RIORDON (Riordan), CHARLES ALFRED, businessman, newspaper publisher, and construction contractor; b. 28 Nov. 1847 in County Kerry (Republic of Ireland), seventh of the eight children of Jeremiah Riordan and Amelia Ames; m. 7 Jan. 1873 Edith Susan Ellis in Toronto, and they had one son and three daughters; d. 17 Aug. 1931 in Montreal.
Charles Alfred Riordon was one of the pioneers in the development of Canada’s modern pulp and paper industry. He was born either in Limerick or in the nearby coastal town of Ballybunion (Republic of Ireland); his father was an Irish doctor who served from 1807 to 1821 in the British navy, and his mother was English. When Charles was three or four years old the family emigrated and settled in Weston (Toronto). Roughly seven years later most of them moved to Rochester, N.Y., where Charles attended school. In 1863 his elder brother John* summoned him to St Catharines, Upper Canada, to work at the wrapping-paper mill he had established on the Welland Canal. For the rest of Charles’s life, family and pulp and paper production would be inextricably woven together.
Charles began managing the business side of the mill at age 16 and thereafter devoted his career to improving and expanding operations. At age 18 he travelled to England to purchase machinery for a newsprint mill that the brothers had built at Merritton (St Catharines). In 1877 they took over the financially troubled Toronto Mail in lieu of debt payments (Riordon Paper Mills was the newspaper’s largest creditor), an acquisition that reflected the contemporary business trend towards vertical integration. In 1881 they launched the Toronto Evening News. Two years later they sold it to Edmund Ernest Sheppard*, the recently appointed editor-in-chief. When John became incapacitated after a head injury in 1882, Charles assumed control of the mill as well as the Mail Printing Company. Working with Christopher William Bunting*, in 1895 he would buy the Toronto Empire and merge it with the Mail. (He would retain ownership until 1927, when the Daily Mail and Empire was sold to Montreal financier Izaak Walton Killam*.)
It was during his early working years that Riordon cemented his political connections. Although he was a lifelong Conservative, he cultivated a fruitful friendship with the provincial Liberals. Their primary organ, the Globe founded by George Brown*, bought its newsprint from Riordon Paper Mills. Around the turn of the 20th century in Ontario the Grit governments of Arthur Sturgis Hardy* and George William Ross* awarded the firm contracts to provide them with printing paper – without tender and despite protests in the Legislative Assembly.
Like many other entrepreneurs, the Riordons saw the benefits of cooperating instead of competing with their rivals. Starting in 1878 they and other manufacturers participated in a series of formal price-fixing arrangements for newsprint and various grades of wrapping paper. They also established the Toronto Paper Manufacturing Company Limited with John Roaf Barber*, setting up a mill in Cornwall. Barber was president, and Charles assumed the vice-presidency after his brother’s death in 1884. His son, Charles Christopher (Carl), would eventually follow him into the family enterprise and likewise work to protect the interests of domestic producers; he was named founding president of the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association in 1913.
Riordon also adapted to strengthen his business. He travelled to Germany and Austria in 1886 to research the new Ritter-Kellner process for making sulphite pulp from wood instead of rags. He and Barber were part of the clique that obtained the Canadian letters patent to the process; in 1889 Riordon converted his flagship Merritton mill, and the innovation soon became – and would remain – the norm for the Canadian industry.
By this time he had recognized that the industry’s future in eastern North America lay in tapping Canada’s vast forests and shipping either spruce logs or groundwood pulp to American paper makers. Consequently, in 1891 he teamed up with a number of mill owners based in the United States to form the Atlantic and St Lawrence Pulp and Paper Company with the intention of acquiring timber limits in Ontario and selling the pulpwood and wood pulp to his American cohorts. During the 1890s he greatly expanded his operations in Merritton and constructed a sulphite mill at Hawkesbury on the Ottawa River that could process up to 90 tons per day. The latter enterprise, enormous for the time, was integrated with a sawmill across the river in Calumet (Grenville-sur-la-Rouge), Que.
Riordon’s realm of activities extended beyond paper making and timber harvesting. He was a director of the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company for nearly 50 years and a railway contractor in New Brunswick and the Gaspé region of Quebec. An avid reader of philosophy and literature, he demonstrated his long-standing interest in education by helping to found Bishop Ridley College in St Catharines in 1889.
