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TAYLOR, JOHN, paper manufacturer; b. at Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, Eng., 1 May 1809, son of John Taylor and Margaret Hawthorne; d. at Toronto, Ont., 13 May 1871.

John Taylor Sr, a Methodist, left Uttoxeter in 1821 to settle in Cherry Valley near Albany, New York, and in 1825 or 1826 came to Vaughan Township in Upper Canada. With his family he pioneered there for about nine years before beginning with his brother James to clear several lots near the forks of the Don River. The pines in this neighbourhood, according to Henry Scadding*, who accounted the Taylors “substantial and enterprising immigrants,” were of “a remarkably fine growth”; one white pine is said to have produced some 5,000 board feet and to have been hollow for 12 feet up from the ground. These splendid trees encouraged the Taylors to build a sawmill near their house, and the west branch of the Don was dammed just above the forks to produce the water power.

In 1844, as communications with Toronto began to be improved, it is said that George Brown, inaugurating the Globe, persuaded John Jr to start a paper-mill at the same site as the sawmill. He and his brothers, Thomas (b. 4 March 1811) and George (b. 28 Dec. 1813), incorporated as John Taylor and Brothers in 1845 and opened an office in Toronto.

The sons were now all in their early 30s; John provided the organizing leadership and technical mill-working skills, Thomas managed the office, and George looked after the farming and lumbering. The family’s landholding in the Don Valley and to the north of it increased to a conservative estimate of 2,000 acres. A village of Don Mills grew up in the valley near their mills. In 1847 fire destroyed a substantial part of the complex of mills near Todmorden (Doncaster) and the Taylors bought them in 1855, thus acquiring (or rebuilding) a second paper-mill and later rebuilding a grist mill. In 1858 they built a third paper-mill about half-way between the other two, on the site of the present mill.

Their three mills were known as the Upper, Middle, and Lower Mill respectively, and each was run, about 1867, by a shift of some ten men. The raw materials – rags, straw, and jute (flax was probably used around 1850, and an experiment with esparto grass failed) – were cooked with soda and lime, washed, drained on an “agitated stuff chest,” pressed, and dried, emerging in various forms: newsprint (for the Globe and other newspapers), book paper, or manilla wrapping. Paper bags were also made, but by hand. By 1877 the mills were described as operating round the clock (except for Sunday) and as supplying goods “to all parts of the Dominion from Newfoundland to the Red River.” “The proprietors have earned a name not always to be found among paper manufacturers, namely that of always putting the full count of sheets in every ream (viz., 480).” The next year, the firm’s paper won an honourable mention at the Paris exposition.

John Taylor died in 1871, surviving by several years his wife Anne Eliza. He had experimented in making paper from straw and had applied for patents on making wood-pulp first with “a gang of saws mounted on a mandrel” and later with a “chisel-like machine . . . that . . . moved up and down.” He had become a public figure in a minor way, as a leader of the Toronto branch of the Reform Association of Upper Canada, reconstituted in 1867, and as a member of the coterie surrounding Brown became a founding director of the Bank of Commerce in that same year. On his death, the Globe praised his “liberality and kindness” and his “probity”; as befitted a proper Torontonian, he was described as bearing his sufferings “with the firmness and patience which belonged to his character, and at the close he met death with Christian-like resignation.”

Control of the business went to his two brothers, who renamed it Thomas Taylor and Brother, and George “inherited” John’s directorship at the bank. In 1880 Thomas and George retired, Thomas dying soon afterwards on 21 April 1880 and George living until 17 May 1894. The business went to George’s three sons. They called it Taylor Brothers, and advertised themselves as “Manufacturers of Printing, Colored Manilla, Roll, Hanging, and all kinds of Common Paper, Roofing and Carpet Felt, and Paper Bags.”

In the 1880s and 1890s the company’s business apparently began to decline, perhaps for technological reasons, perhaps because it employed no “travellers,” or perhaps because of competition from Quebec firms which had opened offices in Toronto and which used wood-pulp. The Upper Mill was sold within the family in 1886 and then closed down in 1890; the Lower Mill was largely destroyed by fire in 1900; and in 1901 the defalcations of an employee forced the company into bankruptcy with liabilities of $750,000. The Middle Mill was taken over by Robert Davies, an enterprising son-in-law of George Taylor, and became the Howard Smith (Domtar) mill that stands in the valley today.

R. I. K. Davidson

Globe (Toronto), 15 May 1871, 22 April 1880, 18 May 1894. Illustrated Toronto past and present; being an historical and descriptive guide-book . . . , comp. J. Timperlake (Toronto, 1877). Ontario, Department of Planning and Development, Don valley conservation report (Toronto, 1950). George Carruthers, Paper-making (Toronto, 1947). Ross and Trigge, History of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, II. J. A. Blyth, “The development of the paper industry in old Ontario, 1824–1867,” Ont. Hist., LXII (1970), 119–33.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

R. I. K. Davidson, “TAYLOR, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/taylor_john_10E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/taylor_john_10E.html
Author of Article:   R. I. K. Davidson
Title of Article:   TAYLOR, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1972
Year of revision:   1972
Access Date:   October 2, 2023