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DÉGRÈS, IRÈNE-MATHILDE, named Saint-Paul – Volume XV (1921-1930)

d. 27 Sept. 1921 in Limoilou ward, Quebec City


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MACPHERSON, DAVID MURDOCH, farmer, manufacturer, and politician; b. 17 Nov. 1847 in Lancaster Township, Upper Canada, son of John McPherson and Catherine Cameron; m. 17 Jan. 1871 Margaret McBean, and they had five daughters and two sons; d. 4 Feb. 1915 in Montreal.

David Murdoch Macpherson or, as he was commonly known, D. M. was born on his father’s farm in Glengarry County. He attended local schools and helped on the farm, which was near Bainsville. His work included managing the production of milk and cheese with his father’s second wife, Phoebe Marjerison, who was from a family with experience in that business. In 1869, upon the death of his father, D. M. inherited the farm. At first he pursued the traditional mixed farming of the period, but after a year he found that his expenses surpassed his receipts so he decided to enter the cheese business. He purchased a vat, set up a factory on his farm adjacent to the Grand Trunk Railway, and, using the milk from his own cattle, began to produce Cheddar cheese under the farm name of Allan Grove. Several neighbours joined him in this undertaking. He was operating 4 cheese factories by 1874, 13 by 1881, and over 70 by 1889 in Glengarry, Huntingdon and Châteauguay counties in Quebec, and upper New York State. Macpherson had thus become “the largest cheese manufacturer on the continent.

The key to Macpherson’s success was his application of a new management theory, combination, to cheese factories. Until the 1870s cheese had been made in Ontario in small, seasonally operated factories. The quality and amount produced in each varied dramatically from week to week and even from batch to batch. Factories were owned privately or were joint-stock companies in which the farmers supplying the milk held shares and divided the dividends. Macpherson united a number of these small companies under one manager. The advantages of this system were numerous. The combination employed only one salesman, who had access to a large amount of cheese of the same quality and age and who could therefore fill export or special orders. Supplies could be purchased in bulk at wholesale rates. The revenue saved made it possible to hire a full-time, experienced cheese maker who could ensure consistent quality. In addition, Macpherson restricted the delivery of milk to the mornings, so that only one batch of cheese was made each day; previously, milk had been delivered in both the morning and the afternoon, a practice that necessitated two shifts of cheese makers. D. M.’s insistence that each factory adopt a scientific schedule of production, with specific times for salting and curing, helped transform the manufacture of cheese from an imprecise art to a science. He detailed his successful approach to the industry in the 1881 report of the Ontario agricultural commission [see John McMillan*]. The commissioners urged all dairy farmers and cheese-factory managers “to read every word” of his testimony.

Macpherson’s Allan Grove combination was the largest in the dominion from 1874 on and at one time controlled one-eighth of the production of all cheese in Canada. Cheese, most of it Cheddar, was by far the country’s most important agricultural export; from 1874 to 1894 cheese exports increased almost six and a half times, and they totalled nearly $20 million in value by 1900. Macpherson had an office in Montreal to handle exports to Britain and seems to have had a flair for marketing as well as producing cheese. Allan Grove produced over 100 large cheeses between 1886 and 1895 for display in British store windows. Weighing more than halt a ton each, these cheeses were striking advertisements. Macpherson’s combination failed in 1903, the last of the combinations to do so. Lack of contact with the farmer and the fact that the system encouraged the proliferation of small factories are the reasons usually cited for the demise of this type of cheese-factory organization.

While the Allan Grove combination was in operation, Macpherson turned his creative mind to other, allied pursuits. He invented a number of mechanical devices for use in the cheese industry, including a milk cooler, a curd stirrer, and a curd rake. The last implement proved to be the most useful and it was still in use in the 1930s. Macpherson’s acumen was also evident in his attempt at vertical integration. In 1882, to augment the sawmill in Alexandria that he and a Mr Merill had acquired, a cheese-box factory was opened. Merill was bought out by Jacob Thomas Schell in 1883 and for the next 22 years Schell and Macpherson operated a successful lumber business. In addition to producing cheese boxes and cheesebox sets, for assembly at the factory, they sold butter boxes, sashes, veneer, and lumber, and offered to erect and equip sawmills and creameries. Despite the demands of his cheese and mill businesses, D. M. did not ignore his own agricultural interests. In 1889, having rented out his farm for over 10 years, he resumed control and built it into a model farm, a “Mecce for agricultu[ral]ists from all over Quebec and Ontario” in the estimate of the Cornwall Freeholder. Emphasizing soil fertility, crop rotation, and stock raising, he ably demonstrated how to make farming pay.

