By Sam McBride
For about a century there were several members of the McBride family and many more of the extended family working in the hardware store business in North America, predominantly with the firms of A. McBride and Company Limited in Calgary, Alberta and the Wood Vallance Hardware Company Limited store and contracting operation in Nelson, British Columbia, as well as several other hardware stores in the Kootenay region of southeastern B.C. and the James Brothers Hardware Store in Perth, Ontario.
It started with the emigration of McBride families from Ulster, primarily County Down, southeast of Belfast. We know from records that five McBride brothers and their families left Ireland in the period from the late 1820s to the early 1840s, but we have no information on the parents. In addition to Richard McBride (1792-1850), whose line of descendants is the focus of this report, the emigrating brothers included William McBride (1797-?), Alexander McBride (1803-1891), Thomas H. McBride (1806-1852) and Stephenson/Steney McBride (1811-1893). There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of descendants of these brothers in Canada and the United States today, primarily in southern Ontario.
According to a family history written in the 1920s, Richard McBride (1792-1850) and Elizabeth McCormick (1794-1848) and five children from Ballydorn, County Down emigrated to Canada in 1831. This was more than a decade before the horrific Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s, but circumstances were bad enough for them to pull up roots and take the chance that they would find better lives across the Atlantic in Canada. As Presbyterians, they were discriminated against by the ruling class of Anglican and Church of Ireland forces, though their discrimination/oppression would not normally be severe as that of Roman Catholics who were in a minority in the north of Ireland but dominated the population of Dublin and southern Ireland.
Richard and Elizabeth McBride had a total of about 11 children, including half a dozen who died at an early age in Ireland. Another daughter, whose name was not mentioned in family history accounts, died during the horrific six-week long voyage across the Atlantic in a 600-ton sailing ship packed with about 500 passengers. Emigration ships were notorious in that era for disease, starvation and extreme discomfort for passengers. The children who survived the ordeal were sons William (1817-1881), Samuel (1819-1905) and John (1822-1887), as well as daughter Eliza (1826-1909). The family resided for a short time first in the Kingston area, then Cobourg, Niagara and Brantford before settling in London, Ontario in about 1840. The only children born to the family in Canada were twin boys in 1833 in Cobourg, Upper Canada (now Ontario). One twin died at birth, and the other was Alexander McBride (1833-1912), who would become the most successful businessman of the family, and the first to move to Western Canada.
Samuel McBride (who was my great-great-grandfather) was a tinsmith and very active in the community, including service as an alderman, volunteer fireman, and with his church. The term tinsmith refers to someone who works with cold metal, as opposed to a blacksmith who works with hot metal. Tinsmiths are perhaps better known in history by the name variation “tinker”. Alexander also worked as a tinsmith, and he and Samuel established a business together in London, Ontario. Oldest brother William worked as a woodworker and carriage-maker and was among the leaders of the community, including service as Mayor (1859), and secretary of the Western Fair Association. On May 24, 1881 William, age 64, was among approximately 200 victims in the worst natural disaster in Ontario history. Celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday on that day, a crowd of residents climbed aboard the steamship Victoria. Panic ensued when the vessel tilted to one side, spilling people into the Thames River as it capsized. Many died in their heavy clothing of the Victorian era even though the water was not over their heads. The only member of the McBride family to die in the tragedy was William McBride.
John McBride of the original family from Ireland married Lucinda Warner, worked as a wagon-maker, and for a time partnered in business in London with elder brother William. He took his family the United States, and died in Massachusets in 1887. Eliza McBride married Alexander Lowrie and remained in the London area with a large family. Alex partnered in business with brother-in-law William McBride. It was Eliza and Alex’s son-in-law Harry Bapty who wrote the family history in the 1920s.
Samuel McBride enjoyed robust health and lived to 85 years of age, well-regarded in the community as a pioneer and builder of London. He had a total of 11 children with three wives, outliving first wife Elizabeth Webster and then Anna Margaret McDonald before marrying Maria Goforth.
His two sons with Elizabeth Webster included my paternal great-grandfather Richard “Dick” McBride (1843-1921), who held a variety of jobs over the years, including tinsmithing like his father, and working in his father’s business.
