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The John Watson Manufacturing Company, started in 1848 as the Ayr Machinery Works, quickly gained a reputation as an aggressive and innovative agricultural implements manufacturer. In the early 1880's, the company built an impressive four-storey building that was, at that time, the largest agricultural works in Canada. When the factory was built, Watson's was at the pinnacle of its success, winning awards for its products all around the world. In 1920, a fire destroyed the factory and never truly recovered from this disaster. The present two-storey factory was rebuilt from the remains of the original facility and although they carried on a successful business, it never compared to its former self.

The company ceased operation in 1991 by which time they were primarily a marketing rather than a manufacturing operation. Earliest add iv'e found for factory carts made by Watson was in 1906. They may have been making them earlier. In 1922 the company stopped making agricultural equipment, most likely as a result of loosing their patterns from the 1920 fire that destroyed the factory in Ayr.

Biography of JOHN WATSON OF AYR 1820-1903

John Watson was born at The Shotts near Glasgow on June 12th, 1820. He was the third son of Archibald and Margaret Ure Watson. Both parents had Highland blood, and the mother was also of French Huguenot descent. All the family seem to have been iron workers, and at The Shotts were Iron Works. Some time between 1820-28 Archibald Watson moved with his family to Ireland where he established a small foundry, but conditions in Ireland were so unsettled that his wife became terrified and insisted on returning to Scotland, so once more the family settled at The Shotts. At eight years of age John was apprenticed as a moulder and the apprenticeship lasted seven years. As a Journeyman moulder he spent the following years in Scotland, England and Ireland. In 1842 he decided to emigrate to America and took passage in what he later found was a none too seaworthy boat. However, he landed safely in Boston, made his way to Troy and on to Niagara Falls, looking for work. At the latter place, hearing that times were good in Canada, he decided to continue on to Hamilton. There he found work with the old firm of Fisher and McQuesten, and stayed with it until 1845, when he went to Galt to the firm of Fisher and Lutz, now The Cowan Co. In 1846 he determined to start for himself. and looking round settled on Ayr, where he opened his Foundry in 1847, and began making stoves and ploughs. He had little capital. Coal, iron, everything had to be teamed from Hamilton thirty-five miles away, and the roads were so bad it took the teams three days to come and go. It needed faith and a stout heart, but he had both. He was manager, hook-keeper, foreman and salesman. Money must be paid for raw materials, while he must accept sometimes money, some« times trade for his goods. The old account books of this time show payments in quarters of beef (@ 3 or 4c a lb.) mutton, pork, sausage, potatoes, flour, etc. So too, his men were often paid in trade or orders on the stores with a final settlement in cash at the end of the year. The books show payments for coats, vests, boots, silk handkerchiefs and even for print dresses and a $1.50 bonnet for a maid. In the early days many of the men were boarded. and apprentices always lived in the House—a letter dated 1855 reads as follows:— 143 “Mr. James Davidson Dear Sir. I have made up my mind to take an apprentice, and will here state my terms— First year, Thirty dollars and Board. ,’ 9, 9’ 3, ,’ ,9 9, H 7, ’7 3! ,9 ’Q 97 3’ I will pay for a seat in my church in Ayr, and shall expect him to attend every Sunday if well. I shall expect him to be in the house every night by ten o’clock, or give me a satisfactory reason for being later. I shall want him a month on trial, and should he answer I shall want him bound, and shall want security for the fulfilment of his apprenticeship. Please show this to Mr. Allan, and should it meet his views, I want the boy to come as soon as possible. I remain yours John Watson.” The Great Western Railway was opened through Paris in 1855 and from then until the Credit Valley Railway opened in 1879, goods were teamed over the old toll road to Paris seven miles away. In the Fifties he had seven teams on the road and stoves and ploughs were but a small part of the Foundry output, Mowers reapers, threshing machines and other smaller farming implements were being made. There is still one of his old