The Pipe Mill in the Ward: The Page-Hersey Tube Company
In 1889, an American, Randolph Hersey (1829-1918) founded Page & Hersey Company in Montreal in partnership with E. N. and G. H. Page. It operated out of a then idle tube mill owned by J. C. Hodgson. Located along the Lachine Canal, under Hersey, the tube mill began to prosper. Then Hodgson threw a wrench into the system. When the lease ended, he sold the property to the Montreal Rolling Mills. Hersey and his partners responded by deciding to move the plant halfway across the country to Guelph, Ontario.
Page-Hersey: The Guelph Plant
Page-Hersey considered Guelph as a possible place to construct a factory in 1902. Negotiations had begun with W.W. Near that year. These included measures that would reduce the cost of locating to the city. The company was asking for a $40,000 bonus. They also wanted a 12-acre site. In return, they promised to establish the plant within 9 months and produce a set amount of product each year over 12 years.
The City agreed to the terms and included a tax break. Page-Hersey was only responsible for paying school taxes for the stated period. After 10 years, the city was to fix taxation at $15,000 for the next 10 years.
The Page-Hersey Bonus passed that year. The land to be given was “the Coffee Flats, this side of the Waterworks Pumping Station…A switch from the Guelph Junction [was to] be run into the property.”
Page-Hersey began to construct its premises on the land at 201 York Road on October 17, 1902. The contractors included:
- Plans: Shaw & Dunbar
- Roofing: Preston Roofing Company
- Carpentry: Niewart & John Hughes
The equipment installed included a $15,000 furnace with 2 iron smoke stacks by John Halley. One was 26 feet in diameter; the other was 4 ft in diameter. Both stretched 70 feet into the sky.
New machinery was placed into the structures in 1911 and two large warehouses were constructed that same year. The company also built a $40,000 extension in February 1913 and added a galvanizing plant in 1904. During this same period, Page-Hersey opened a branch plant in Welland. This led to a rumour circulating that the Guelph plant was to be closed. Though ultimately true, it proved to be erroneous in 1911. The company remained in Guelph but by the end of WWII had major plants in Crowland (near Welland) and Cohoes, New York, and offices in Toronto.
Page-Hersey had one principal product – pipe. This included regular-sized pipes and some “made exclusively by this company.” Iron pipes, iron tubes and cold, cooled piping were produced. The brand, marketed under the slogan “Pipe that is Pipe,” was branded as PH Crown pipe. They also secured a monopoly in the manufacturing in Canada of seamless steel pipe.
As in many foundries, during both wars, the products were an exception to the norm. While the company continued to produce pipes for plumbing and related installations, the focus was on munitions. In 1917, the company produced shell casings for large artillery guns. In 1918, J. Alex Allen, William Bain and Maurice Broad were munition workers at the plant while John Downes described his job as Chief shell inspector in 1916 and 1917.
During WWII, no specific product is mentioned. No employees listed themselves as “munition workers.” However, Page-Hersey was involved in war production. Reports state it was no longer exporting its product. Instead, the company was producing war-related tubular products for the production of new war plant construction.
Although the company agreed to hire locals, they did bring some of their employees from Montreal. Initially, fifteen families arrived. This created a problem. Working-class housing was not plentiful in the early 20th century. It has been a recurring issue throughout Guelph’s history. In October 1902, the local paper wrote “no vacant houses in this part of the town at all.”
Fortunately, unlike several companies, Page-Hersey was not averse to hiring Italians. With the need for 250 men, Page-Hersey recruited from the local Italian population. Some, such as the Valeriotes, used their contacts back in Italy to bring over compatriots to work at the “Pipe Factory.” In 1902/3, V. Angelo worked alongside Edgar Brown and George De Montmorency.
Workers lived in St. Patrick’s Ward – many staying with relatives or in boarding houses. This was within walking distance of the plant facilitating such things as night shifts. In fact, in the early 1900s, the Guelph City Directory listed “Italians” living in two houses 115 and 133, beside the Page-Hersey plant.
Employment grew during the years preceding and during the war but, although the Ward grew physically, being built up as part of JW Lyon’s scheme to turn the Ward into a mixed industrial/housing development, it could not keep pace with the demand for working-class housing as other factories such as Guelph Stove, Partridge Rubber, IMICO and later, Northern Rubber and Gilson’s also demanded workers to keep production flowing.
Working at the Pipe Mills came at a price. Foundry work was dirty, grimy and unsanitary. It had this in common with Taylor-Forbes and, later IMICO. Approximately, one accident occurred annually from 1903 to 1910. On July 09, 1903, George Peace lost his pinky finger to an iron planer. In 1904, Walter Bailey had his hand crushed by gearing while Edward Treachout’s left knee was fractured when a large iron pipe fell on him.
Hot pipe burnt faces, hands and arms as did steam pipe. F. Fazzarel was struck by a pipe as it left the rollers in 1910 and a slitting machine sliced off an index finger of Gerry Wallace in 1944. Working conditions were to contribute to the several strikes that struck the plant during its almost 50 years in operation.