Samuel’s children with Anna included George Walter McBride (known in the family as “Walter”), who moved to St. Louis as a young man to learn the hardware store business while employed by Shapleigh Hardware, before returning to Canada to work in family-related hardware operations in Calgary, Rossland and Nelson. Kate McBride, a daughter of Samuel and Anna, married Noah Kettlewell, whose sons Charles Walter Kettlewell (1889-1942) and William Keith Kettlewell (1892-1954) moved to Nelson, B.C. in 1907 and worked as clerks and travelling representatives for Wood Vallance Hardware before the First World War, then served in the Canadian military during the war, and rose to higher positions in Wood Vallance after returning from the war. They were among the staff at the Nelson store listed in the Wood Vallance company’s full page ad following the Allies victory November 1918 recognizing staff who had served in the war, including those who were casualties.
In 1856 in London, Ontario, Alexander McBride married Lucy Fidora Munson (1830-1909), with whom he had 8 children. As Lucy suffered from asthma, her doctor recommended that she move West to cleaner air, so in 1886 Alexander moved the family to the pioneer prairie community of Calgary, two decades before Alberta became a Canadian province. He soon established the firm of A. McBride and Company which was Calgary’s first hardware store, and would become the base for a chain of several such stores in Alberta and southeastern British Columbia by 1900. Alexander served as Mayor of Calgary in 1896. His sons who worked for A. McBride and Company in Calgary included Chester, Norman, Frank, James Duncan and Edward, who took over management of the company after his father retired.
In the early 1900s, Alexander resided for a few years in Cranbrook and Fort Steele, B.C., where he started hardware stores with sons Frank McBride, Edward McBride and James Duncan McBride. The stores originally operated under the name of the Calgary firm of A. McBride and Co., until James Duncan McBride took control of the operation and ran the J.D. McBride Hardware Store in Cranbrook. Historic directories show that James Duncan McBride was still in Cranbook in the hardware store business in 1919.
G.W. “Walter” McBride (son of Samuel McBride and Anna McDonald of London, Ontario) left Missouri in 1892 for Calgary where he worked in his uncle Alexander’s hardware business. In 1896 Walter was assigned to start a new hardware store under the A. McBride Company name in the booming gold-mining town of Rossland, B.C.
A year later, Walter McBride served as a director of the new businessman’s club known as the Rossland Club. About this time, Walter had done well enough with his store that he bought out his uncle Alexander’s interest and established the store as G.W. McBride Hardware which regularly advertised in Rossland newspapers.
In 1900 Dick McBride’s son Roland Leigh McBride (known in the family as R.L. McBride) left his hometown of London, Ontario at age 19 to pursue better prospects in the West.
He spent a couple of months working in Calgary in his great-uncle Alexander McBride’s hardware store business. During this time he resided at a rooming house where one of his fellow residents was the future prime minister, young lawyer Richard Bedford Bennett. Years later R.L. McBride (1881-1959) recalled that something he and R.B. Bennett had in common at the time was both were financially broke at the time.
Later in 1900 R.L. McBride left Calgary for Rossland, where he worked as an assistant to his uncle Walter at the G.W. McBride Hardware store for about three years before moving to the silver-mining boom town of Sandon to manage the H. Byers Company hardware store, which was part of the Byers operation in the region that included stores in Kaslo and Nelson as well as Sandon. The head of the company, Hamilton Byers, resided in Nelson.
In early 1904, after residing in Sandon through the winter of 1903-04, R.L. moved to Nelson when the Byers Company wound down their operations. Walter McBride came from Rossland to be receiver for Byers. In April 1904 the Wood Vallance Hardware Company Limited based in Winnipeg purchased the Byers operation and established the Nelson store, while the Kaslo and Sandon stores ceased operation. Walter McBride was appointed manager of the Nelson store and vice president of the company, and R.L. McBride was named assistant to the manager. The 1896 building on Baker Street that housed the Byers store was extensively renovated for the new Wood Vallance operation.
Upon Walter McBride’s retirement in September 1925 R.L. McBride succeeded him as manager and vice president of Wood Vallance Company in Nelson, and then in 1931 R.L. McBride succeeded C.G. Wood of Hamilton, Ontario as President and Manager. One of the interesting connections between Nelson people and the Wood Vallance company is that Jocelyn Morey, who was a close friend of Leigh and Dee Dee McBride in Nelson, was a great-granddaughter of C.G. Wood.
