FISHER, WILLIAM SHIVES, merchant and manufacturer; b. 20 Feb. 1854 in Fredericton, only surviving child of William Fisher and Catherine Amelia Clawson, née Valentine; m. 14 June 1881 Mabel Shaw (1860–1940) in Portland (Saint John), and they had three sons and one daughter; d. 15 Oct. 1931 in Saint John.
A fourth-generation loyalist on his father’s side, W. S. Fisher was named for his mother’s brother-in-law, William Shives (the brother of Robert*), who appears to have raised him. Fisher was born into a tradition of business and public service. His father was a Fredericton tradesman and shipping agent who served from 1872 to 1884 as one of New Brunswick’s two Indian superintendents; his uncle Charles Fisher* was the province’s first premier under responsible government and a father of confederation. W. S. never knew his mother, Catherine, a remarried widow who died at age 32 when he was five months old. Educated at the venerable Saint John Grammar School, Fisher would spend nearly all of his life in the city. In 1870 he went to work as a bookkeeper for merchant Adam Young, and four years later he took over the business. In 1878 he and Robert Bickerdike Emerson formed a joint-stock company, Emerson and Fisher Company Limited, which made and sold hardware, stoves, mantels, grates, and, later, automotive equipment. Fisher became vice-president and secretary and would succeed Emerson as president upon his death in 1921.
Emerson and Fisher was involved not only in manufacturing but also in wholesale and retail marketing. By 1888 it was prospering so well that its owners decided to expand their business through an ambitious project of horizontal integration. From E. Cogswell and Company they acquired as a going concern the Dominion Foundry Company’s plant in Sackville, a bustling university community in southeastern New Brunswick. The factory, established in 1872, was situated near the Intercolonial Railway station and the public wharf, and to operate it the Enterprise Foundry Company Limited was formed with Fisher as president. He would hold the post for the last four decades of his life; under the guidance of Fisher and his three sons, the company became a major local employer, manufacturer, and wholesaler with its own sales organization and a national distribution network. Though effectively an independent subsidiary of Emerson and Fisher, Enterprise Foundry was the tail that wagged the dog. It would remain in the family until 1983, when it was sold by Fisher’s grandson Edward Meredith Shives Fisher. The plant, which had to be entirely rebuilt in 1908 after a devastating fire, would continue to operate until January 2012, when most of the brick structure was destroyed by another blaze.
Fisher was locally, regionally, and nationally active in the associational life of trade and industry. In 1896–97 he headed the Saint John Board of Trade, championing the city’s port at a time when, the Evening Times-Globe would recall in 1931, “rival ports and transportation companies using them were describing the Bay of Fundy as a region of fogs, rocks and currents, unsafe for navigation.” By 1904 he was the New Brunswick vice-president of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association (CMA). A year later he was elected vice-president of the Maritime Board of Trade, and in 1906 he was made its head. During World War I he served as president of the Maritime branch of the CMA, in 1920 he was chosen as the association’s first vice-president, and the next year he was voted into the top office. A highlight of Fisher’s term was his leadership of a delegation that undertook a fact-finding mission to the Caribbean; he opposed free trade with the United States but would dream all his life of joining Canada and the British West Indies in a political and economic union, a course of action that many Atlantic Canadian businessmen supported as a potential counterweight to American wealth and power. Fisher’s outstanding success as an industrialist earned him recognition from the corporate elite. He sat on the Saint John advisory board of the Eastern Trust Company [see John Fitzwilliam Stairs*], for example, and in 1923 he was appointed a director of the New Brunswick Power Company.
In May 1914 Fisher found himself at the epicentre of the corruption scandal that engulfed James Kidd Flemming*, the Conservative premier of New Brunswick, who had to resign his office following the delivery of reports by two royal commissions established to inquire into the charges against him [see Harrison Andrew McKeown]. On both commissions Fisher, who was known for not being a violent partisan, was the only Liberal and the only member who was not a judge. His fair-mindedness and uncompromising rectitude showed in his determination that the commissions’ findings should follow the evidence. It was largely due to his vigilance that the reports did not whitewash Flemming, despite the efforts of influential Conservatives such as John Douglas Hazen to ensure that they did.