threshing-machines built in 1850 in existence, and one of the old reapers is part of the Ontario Agricultural College collection. In 1927 enquiry was made from Glasgow, Scotland, for repairs for a mower which had been in use for forty years thus proving the quality of the workmanship and the care the farmer gave his “Gear.” After relinquishing the active management as he grew older he liked to talk of the early days in business. One story was of how he used to walk to Cali, take stage there to Hamilton, do a day’s business, take stage back to Galt, and walk the ten miles home to Ayr. One night very tired, as he rested under a halfway tree, he suddenly vowed never to do it again—and he never did. And from that day John Watson’s coachman and ponies were familiar to the countryside for many miles around Ayr. He gathered round him a fine type of men. They were mostly Scotch and remained with him for years. Their sons in many cases succeeded them. Many years later, one of them wrote—“there was always a rush at harvest time and overtime had to be put in; no one ever refused. No specified 144 time to work; no time clocks or checks in those days. Usually at a late hour Mr. Watson appeared in the shop with a well-filled and assorted basket and a jug of steaming cofl'ee, yes—and a decanter and a glass for those who wished to indulge. He always sat down and ate wth us and usually told us a story; had a good laugh, then we would get to work again. Such actions accounted for our loyalty.” He was a born mechanic, always on the alert for anything new, and constantly improving his machines. The history of the machines made by him from the Forties to the introduction of the binder, is the history of the Agricultural Implement trade in Canada. In 1876, he won the only gold medal given to a Canadian at the Centennial ' Exhibition in Philadelphia for Agricultural Implements. His exhibit won the gold medal in Australia in 1877 and a similar success followed in France in 1878. The John Watson exhibit at the Provincial Exhibition held in Ottawa in 1879 contained 52 different implements, and he exported machines to Russia, France, England and Australia. A pioneer always, he was early in the Northwest field-too early it proved for he lost heavily in the crash of the Eighties when the farmers were unable to meet their notes. But he took his losses bravely, as he had taken his successes simply. As his three sons finished college, they joined him in the business, and while retaining the Presidency until his death, he gradually turned the management over to them. John Watson read widely, and had many interests. In the Seventies and Eighties few men were more widely known in Ontario. Perhaps his interest in politics began when. a boy of twelve, he marched with his father in Glasgow, in a procession rejoicing in the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832. In 1845 we find him going through the shop in Galt with George Brown soliciting subscriptions for The Globe, and beginning a friendship which lasted until Mr. Brown’s death; in 1855 vice-president of the Waterloo Reform Association; in 1856 protesting against the denying of Upper Canada Representation by Population; in 1867 fighting against the Sandfield Macdonald Government and against the Macdonald Cartier coalition; and in 1877 President of the Waterloo Reform Association. Several times he was offered the nomination for both Houses and refused the honor, but was always in the thick .of the election fights. Then there was the struggle for free schools; for better roads; for the bonusing of the Credit Valley Railway through Dumfries. It is not generally known that when that railway was being built through Dumfries, he was advancing money to pay the men. He was one of the founders of the village Library in 1848 or 184.9 in association with the late John Charlton of Lynedocb and 145 :w-w A others. He was made a magistrate in 1863, and administered justice effectively, if not always along orthodox lines. Many stories are still extant of his influence in the political arena. A Blenheim voter was having a social chat with a Wilmot neighbour. “How are you voting at the Election?” “I don’t know, I haven’t seen John Watson yet.” John Watson was an intimate friend of Sir Oliver Mowat, and Sir Oliver seldom visited his Oxford constituency without notifying Watson to act as his guide on the side lines. His friend, fellow townsman and intimate political co-worker, David Goldie, on receiving an invitation to a neighboring rally, remarked, “John, we’ll go. You’ll drink their whiskey and