The Wood Vallance store and contracting business in Nelson would be among the largest businesses in Nelson until the 1980s, when the company wound down operations but the hardware store continued under the same familiar name.
The business in Nelson would be noteworthy for the long service and loyalty of employees, including R.L. McBride who, along with his colleague Roy Sharp, was among the 5 original staff of 1904 who retired in 1950. The McBride and Sharp families were very close – to the point that they are buried in the same area of the Nelson Memorial Park.
Also buried near R.L. McBride is his first wife Eva Mackay Hume (1885-1912), niece of Lydia Hume and adopted daughter of Lydia and her husband, prominent Nelson businessman J. Fred Hume, after her parents died when she was young. Eva, who had married R.L. McBride in 1911 at a ceremony at her parents’ home known as Killarney-on-the-Lake across the lake in Nelson, died due to childbirth complications a year later, along with the baby daughter named Gertrude. In December 1914 R.L. married Winnifred Mae “Win” Foote (1889-1960), who had been best friends with Eva, who encouraged Win on her deathbed to get together with R.L. The Foote family left Perth, Ontario in 1900 for Nelson, where Jim Foote worked as a blacksmith at the Silver King Mine.
The Foote family – which included Jim, wife Edith James, and daughters Win, Lillian, Gladys and Isobel – lived for a couple of years in a cabin next to the Silver King Mine before moving to a house on Cottonwood Street in Nelson. By 1910 Jim Foote was listed in the community directory as a carpenter working as Superindent of Sidewalks for the City of Nelson. His obituary in 1921 said he held the position of Superintendent of Works for the city.
Interestingly, it was cousins of Edith James in Perth, Ontario who founded and ran a hardware store operation which has a central place in the history of Perth. For over 80 years, James Brothers Hardware stood as the retail centre of historic downtown Perth.
Crowds from town and country alike flocked there for their every need, while from their open offices on the mezzanine above the first floor, George and Lawrence James and later George’s son, Alan, and grandson, George, oversaw a mercantile enterprise that included not only the store, but a machine shop, a foundry, a Chevrolet dealership, a Ford dealership, two automotive garages, various woodlots, a bulk fuel oil business, a coal business, a snow fence factory, a billboard service and the local arena.
In my family history of the James family ancestors in Perth in the early 1990s I came in contact with Alan James, who had retired from the hardware business and was doing his own research on the family, including several trips to Ireland where he met distant cousins. In June 1995 I visited Perth and received a grand tour of the city, including the original James farmland, from Alan.
A recently-published local history book titled “Follow the Crowd: the James Boys of Perth” by John McKenty tells a great story of how the business got started and evolved through the years.
chart showing Leigh McBride’s direct ancestors for 3 generations
In 1915 in Nelson, Lillian Foote married Wood Vallance employee Wilfrid Laurier Allan (1891-1938), whose father Robert Burns Allan had moved West 10 years earlier and bought a general store in Stavely, Alberta which would be operated as a family business for more than 30 years. At the end of the First World War Wilfrid moved back to Stavely to run the general store, assisted by younger brother Alexander Hamilton Allan (1898-1988). In 1931 Alexander Leith — who had been among the original five Wood Vallance staff in 1904 and held the position of secretary-treasurer – died in Nelson. Wilfrid Allan moved with his family back to Nelson in 1931 to succeed Leith in that position. After Wilfrid died in 1938 his brother Alexander Hamilton Allan moved to Nelson from Staveley to take over the secretary-treasurer position.
Alex Allan had a long and successful career with Wood Vallance, succeeding R.L. McBride as President and Manager upon R.L.’s retirement in 1950, and leading the Wood Vallance in Nelson until his own retirement in 1972. A decade later, the Wood Vallance company wound down its operations and paid its shareholders final dividends.
Interestingly, family connections were prominent with both the A. McBride and Company in Calgary and the Wood Vallance Hardware in Nelson. In 1993 I interviewed John Alexander “Jack” McBride (1906-2001), who had been a successful cattle rancher in Benalto in central Alberta and retired with wife Lillian in Calgary, where he was born in 1907, a son of Edward McBride, the son of Alexander who took over management of the hardware business from his father. Jack said his grandfather Alexander was an excellent businessman, who at one time “owned half of Calgary.” However, his sons who took over the business did not inherit their father’s business capabilities, resulting in the company being sold in to Comer Hardware in Calgary shortly before Alexander’s death in 1912.