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FERRIE, ADAM, businessman; b. 11 Dec. 1813 in Glasgow, fifth child of Adam Ferrie* and Rachel Campbell; m. Jane Kinsey, and they had two sons and a daughter; d. 5 Feb. 1849 in Preston (Cambridge), Upper Canada.

Adam Ferrie was born into a family long engaged in commerce. In 1824 his father, a successful Glasgow merchant, established an importing and general merchandising business in Montreal as a branch of his Scottish enterprise and in an attempt to stake out a future for his sons. Five years later Ferrie Sr moved to Montreal with his family to take control of the business. The following year, as part of a major expansion, two sons, Colin Campbell* and Adam, both of whom had worked in other branches of their father’s business, established a wholesale and retail store in Hamilton, Upper Canada. Branch stores, superintended by resident partners, were soon set up in five promising locations in Hamilton’s hinterland: Brantford, Dundas, Nelson (Burlington), Preston, and Waterloo.

In partnership with Thomas H. Mackenzie, Adam had opened the Preston branch in 1832 under the name Adam Ferrie Jr and Company. In addition to running a general merchandising and forwarding business, the firm owned a tavern, barn, and blacksmith shop. The Ferries had also intended to build a grist-mill at Preston, but were unable to obtain the necessary water-rights. Instead, in 1834 Adam purchased for the family business a 300-acre farm and sawmill about four miles from Preston on the Grand River; an adjoining 280 acres were subsequently obtained. On this property he constructed an integrated milling complex, which he named Doon Mills (Kitchener), comprising a grist-mill, sawmill, distillery, tavern, granary, cooperage, and workmen’s dwellings.

Doon Mills was an impressive and expensive operation. Ferrie, who from his youth had an interest in mechanics, designed the grist-mill on a grand scale. Its masonry construction and huge stone dam contrasted with the modest wooden mills typical of rural Upper Canadian villages. Despite the proportions of the dam, it proved unsound and burst in 1840, carrying away the distillery and other buildings. Additional expenses were incurred in reconstruction. Moreover, the new distillery proved a problem since, for some reason, it did not operate efficiently. Doon Mills was substantial, but it was a poor investment. When Robert Ferrie took over management in 1847 from his brother Adam, then ailing, he explained to their father that “too much money has been laid out up here, so as to make a profitable investment,” and the complex did represent a considerable cost. The buildings were insured for £6,250, an under-valuation in Robert’s opinion.

The investment at Doon was jeopardized by problems in other branches of the family business. During the early 1840s in Hamilton, Colin Ferrie and Company had encountered severe financial difficulties. In the settlement of its affairs, operating capital was diverted from Doon Mills and Adam complained to Robert that for lack of cash he feared being “forced out of the market.” As well, over the next few years Colin borrowed money from Adam. These loans remained unpaid in 1847, making it difficult for Robert to balance accounts.

Adam was himself partly responsible for the problems at Doon Mills. He was not an “office man.” He preferred superintending the daily operations of the complex and enjoyed dealing with customers personally, partaking of the social intercourse at the general store and post office which had been added to the complex. In consequence, according to Robert in 1847, the Doon accounts were poorly kept. Consisting mainly of single-entry bookkeeping and memoranda, they defied easy scrutiny.

Personal conflict and tension between Adam and his father put severe strain on the family business. The elder Ferrie had not approved of his son’s choice of a wife and had opposed their wedding. Matters were brought to a head in 1847 by Adam Jr’s deteriorating health. Suffering from tuberculosis, he feared death and the consequences of his hostile family’s refusal to acknowledge or support his wife and two surviving children. To protect them, he changed his will in 1847, bequeathing to them Doon Mills and the Preston property, all of which, although in his name, was legally held for the family. He also gave his son, James, his interest in the family business. The family was furious, especially Robert, who, though managing Doon Mills, was not himself a partner in the family business. For more than a year, as Adam’s health worsened, his father and brothers demanded that he relinquish title to his branch. In July 1848 his mother arrived in Preston to negotiate a settlement. Adam agreed to change his will and sign over the property; in return his father granted him and his family an annuity and altered his own will to provide for Adam’s children. In his remaining months, Adam was forced to borrow money from friends and to beg his family for funds to pay his bills. He died in Preston on 5 Feb. 1849 and was buried in the Galt cemetery. Operations at Doon Mills were continued by Robert.

The career of Adam Ferrie illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the family as a form of business organization. Family ties permitted both the extension of mercantile enterprise over long distances and the diversion of family finances to branches most in need. However, successful operation depended upon amicable relations, which could be disrupted by matters not directly pertaining to business.

David G. Burley

GRO (Edinburgh), Glasgow, reg. of births and baptisms, December 1813. HPL, Arch. file, Ferrie family papers. Adam Ferrie, Autobiography, late Hon. Adam Ferrie (n.p., n.d.; copy at MTRL). British Colonist, 20 Feb. 1849. C. S. Bean, “History of Doon,” Waterloo Hist. Soc., Annual report (Kitchener, Ont.), 1941: 164–72. J. F. Cowan, “Extending commercial interests and public services (a brief study of the Adam Ferrie & Co. in Waterloo County, 1832–60),” Waterloo Hist. Soc., Annual report, 1953: 19–28.

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Cite This Article

David G. Burley, “FERRIE, ADAM (1813-49),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 26, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ferrie_adam_1813_49_7E.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/ferrie_adam_1813_49_7E.html
Author of Article:   David G. Burley
Title of Article:   FERRIE, ADAM (1813-49)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   September 26, 2023