MATHER, JOHN B., businessman and politician; b. c. 1845 in Etobicoke Township, Upper Canada, the sixth of eight children of William Mather, a farmer, and Margaret ––; d. unmarried 31 Jan. 1892 in Winnipeg, Man.
John B . Mather was the son of Scottish immigrants. When he was in his mid 20s he became an employee of Frank Smith*, an important Toronto grocer. Mather moved to Winnipeg in 1881, at a time when eastern Canadian merchants and manufacturers were beginning to make inroads into prairie markets, which until late in the 1870s had been dominated by businessmen from St Paul, Minn., and by the Hudson’s Bay Company. He became one of the most prosperous of the Winnipeg wholesalers who dealt primarily in items produced in the east; his most important suppliers were Hiram Walker and Sons [see Hiram Walker] and the Halifax Sugar Refining Company. His substantial fortune, estimated at the time of his death to be $50–75,000, was based, as many early Winnipeg fortunes were, on capable merchandising and wise investments in real estate.
Once established in western Canada’s major city, Mather was in many respects a typical successful businessman. He gave generously to a large number of charities and was involved in the establishment or maintenance of a host of business, social, and cultural organizations and activities. He was a member of the St Andrew’s Society, the board of the Commercial Travellers’ Association of Canada, and the Winnipeg Board of Trade. He was an especially active and influential member of the board of directors of the Winnipeg Industrial Exhibition Association, which arranged its first exhibition in 1891. Although he does not seem to have been an athlete, at one time or another in the late 1880s and early 1890s he was an officer of three of the most prestigious athletic organizations in the west, the Granite Curling Club, the Winnipeg Rowing Club, and the Winnipeg Cricket Club. He was also the first president of the Manitoba branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, later the Manitoba Curling Association, which was both the umbrella organization for western Canadian curlers and the sponsor of the Winnipeg bonspiel. First held in 1889, the bonspiel quickly became the largest and most important annual curling festival in the world.
Mather was typical of successful Winnipeg businessmen in still another way: he was keenly interested in politics, especially civic politics. In 1890–91 he served on the Winnipeg City Council. As an alderman, he was particularly outspoken in criticizing proposals that the city adopt the single tax, and he evidently made an impression sufficiently positive to have some people regard him as a likely candidate for mayor. In provincial and federal politics he was a Conservative. During the federal election of 1891 he was one of the small group of tory organizers who, in spite of many difficulties, managed to get Hugh John Macdonald*, son of Sir John A. Macdonald, elected for Winnipeg.
In late 1891 Mather became ill, and he died early the following year, at the age of 46, of complications associated with typhoid fever. A funeral service conducted by a Presbyterian and a Congregational clergyman took place at his home in Winnipeg, but he was buried in Toronto, where his mother, three sisters, and a brother resided. He was remembered in Winnipeg as a solid businessman and citizen who had died too early to realize the promise he had shown.
NA, RG 31, C1, 1851, Etobicoke. Royal Caledonian Curling Club of Scotland, Manitoba Branch, Annual (Winnipeg), 1889–93. Daily Free Press (Winnipeg), 1886–91; 1 Feb. 1892. Globe, 1 Feb. 1892. Winnipeg Daily Tribune, 1, 3 Feb. 1892. Pioneers of Man. (Morley et al.). Toronto directory, 1871–72. Winnipeg directory, 1881–92. A. F. J. Artibise, Winnipeg: a social history of urban growth, 1874–1914 (Montreal and London, 1975). Donald Kerr, “Wholesale trade on the Canadian plains in the late nineteenth century: Winnipeg and its competition,” The settlement of the west, ed. Howard Palmer (Calgary, 1977), 130–52. Gerald Friesen, “Imports and exports in the Manitoba economy, 1870–1890,” Manitoba Hist. (Winnipeg), no.16 (autumn 1988): 31–41.