Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Talbot Times Tidbit - Dec 1984 - Elgin Handles Ltd.

Elgin Handles is the oldest woodworking industry in St. Thomas, and still operates from the site on which it began in 1887. Elgin Handles Ltd is one of the many retail stores in St Thomas, Ontario, located at 21 Kains St.

It began as John Heard and Company, which started at Lambeth in 1866, moved to Amherstburg in 1878, then on November 26, 1886 signed an agreement with the City of St. Thomas in which it promised to erect a two-storey brick building, 40 x 100 feet, for “manufacturing wheels and other wooden work for carriages,” and to employ an average of forty men daily.

The company purchased property adjacent to the London & Port Stanley Railway on January 14, 1877, and erected a factory in December that same year.

The deaths of John Heard Jr. in 1896, Heard Sr. in 1897, and the early withdrawal of the two sons-in-law finally left William the only member of the original partnership.

He was soon joined by his younger brothers Richard and Robert, additional property purchased, new sheds erected, and by 1906 the firm was employing an average of fifty men.

But if fell on difficult times, and by 1912 had only twelve employees. The advent of the motor car, and failure to develop new product lines may have caused the decline.

Meanwhile, 1915, George P. Smith, Joseph Lewis and his son Charles had formed “The Elgin Handle Company, business to be carried on in the premises of Head and Company or some other premises.” Smith was the business manager. The Lewises, who had worked for the J. H. Still Handle Company, were the operators. At first, the new company operated in premises rented fro
Heard, but on December 2, 1918 Elgin Handles purchased the Heard property from Molson’s Bank.

The new firm erected a warehouse which was burned in 1933 and rebuilt immediately. After the Second World War, it carried out extensive renovations on the old Heard building.

Like its predecessor, Elgin Handles purchased most if its material locally, but a bird and a pest changed all that. In the early 1930s a pest killed the chestnut trees which had been a favourite of the sapsuckers. These birds then turned their attention to the local hickory trees, eventually making them unsuitable for handles, and the firm had to purchase hickory from Tennessee.

Despite many alterations and additions, and five serious fires in its 97-year history, the original brick building erected in 1887 is still an important part of the plant complex.

In 1983 the company opened a second plant in the local industrial park, and concentrated its new tool division there. Sixty percent of the handle material, mainly hickory comes from Tennessee, forty percent from local sources - mainly white ash, maple, and some hickory which invariably shows signs of sapsucker activity.
The firm has six manufacturing agents in Canada, and also sells to Britain, West Germany Norway, New Zealand, and the United States. Some customers have dealt with the firm since the early 1900s.

Material for this article was taken from "Loyal She Remains", the new U.E.L. book.

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