, and they had one son and one daughter; d. 21 Nov. 1884 in Hamilton, Ont.
When Edward Gurney was a young man his family moved to Utica, N.Y., where he and his brother Charles learned the iron-moulding trade. In December 1842 the family immigrated to Hamilton, Canada West. The next year Edward and Charles, each supplying $1,400 capital, began a stove manufacturing business. Initially, employing only one man and one boy, the company produced two stoves per day. In the early years sales were excellent, but payments were slow and there is a legend that on one occasion the firm was saved financially by John Fisher, who with Calvin McQuesten operated a threshing machine factory in Hamilton. The Gurney brothers’ business prospered, however, and in 1847 Edward and Charles formed a partnership with Alexander Carpenter, a Hamilton businessman who held a patent on a new cooking stove design. Originally established as Carpenter, Gurney and Company, the firm soon became Gurneys and Carpenter and expanded into the production of a wide variety of iron products. By 1856 it was estimated that the worth of the firm was approximately $200,000. In 1859 the partners took a patent on the new Protectionist stove and the next year built a larger foundry. In 1861 Carpenter retired; the new firm, E. and C. Gurney and Company, continued to grow and soon employed some 100 men and produced a greatly increased variety of products. By the early 1870s the estimated capital of the company was between $750,000 and $1,000,000. In 1875 the factory was enlarged to cover almost a city block.
Success led to the opening of branches. In 1868 the Gurneys had purchased John McGee’s Phoenix Foundry in Toronto and made Edward Gurney Jr manager. The Toronto operation prospered and by 1875, carrying lines similar to those of the Hamilton factory, had equalled the business of the parent plant. Branches were also opened in Montreal and Winnipeg. This expansion allowed the ageing Gurney brothers to bring Charles’s son George into the business, as well as a nephew, John H. Tilden. In August 1883 the partnership was incorporated as E. and C. Gurney Company (Limited), with a capitalization of $300,000 and Edward as president.
Edward Gurney was also involved in numerous other enterprises. In 1856 Elijah W. Ware had established a scale factory in Hamilton and the Gurneys were soon associated with him, forming Gurney, Ware and Company. A decade later the Provincial Scale Works, their trade name, had annual sales of $20,000 and employed 15 men; ten years after that its value exceeded $250,000. Ware was later bought out by the Gurney family and the business continued in operation until the 1960s. The Gurneys were also owners of the Gurney Manufacturing Company in Dundas, Ont., which made agricultural implements. Edward was a director of many concerns including the Canada Screw Company, the Landed Banking and Loan Company, the Ontario Cotton Mills, and the Hamilton and North Western Railway Company. He was also a vice-president of the Hamilton and Lake Erie Railway Company. In 1872 he helped establish the Bank of Hamilton and remained a director for the rest of his life.
Edward never sought political office: “He had too much business to attend to.” He did, however, sit on the council of the Hamilton Board of Trade and was a strong proponent of tariff protection long before Sir John A. Macdonald*’s National Policy of 1878. Edward was a member of the Centenary Methodist Church and sat on the board of directors of the Wesleyan Female College at Hamilton.
When Gurney arrived in Hamilton the population was under 3,500 and when he died it exceeded 35,000; correspondingly the increase in his wealth had greatly exceeded the growth of his adopted city. At his funeral 500 to 600 of his employees followed the coffin, and his estate, not including real estate, was valued at $456,500. Descriptions of Edward invariably include the same adjectives; keen, shrewd, and careful. An obituary in the Hamilton Spectator stated: “His life was essentially a business life; it knew no such word as rest.”
Baker Library, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Can., 25: 101, 238, 240, 267. HPL, Scrapbooks and clipping files. MTL, Biog. scrapbooks, I: 468, 483. Wentworth County Surrogate Court (Hamilton, Ont.), will, codicil, and inventory of Edward Gurney, 9 Sept., 28 Oct. 1884; 21 Dec. 1885. Dundas True Banner (Dundas, Ont.), 27 Nov. 1884. Hamilton Spectator, 22, 25 Nov. 1884; August 1889 (summer carnival ed.). Dominion annual register, 1884: 226–27. The mercantile agency reference book for the British provinces . . . (Montreal and Toronto), I (1864): 136. Hamilton city sketches, ed. T M. Thomson ([Hamilton, 1954]), 47–48. Hamilton, the Birmingham of Canada (Hamilton, 1892). Marcel Moussette, “Répertoire des fabricants d’appareils de chauffage du Québec (1760–1867),” Can., Direction des parts et des lieux hist. nationaux, Travail inédit numéro 125 (Ottawa, 1972), 41–42. V. Ross and Trigge, Hist. of Canadian Bank of Commerce, III: 66, 88, 152, 351.