KERRY, JOHN, druggist and wholesaler and manufacturer of pharmaceutical products; b. 1825 in London, son of William Kerry, a wine and spirits merchant, and Mary Margaret Smyth; m. Laura Gilson Parmenter of Lamarsh, England, in Montreal, and they had three sons and two daughters; d. there 30 June 1896.
John Kerry was 24 when he arrived in Montreal in 1849. He was coming from London, where he had completed his apprenticeship in pharmacy and learned the rudiments of business with Thos. Hodginson and Company. He quickly found employment in Montreal with John Carter and Company, importers located at the corner of Rue Saint-Paul and Rue Saint-Sulpice. For some years he lived in a room adjoining the store. The firm had specialized for four decades in pharmaceutical products, dyes, and oils. It was owned by John Carter, who had bought it from the founder, Joseph Bickett, and Kerry soon became his partner, forming Carter, Kerry and Company. He was able to give up bachelorhood around 1858, leave his lodgings to his younger brother Anthony, and establish a home and family at the foot of Mount Royal, like so many others of the Montreal bourgeoisie.
It was, however, particularly from the 1860s that Kerry began to be better known, as much through his business as through leadership within his profession. When Carter died around 1860, Kerry became the guiding spirit of the company; he then formed a partnership with Anthony and one Thomas Crathern, founding Kerry Brothers and Crathern. The new firm would represent more than a change of partners, for the old importing establishment underwent a veritable metamorphosis. At this time, as the first step, a large investment was made with the addition of mills and a laboratory for grinding and processing therapeutic substances. By 1870 the company had a fixed capital of $67,000 and was turning out almost one-third of the chemical and pharmaceutical wares produced in Montreal.
Twenty years later John Kerry, who by then was in partnership with his eldest son William Simons and a Scot, David Watson, had two production facilities in Canada, one on Rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a few steps from the offices of Kerry, Watson and Company, and the other, the London Drugs Company, in London, Ont. The three partners also owned a factory at Rouses Point, N.Y., that made a syrup from fir-gum. In the short span of a couple of decades what had been an importing firm had become a huge enterprise of national scope, dealing in merchandise largely produced in Canada. Kerry’s business was one of the biggest in its field in the country. By 1893 it included 2 of the 19 firms that were members of the Canadian Wholesale Druggists’ Association. A few years after Kerry’s death, Kerry, Watson and Company would merge with the leading Canadian names in pharmaceutical products to form the National Drug and Chemical Company of Canada Limited.
Professionally, Kerry was called upon in the spring of 1867 to chair the first two meetings of an association that would become significant as the Pharmaceutical Association of the Province of Quebec. But at the time that he took the floor to explain the purpose of these initial meetings, and for the next three years, during which he was president of the new organization, it was known as the Montreal Chemists’ Association. Its primary function was to defend the corporate interests of Montreal pharmacists; these interests had been in jeopardy since 1864, when the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Province of Quebec was given statutory authority to set the standards for a licence in pharmacy and to refuse the right to practise to anyone not obtaining such a licence.
One of the association’s most remarkable accomplishments under Kerry’s presidency was the promotion by 1868 of courses running parallel to university programs but specially adapted to the needs of pharmacy students. Thus was born the Montreal College of Pharmacy, which had to hold its ground without legal status for some years because of strong opposition in university circles. Kerry, who was one of the people behind the dissident school, lent his financial support in the most difficult years and became president soon after it was chartered in 1879. He also served for several years as treasurer of the Pharmaceutical Association of the Province of Quebec (incorporated in 1870) during the critical period that saw promulgation of the druggists’ “Magna Charta,” the Quebec Pharmacy Act, which came into effect in February 1875.
The prestigious Montreal Board of Trade recognized Kerry’s great business acumen, since for 12 years it entrusted him with the office of treasurer. Appointed vice-president in 1880, Kerry became president in 1884–85, at a time when cartels, or mergers, of the large firms were under lively discussion. In his latter years Kerry enjoyed the privilege of sitting on its arbitration board.
John Kerry was not one of the élite of the nation who can easily be traced in historical works, but he was no mere entrepreneur. In economic, professional, and social spheres he had attained positions that gave him an influence with the dominant group in Quebec society. His career also provides a starting-point for analysis of the sometimes antagonistic social and economic relations between the medical élite, which set standards for the teaching and practice of medicine and acted as the voice of the medical profession, and the fraction of the capitalist class of entrepreneurs in chemical and pharmaceutical products that spoke for the pharmaceutical profession.
[In 1984 Miss Esther W. Kerry, granddaughter of John Kerry, kindly consented to be interviewed by the author. She confirmed certain details about his career and provided some very informative personal notes. j.f.]
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