RIORDON (Riordan), JOHN, paper manufacturer and newspaper publisher; b. probably in 1834 in Limerick (Republic of Ireland), son of Dr Jeremiah Riordon and Amelia Ames; d. 21 Sept. 1884 at St Leonards (East Sussex), England.
John Riordon came to Canada West with his family in 1849 or 1850. After a somewhat chequered career as a dry goods merchant in Brantford and later in St Louis, Mo., he decided in 1862 that paper manufacturing was a more lucrative pursuit, and so began construction of a paper-mill near St Catharines on the east side of the old Welland Canal. Shortly after it began operation on 30 July 1863 Riordon asked his younger brother Charles*, who had settled in Rochester, N.Y., with the rest of the family, to take over the task of running the mill. Over the next ten years, the two men, Charles managing and John selling, built the fledgling enterprise into one of the largest papermaking establishments in the country.
Luck no doubt played a part in John Riordon’s success, but he demonstrated an ability to exploit existing opportunities, the mark of the successful 19th-century entrepreneur. The location of his establishment was good. The old Welland Canal supplied the mill with water, a cheap source of power (a mere $400 a year in 1863), augmented later by extra leases of surplus water from the Canadian government. Better yet, Riordon was alert to the commercial significance of the technological innovations revolutionizing the industry. In 1866 Charles went to England to purchase the latest machinery (including a Fourdrinier) for a new mill at Merritton (now part of St Catharines) which was soon producing paper from rags and straw. Two years later the mill began to use wood pulp for its newsprint production, and in 1875 John ordered wood-grinding machinery for a new pulp-mill and a second Fourdrinier for a new paper-mill. This modernization made the Riordon Paper Mills a Canadian pioneer in the mass production of cheap paper. Equally important, John proved a superb salesman. Initially the company had specialized in wrapping paper, but he soon supplied a wider and wider range of customers with a variety of papers, including the choice grades. The staple of the company became newsprint (sold at one point for under seven cents a pound) for which the rapidly growing dailies of the new dominion were ever hungry. As early as 1869 John Riordon was the chief supplier of newsprint to the Toronto Globe, then the most widely circulated daily in Canada. After the mid 1870s he shipped paper to newspapers as far afield as Montreal, Quebec City, Saint John, N.B., and Halifax. Riordon’s wealth, in fact, was a by-product of the rise of the mass newspaper after confederation.
Riordon’s success in the newsprint trade involved him directly in the newspaper business. After the Globe his other great customer was the Toronto Mail, a daily launched in 1872 as standard-bearer of the Conservative party in Ontario. However, the Mail’s vigorous challenge to the Globe’s hegemony proved too expensive during the depression of the mid 1870s, and by 1877 the paper could no longer pay its bills, including $26,000 owing to the Riordon Paper Mills. As the largest creditor and a good Conservative, Riordon (likely with some associates) took over the ownership of the newspaper in lieu of payment, satisfied the other creditors, and set about revitalizing this essential party organ. At the same time he helped to save another languishing Conservative newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, by purchasing a small number of shares when the paper was reorganized by William Carey and William Southam*. Newspaper publishing had now entered Riordon’s blood. Hector Willoughby Charlesworth*, the gossip of the press scene in Toronto, later claimed Riordon had wished to emulate “the famous New York publishers of forty years ago” who had become the first masters of a cheap, popular, and supposedly influential daily press. Although Riordon did not change the tone or character of the Mail, he did sponsor in 1881 the Toronto Evening News, a one-cent daily which under the editorship of Edmund Ernest Sheppard* used much local news and various sensational stunts to capture a working-class audience. Publisher of the Mail and owner of the News, the first a leader in the ranks of the party press that still dominated Canadian journalism and the latter a lusty entry in the ranks of the “people’s press” that was popularizing this form of journalism, Riordon might seem to have realized his ambition.
Riordon began a campaign for a seat in the Senate in early 1879 to complement his other achievements. Though his stature as a wealthy entrepreneur, a good Conservative, and the Mail’s publisher might have seemed sufficient to justify the honour, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald* refused to heed Riordon’s repeated entreaties. Further pressure might have persuaded Macdonald but in 1882 Riordon was incapacitated by a head injury as a result of a fall from a horse. In the autumn of that year he retired from active business, transferring control of his mills and newspapers to his brother Charles. He then travelled overseas with his wife and son John to the Near East and Europe in search of rest and enjoyment. Unfortunately in May 1883, while in Venice, his condition worsened unexpectedly. Riordon was moved to St Leonards where he stayed until his death a year later.
Riordon’s estate was valued at roughly one million dollars, proof of his business acumen. He was a self-made millionaire in the two highly competitive pursuits of paper-making and newspaper publishing. Little wonder that the Monetary Times thought “his life presents an example of industry which young men would do well to copy.”
[The best source of information on John Riordon, especially on his career as a paper manufacturer, is George Carruthers, Paper-making (Toronto, 1947), 483–511. Another account, largely dependent upon Carruthers, is J. A. Blyth, “The development of the paper industry in old Ontario, 1824–1867,” OH, 62 (1970), especially 131–32. See also the obituaries in the Toronto Daily Mail, 22 Sept. 1884; the Daily News (St Catharines, Ont.), 22 Sept. 1884; and the Monetary Times, 26 Sept. 1884. The Thorold Post and Niagara District Intelligencer (Thorold, Ont.), 14 Nov. 1884, contains an account of Riordon’s estate and will. There is some assorted information in the John A. Macdonald papers, MG 26, A, at the PAC, on Riordon’s desire for a Senate seat and his sudden illness in Venice. H. [W.] Charlesworth’s comments on Riordon appear in Candid chronicles; leaves from the note book of a Canadian journalist (Toronto, 1925), 75. p.r.]