As a reward for services rendered, Fisher was made a director of the Saint John and Quebec Railway Company – the subject of one of the royal commissions – when the province took it over in August 1915 [see Irving Randall Todd]. His creditable role in the Flemming affair also earned him respect in Ottawa, where the Conservative Party was in power under Sir Robert Laird Borden. In 1915 Albert Edward Kemp*, head of the War Purchasing Commission, called upon Fisher to outfit the No.1 Construction Battalion for overseas service. In addition, he was appointed commissioner in charge of the Quebec City factory of the nationalized Ross Rifle Company, holding the post from 1917 to 1920.
Fisher, who believed strongly in the relationship between workforce development and industrial expansion, promoted vocational and technical training and education in the industrial arts. He also supported any cause that would enhance social services and especially child welfare, thanks to an evangelical commitment that stemmed from his devout low-church Anglicanism. He was president of the board of the Associated Charities of Saint John, founding president of the New Brunswick Tourist Association, and financial patron of the 1921 reprinting of his grandfather Peter Fisher*’s 1825 work, Sketches of New-Brunswick. In 1927 he served with John Clarence Webster* on a cabinet-appointed committee that looked into the establishment of a provincial archives (a goal that would not be achieved until 1967), and he also sat on the board of the New Brunswick Museum.
W. S. Fisher’s death on 15 Oct. 1931 was headline news in Saint John. He was, and was seen to be, a model of social responsibility and good public citizenship. Fisher left an estate worth $500,000, an immense sum for a Maritimes businessman at the nadir of the Great Depression, and several charitable institutions benefited from the generosity of his bequests.
William Shives Fisher’s papers are not extant. Much of what is known about him can be found in R. C. Fisher, “The Fishers of New Brunswick, 1783–1950” (typescript, n.p., 1998; a copy of the section about W. S. Fisher is held at the DCB office), and in Fisher’s presidential address to the 51st annual meeting of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Assoc. in June 1922, which was published as “A great business organization: the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association; address by President W. S. Fisher,” Canadian annual rev. (Toronto), 1922: 946–53.
LAC, R3096-0-8. N.B. Museum (Saint John), Saint John Board of Trade fonds – 1887–1981. PANB, RS71A (Saint John County Probate Court records), 1931, William Shives Fisher. Evening Times-Globe (Saint John), 1927–31. Sackville Post (Sackville, N.B.), 1905–31. Sackville Tribune, 1902–31. Saint John Globe, 1870–1927. Telegraph-Journal (Saint John), 1923–31. Canadian annual rev., 1904–31. Canadian Manufacturers’ Assoc., Report of proceedings of … annual meeting (Toronto), 1902–32. T. A. Carmichael, Passport to the heart: reflections on Canada Caribbean relations (Kingston, Jamaica, 2001). William Christian, Parkin: Canada’s most famous forgotten man (Toronto, 2008). S. D. Clark, The Canadian Manufacturers’ Association: a study in collective bargaining and political pressure (Toronto, 1939). Directory, Saint John, 1871–1931. A. T. Doyle, Front benches & back rooms: a story of corruption, muckraking, raw partisanship and intrigue in New Brunswick (Toronto, 1976). [Peter Fisher], Sketches of New-Brunswick … by an inhabitant of the province (Saint John, 1825; repr. as Peter Fisher, The first history of New Brunswick, 1921; repr. Woodstock, N.B., 1980). R. C. Fisher, “‘The grandmother’s story’: oral tradition, family memory, and a mysterious manuscript,” Archivaria (Ottawa), no.57 (spring 2004): 107–30. W. B. Hamilton, At the crossroads: a history of Sackville, New Brunswick (Kentville, N.S., 2004). Industrial Canada (Toronto), 1905–31. E. W. McGahan, The port of Saint John … (1v. to date, Saint John, 1982– ). N.B., Royal commission concerning St. John and Quebec Railway Company charges, Report (Fredericton, 1915); Royal commission concerning timber limit charges, Report (Fredericton, 1915). Michel Portes, “Du métier à l’institution ou les transformations de mentalités associées aux modifications des modes de gestion dans l’industrie manufacturière canadienne de 1900 à 1930” (mémoire de ma, univ. Laval, Québec, 2000). R. A. Stoddart, “Paternalism to instrumentalism …” (ma thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1981).
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Cite This Article
Barry Cahill, “FISHER, WILLIAM SHIVES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 25, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fisher_william_shives_16E.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:
|Author of Article:||Barry Cahill|
|Title of Article:||FISHER, WILLIAM SHIVES|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2019|
|Year of revision:||2019|
|Access Date:||March 25, 2023|