I’ll smoke their tobacco.” Political history shows that so long as these two stalwart “Reformers” were active, the surround- ing townships of North Dumfries, Wilmot, Blenheim and North Brant voted as Watson and Goldie voted. His public spirit was early manifested, and was first publicly recognized in 1855 .when 130 farmers of North Dumfries tendered him a complimentary supper. In 1884- when Ayr was incorporated as a village, he was elected its first Reeve by acclamation, and also made Warden of the County by acclamation, 'the Council suspending their usual order of rotation in order to do so. In 1880 he was appointed to the Ontario Agriculture Commission and served as Chairman of the Agricultural Education Division. For thirtyninc years he was a director of the Core District Mutual Fire Insurance Company in Galt, and to-day the walls of the Board Room display an excellent portrait of our subject by Wyly Grier and even a casual glance will show the twinkle of the eye and the lines about the mouth that bespeak the ability to enjoy a good story as well as match it with one of his own. His was a long life and a full one. and The Toronto News in an editorial on his death, in 1903, sums it up perhaps as well as any— “Mr. Watson was one of our pioneer manufacturers, a leader and captain of industry when leaders were most needed, and an inspiring example of what integrity, energy and enterprise can accomplish in a young and struggling community. If not the founder, he was at least the great mainstay for many years of the town in which he spent over half a century of his busy and useful life. Its name and his own were in a sense identical. “John Watson of Ayr” was known and esteemed in every part of the Dominion. A Liberal of the old school. strong in his convictions. and resolute in purpose, no one could ever mistake his attitude and opinions on political questions. It is to men of the Watson stamp,‘shrewd, perservering and resourceful, undaunted by temporary defeats, and with faith in themselves and their work, that this country is indebted 146 for its progress and development. Mr. Watson was a most ,kindly and generous man, and in his passing away, Waterloo has lost one of its best citizens.” John Watson was married three times. His first wife, Mary Urie, was a daughter of one of the pioneers of Saltfleet, Haldimand only daughter of William Dolman, one of the early settlers in Ayr; Co.; she died in 1851. His second wife, Elizabeth Dolman, was the she died in 1866. His third wife, Harriet McKellar, was a daughter of Major Charles McKellar of New York State; she died in 1888. Following is a list of his family:— John George died 1918 William Dolman ” 1907 Robert ” in infancy James Hilman ” 1874 Anna Maria in infancy Alfred Edward Emily Barbara Ure ” 1888 Elizabeth Dolman Mary Urie Charles Jerome in infancy John George received his higher education in Tassie’s School, Galt, Oberlin College, Ohio, and Yale University, then joined his father and succeeded him as President of The John Watson Mfg. Co. He was Postmaster of Ayr for some years before his death. He married Margaret, daughter of William Hall of Jedburgh, who died in 1928. His only daughter died in 1901. His only son is now Postmaster of Ayr. William Dolman also went to Tassie’s School, Galt, thence to Oberlin College, then joined his father in the business and became its secretary-treasurer. He married Jessie Murray, daughter of John Murray of Ayr. Alfred Edward educated in Ontario High Schools and Poughkeepsie Business College, at once entered the business and after experience at Ayr, was manager of the Winnipeg Office for some years, succeeded John George and is still President of the Company. He married Jennie Wyllie, grand-daughter of Robert Wyllie, one of the early settlers in Ayr. His only son, Alfred Wyllie, after ser« vice in the Great War, has also joined the business. His only daugh~ ter, Margaret Dorothy, married Major James H. Lovett, M.C.. and her son, Robert Edward, is the first great grandson of John Watson. Emily Barbara Ure married Charles F. Bryant of California and died leaving one son, John Watson Bryant, and one daughter, Emily J osepha Bryant. 147 Elizabeth Dolmen-still resides in Ayr. Mary Urie, after education in private schools and Columbia University, was Principal of the Ontario School of Domestic Science and Art, Hamilton, then was Director of the Home Economics Department of Macdonald Institute, Ontario Agricultural College, for its first seventeen years. She now resides in Ayr.

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