Page-Hersey had several strikes and walkouts during its time in Guelph. The first took place in April 1904. Fifteen galvanizers walked out of the shop over wages. They were asking for time-and-a-half for overtime and double for Saturdays. The strike lasted from April 11 to April 15. At this point, they were replaced by “Italian workers.”
In 1910, another strike took place. The workers were divided. Some, such as Girolama Carere continued to work. He got into a fight with several other Italians who were out on strike, including Tony Basso.
In 1917, two strikes occurred. Again, the issues were wages. Page-Hersey was going to decrease their employee’ wages while increasing their hours. On September 09, 150 workers walked out. They included “machinists, tool setters, labourers, tool makers and operators.” The company denied the changes. Mr. JL Zazinger, superintendent of the company, stated it had to do with reducing the wages of a couple of men who “were not worth what they were getting.”
The company also asked the Guelph police to become involved. Chief Randall said he was adopting this action because “some threats had been made against some of the inspectors.” The strike committee, in response, was planning a meeting with Mayor Newstead to explain their side of the strike. An organizer from the Internationalist Machinists’ union – the only organized part of the plant, was expected to arrive in town.
Mr. Harper of the union arrived that day. Under his guidance, the strike was settled on Monday, September 11. The conditions did not change. The workers walked once more on September 17 after the company “discriminated against” five workers who had been active in the earlier strike. This time, almost 200 went out in support.
Mr. Harper once more came to help settle the dispute. The men said they would return if the company promised to give preference to the five men when work was available. The men, meanwhile, decided to return home to the United States and Page-Hersey was back in business until 1921 when, once again, employees walked.
This was another brief walkout. An unknown number of men from the furnace room left work on April 29 objecting to the wages being decreased the following day. The superintendent/manager, Mr. Walter H. Ogg, states “that the overtime rate of double time for Sundays and holidays and time and a half for straight overtime would be reduced.”
According to the workers, night men would be asked to work 10 hours from Monday until Friday. They would then be required to come back Saturday night at seven and work straight until midnight. This was in addition to Sunday night at midnight until 5 am Monday.
Mr. Ogg arranged to meet with a deputation of strikers at 4 that afternoon. He stated he hoped the men would be returning to work by tomorrow morning. They did so but no details or even further mention is made about the matter.
Mr. Ogg was one of the several men who operated the company during its stay in Guelph. The first manager was W. W. Near who ran it in 1903 and lived in Guelph until 1907. He was then involved at the management level in the Toronto offices. Others took over the day-to-day operations including J. L. Zazinger by 1917, Mr. Walter Ogg from 1921 to 1930 when he is listed as an accountant with the company, James A. Quigg in 1930 and J. A. Curtin from 1936 into the 1940s.
As was the case with many factory workers, time was always found somehow to enjoy life. The employees took part in a variety of sports. The company had a hockey team as well as one in baseball. The employees purchased Victory Bonds. There were also factory picnics during the summer and other company events meant to solidify the ties of workers to the company.
Management also made some contributions to the community. Or, at least, one did indirectly. W. W. Near had been president of Page-Hersey at its beginnings in Guelph. He remained in control until his death sometime in the 1920s. Although he is often listed as being representative of the Toronto office and his home address was not always Guelph but Toronto, he and his wife seemed to have taken a liking to the community. When Mrs. Near died in 1937, she left some money to the Guelph General Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Page-Hersey: Surviving and Thriving
Although Page-Hersey started as a Montreal transplant, it remained steadfastly a Guelph company. With between 250 to 300 employees on its payroll, it continued to produce pipe for commercial use. In its first decade, the employees gave their all. On February 11, 1909, over a ten-hour shift, the day hands rolled 75053 feet. This broke a record set by the United States Steel Corporation by 5 feet. The orders for munitions fueled its growth in WWI as it was to do during WWII.
The demand for products was strong even during the slump following World War I. Although business remained slow in 1921 – “short time” and reduced wages became the norm, it picked up in 1922. The pipe industry experienced “increased activity” in that year and during most of the 1920s.
The company also managed to survive the Great Depression. Although it entered the 1930s equipped to produce more than the demand, unlike so many other companies, Page-Hersey remained open long enough to enjoy a boom when Canada entered the Second World War. The domestic demand for tubular products began to climb until, by 1937, both domestic and export production began to increase.
With the war raging, Page-Hersey boasted “full capacity” in all its departments and branches. They were almost wholly committed to providing products both directly and indirectly to the British Empire. By 1944, the company felt it had fulfilled all its obligations and met all needs. It was talking about increasing its exports. The coming years looked promising for Page-Hersey, and they were, but not for Guelph.
The End of the Forties
Page-Hersey arrived in Guelph in 1902/03. Over the decades, it grew – adding and updating buildings. Its product was showcased at plumbers’ conventions and in other exhibitions. Always using iron, adapting to galvanized pipe and utilizing the latest technology, the “tubing” it produced was of high quality.
However, after WWII, Guelph did not seem to offer what the company needed. The company put the premises up for sale in 1949. When no one offered to buy it, the entire plant was dismantled. They did not go out of business. The company had decided to move any necessary components and business to the other major plant in Ontario – the Page-Hersey in Welland. Welland operated the plant under this name until it was bought by Stelco in 1969. It became Stelpipe in 1987. The last shipment went out of the plant in 2014.