Macpherson’s reputation in the agricultural community undoubtedly was a factor in his electoral success in 1894. Running as a candidate of the Patrons of Industry [see George Weston Wrigley*] and hailed as a “representative farmer,” he was elected to represent Glengarry in the provincial legislature. Subsequent campaigns, in 1898 as an independent and in 1902 as a Liberal, were unsuccessful.

Macpherson worked hard to promote cheese making in Ontario and Quebec. In 1882 he helped form the Industrial Dairy Society of the Province of Quebec and in the 1880s he was dairy editor of the Canadian Live-Stock Journal. A member of the Dairymen’s Association of Eastern Ontario for many years and its president in 1887, he was a founding member and first president in 1890–91 of the Dairymen’s Association of the Dominion of Canada. In addition, he oversaw the Ontario government’s exhibit promoting Canadian cheese at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London, England, in 1886 and was president of the Dominion Cold Storage Company in 1895.

A lifelong resident of Lancaster and a Presbyterian, Macpherson was a member and an elder of Knox Church in the village of Lancaster. The “Cheese King” of Canada, as he was known, died in Montreal General Hospital in 1915 and was buried in the cemetery of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in South Lancaster.

S. Lynn Campbell and Susan L. Bennett

The farm periodical for which Macpherson was dairy editor from July 1884 until sometime in 1887 began publication in 1883 as the Canadian Stock-Raisers’ Journal (Hamilton, Ont.), and continued under the titles Canadian Live-Stock Journal from 1885 to November 1886 and Canadian Live-Stock and Farm Journal from December 1886.

AO, F 977, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (South Lancaster, Ont.), no.194 (mfm.). NA, RG 31, C1, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, Lancaster Township, Ont. Canada Farmers’ Sun (London, Ont.; Toronto), 1893–29 July 1896, continued as Weekly Sun (Toronto), 2 Aug. 1896–1898. Farmer’s Advocate and Home Magazine, 1875–1905. Freeholder (Cornwall, Ont.), 4, 11 Feb. 1915. Canadian Live-Stock Journal, 2 (1885): 127. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Canadian Stock-Raisers’ Journal, 1 (1883–84), nos.9–10. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.1. The dairy industry in Canada, ed. H. A. Innis (Toronto, 1937). Farming (Toronto), 15 (1897–98), no.4. J. G. Harkness, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry; a history, (Oshawa, Ont., 1946). Royce MacGillivray and Ewan Ross, A history of Glengarry (Belleville, Ont., 1979). Ont., Dept. of Agriculture, Annual 1784–1945 report (Toronto), 1874–1915, including reports of the Dairymen’s Assoc. of Eastern Ontario, 1886–1915. [The association was established in 1877, but no reports were published until 1886.] Ontario agricultural commission, Report of the commissioners (4v., Toronto, 1881), 3, app.J. Ewan Ross, Lancaster village and township (n.p., 1980; copy in Inverarden Regency Cottage Museum, Cornwall). J. A. Ruddick, “An historical and descriptive account of the dairying industry of Canada,” Can., Dept. of Agriculture, Dairy and cold storage commissioner’s branch, Bull., no.28 (1911). Souvenir of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry commemorating old boys’ reunion at Cornwall, Ontario, August 11–15, 1906 ([Cornwall, 1906]).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

S. Lynn Campbell and Susan L. Bennett, “MACPHERSON, DAVID MURDOCH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/macpherson_david_murdoch_14E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/macpherson_david_murdoch_14E.html
Author of Article:   S. Lynn Campbell and Susan L. Bennett
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   September 27, 2023