Although Riordon had created what was one of the country’s largest forest companies, his empire would come crashing down owing to Byzantine financial manoeuvrings in the pulp and paper industry. In 1909 he merged Riordon Paper Mills with George Halsey Perley’s company, which operated mainly in the Laurentian region of Quebec, and changed the name to Riordon Paper Company Limited. In 1917 he acquired the Ticonderoga Pulp and Paper Company in New York State. That same year he expanded and upgraded existing mills at Kipawa, Que., and nearby on the Ottawa River; at the site of the latter he established the company town of Témiscaming (also spelled Témiskaming). By 1919 what was now the Riordon Pulp and Paper Company was among North America’s leading sulphite pulp suppliers and a major producer of both hardwood and softwood lumber; it was also experimenting with reforesting its lands. Then, in May 1920, Riordon took the fateful step of buying two large lumber interests, Gilmour and Hughson Limited and W. C. Edwards and Company Limited, in a highly leveraged deal engineered by Killam. Riordon was appointed president of the new Riordon Company Limited, which controlled roughly 12,000 square miles of woodlands (largely in Quebec) and over 150,000 horsepower of developed and undeveloped water supply. Although he now headed an industrial colossus that loomed large in the Ottawa and Gatineau river valleys, he had taken on major debt – critics agreed that it was unnecessarily high – to finance the transaction at the peak of market activity. Pulp makers endured a precipitous decline in their fortunes during 1920–21, after the post-war demand for newsprint resulted in a surge of pulp being offered on the open market; this drove prices down, and Riordon’s firm went into receivership. By then he had passed the reins of the enterprise to his son, who had begun acting as de facto leader, and he and his wife sold their home in St Catharines and moved to Montreal in 1921.
Thereafter Charles Riordon and the company over which he had presided came to represent a few of the darker trends that marked Canadian politics and business after World War I. During the federal election campaign late that year, the story broke that in 1916 Sir Robert Laird Borden’s Conservative government had permitted Riordon’s company to defer paying income tax with promissory notes until 1922 – a sum of approximately $800,000. Yet the business had been giving out generous dividends, and Riordon’s Daily Mail and Empire had been exhorting readers to sacrifice for the war effort. Both the prime minister, Arthur Meighen*, and the finance minister, Sir Henry Lumley Drayton*, were compelled to defend their handling of the issue. Over the course of 1924–25 the firm emerged from receivership and fell into the hands of the Canadian newsprint industry’s greatest nemesis, the American behemoth International Paper Company. By the time of Charles Riordon’s death in 1931 his surname, which had been practically synonymous with converting trees into pulp and paper for over 50 years, had all but disappeared from Canada’s industrial landscape.
In many ways Charles Riordon personified the robust spirit of entrepreneurialism that defined Canadian businessmen around the turn of the 20th century. This was particularly evident in his penchant for combining a strong commitment to monopoly capitalism with at least a smattering of philanthropy. His willingness to lead the way in adopting the latest technology in his industry cemented for him a legacy as one of the founders of Canada’s modern pulp and paper industry.
Charles Alfred Riordon’s marriage registration (AO, RG 80-5-0-40, no.13739) gives the surname “Riordan” for the groom and his parents, and this spelling appears in newspapers until the early 1900s. However, the 1871 census (LAC, R233-34-0, Ont., dist. Lincoln (21), subdist. St Catharines (B):91) gives “Riordon” for both Charles and his brother John, and by the 1920s “Riordon” is used consistently in primary and secondary sources. It is not known why or exactly when the change was made. The marriage registration also states that Charles was born in Limerick, County Kerry (Republic of Ireland), but secondary sources, including the Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell), vol.1, and newspaper obituaries, give Ballybunion, a coastal town west of Limerick.
Globe, 9 Nov. 1895; 10 May 1897; 29 March 1899; 5 June 1901; 19 Jan., 2 March 1904; 13 July 1911; 5 Aug., 25 Nov. 1916; 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 25, 30 Nov., 1, 3, 5 Dec. 1921; 6 Jan. 1922; 28 May, 28 June 1923; 30 Dec. 1924; 6 March 1925; 18 Aug. 1931. Michael Bliss, Northern enterprise: five centuries of Canadian business (Toronto, 1987). Canadian annual rev., 1920–21, 1923. George Carruthers, Paper-making (Toronto, 1947). Douglas Fetherling, The rise of the Canadian newspaper (Toronto, 1990). Pulp and Paper Magazine of Canada (Gardenvale, Que.), 15 (1917): 54–55; 18 (1920): 595; International number : 53. Paul Rutherford, A Victorian authority: the daily press in late nineteenth-century Canada (Toronto, 1982).
© 2017–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Mark Kuhlberg, “RIORDON, CHARLES ALFRED (Riordan),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 26, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/riordon_charles_alfred_16E.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:
|Author of Article:||Mark Kuhlberg|
|Title of Article:||RIORDON, CHARLES ALFRED (Riordan)|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2017|
|Year of revision:||2017|
|Access Date:||March 26, 2023|