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JEFFERY, JOSEPH, cabinet-maker, businessman, and politician; b. 28 Sept. 1829 in Ipswich, England, son of Joseph Jeffery and Mary Ann Godbold; m. 27 Dec. 1853 Augusta Ann Haley, and they had four sons and four daughters; d. 28 May 1894 in London, Ont.

Joseph Jeffery was “very carefully educated in the private schools” in Ipswich before his family immigrated to Upper Canada in 1845. The Jefferys settled in Port Stanley but, the father not being “as successful in his business venture there as he had expected to be,” they had removed to London by early 1848. Having been a cabinet-maker for 20 years in England, Joseph Sr opened a furniture-manufacturing and furniture-importing shop, assisted by several sons including Joseph. This enterprise was apparently discontinued about 1857 and the elder Jeffery suffered further reverses in the depression of the late 1850s. In 1860 he “left the city an absconding debtor” to join at least two sons in Victoria (B.C.). Joseph Jr, however, was not one of them. He had lived for about a year in London Township, and then in 1858 he moved back to the city, where he worked for a while for the prominent cabinet-maker and upholsterer Henry Coombs.

Jeffery gradually shifted his interests away from cabinet-making. In 1864 he opened a private-loan office in William Y. Brunton’s auction rooms on Richmond Street and in March 1865 a money exchange near by, dealing “principally in American money, bonds, etc.” During Abraham Lincoln’s administration he was (according to a county history published in 1889) an American consular agent. With the oil boom of the early 1860s in Upper Canada’s western peninsula, Jeffery in 1866 was a stockholder in the newly formed City of London Oil Company.

When Molsons Bank opened a branch in London in the autumn of 1870, Jeffery accepted the position of manager. His “exceedingly intelligent and capable” wife reportedly carried on the foreign exchange business “for some years.” Jeffery was to serve as branch manager for Molsons Bank until his “manifold duties” compelled him to retire in 1887, though he remained a local director of the bank. In 1890 Maxwell D. Fraser, a local lawyer, suggested that Jeffery, as manager, had knowingly taken advantage of John Labatt*, proprietor of the London Brewery, by advising him to invest heavily in the North American Manufacturing Company of London and in “certain securities” from Molsons Bank. While this deal reportedly benefited the bank, Labatt stood to lose “at least $250,000” because the investments proved to be “practically worthless.” Jeffery was apparently exonerated, if in fact a formal complaint had been lodged by Labatt’s solicitor.

Jeffery’s experience in finance and as a land agent had led him in October 1870 to join with several other leading London citizens to form the Ontario Savings and Investment Society. (Later renamed the Ontario Loan and Debenture Company, it merged with Royal Trust in 1968.) This company, which by 1881 had established its headquarters in the Molsons Bank Building, made loans only for acquiring real estate and in 1889 was considered “one of the wealthiest loan companies in Canada.” Jeffery served as its president from 1878 until his death.

Federal regulation of the insurance industry, beginning in 1868, led several British and American firms to leave Canada rather than keep sufficient assets in the country to cover their liabilities. Among the Canadian companies formed to fill the void was the London Life Insurance Company, founded in the spring of 1874. Jeffery was one of its five provisional directors and one of the fifteen directors on its first board. His keen interest in London Life was evident, according to a company history, from his “almost unbroken record of attendance at Board and Executive meetings,” and he served as president from its inception until his death, except for about six weeks in 1887. Like Ontario Savings, the company was housed in the Molsons, Bank Building so that the three financial operations were brought into a close relationship that was intensified by Jeffery’s presence in each. During his presidency of London Life he visited branches in other cities and made at least two trips to Europe on the company’s behalf. To the staff at head office he exhibited an “unfailing, dominating note of optimism and good cheer.” A man of “patriarchal appearance, with a wide, full beard” in later years, he regularly called at the office “immaculately dressed in his frock coat and silk topper, and accompanied by his dog,” and he “inspired loyalty and the sincere regard of his staff.” He was later described as “a man of splendid business ability, broad-minded, aggressive and progressive.”

In November 1875, almost two years after the emergence of London Life, Jeffery was elected vice-president of the newly formed London Chamber of Commerce. In 1881, the last year of its existence, he was president. Although business and finance were almost his sole concerns, he did serve as alderman for Ward 2 in 1871, sitting on various committees – markets and free fairs, railways, and hospital and relief, of which he was chairman. The work of city council, however, “was not congenial to his taste,” according to an obituary, and he served but one additional term, in 1892. In 1888 he sat on the advisory board of the Protestant Home for Orphans, Aged and Friendless (now Merrymount Children’s Centre), his wife being a member of its standing committee. Mindful of his English heritage, he was a member of the St George’s Society. Unlike his father, who had been a deacon in the Regular Baptist Church in London, Jeffery played an inconspicuous role within that congregation.

While attending the Columbian exposition in Chicago in November 1893, Jeffery caught a severe cold that led to congestion and, ultimately, to heart trouble. The last months of his life were spent confined to his room at Evergreen Place, his home since the late 1860s. He died in May 1894, a wealthy man, leaving a $200 annuity to his sister in California, from $1,000 to $12,000 to each of his seven surviving children, and the remainder of his estate to his widow.

Jeffery’s children had been well educated and his sons maintained an active interest in his financial and business activities. Albert Oscar and James Edgar were lawyers and ultimately became presidents of London Life, as would three of Jeffery’s grandsons: brothers Joseph and Alexander Haley Jeffery and their cousin Robert Haley Reid. Both James Edgar and his brother Charles Llewellyn were directors of the Ontario Loan and Debenture Company, and the latter was also an accountant for Molsons Bank.

Daniel J. Brock

UWOL, Regional Coll., Middlesex County, Ont., Surrogate Court records, copy-book 14 (1893–95). London Advertiser, 28 May 1894. London Free Press, 28 May 1894. Michael Bliss, Northern enterprise: five centuries of Canadian business (Toronto, 1987). J. A. Campbell, The story of the London Life Insurance Company (1v. to date, [London], 1965–  ). Hist. of Middlesex. J. E. Middleton and Fred Landon, The province of Ontario: a history, 1615–1927 (5v., Toronto, [1927–28]), 3: 28.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Daniel J. Brock, “JEFFERY, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 22, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jeffery_joseph_12E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jeffery_joseph_12E.html
Author of Article:   Daniel J. Brock
Title of Article:   JEFFERY, JOSEPH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   February 22, 2024