GOODERHAM, WILLIAM GEORGE, businessman, financier, and philanthropist; b. 5 Jan. 1853 in Toronto, eldest son of George Gooderham* and Harriet Dean; m. 21 Jan. 1875 Ella (Ellen) Hargraft (d. 24 June 1916) in Cobourg, Ont., and they had nine sons, one of whom predeceased him, and two daughters; d. 27 Oct. 1935 in Toronto.
William George Gooderham was born into one of Canada’s wealthiest and most tight-knit families, and he was greatly influenced by his father and paternal grandfather. The Gooderhams, a cousin has recalled, had “many laudable virtues: integrity, generosity, and a strong social conscience,” but they were “exceedingly conventional.” Gooderham and Worts, the partnership formed by his grandfather William Gooderham* with James Gooderham Worts*, operated an integrated milling, distilling, livestock, and shipping business based in Toronto. His father, George, directed the distillery and the many other enterprises in which its large profits were invested.
The older Gooderhams believed that William George and his brothers should learn the business from the bottom up, and after attending Upper Canada College, he joined the family firm as a junior clerk. William Gooderham Sr died in August 1881 and Worts less than a year later. Shortly after, George entered into an agreement with the executors and beneficiaries of the trust created by Worts’s will to incorporate the business, now to be known as Gooderham and Worts Limited. William George, aged 29, and his brother Albert Edward each became holders of 10 shares, representing a half of one per cent of the company’s stock. Under the statute of incorporation, these shares permitted the two younger men to serve as directors. From this point forward they played an increasingly important role in the family businesses.
William George, like his father, was an excellent yachtsman, and in 1885 he may have saved George’s life. At midnight on 2 August they were moored at Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake) with the crews of their boats, his Clyde-model cutter, Aileen, and his father’s racing schooner, Oriole, when a fire was spotted across Lake Ontario. Father and son both remembered the conflagration that had gutted the main distillery building in 1869, and they decided to sail immediately for Toronto, even though a storm was raging. At 3:00 a.m., when they were halfway across the lake, George signalled with flares that his boat was in trouble. William George turned the Aileen and went back to the Oriole, which had sprung a leak. For several hours both crews manned the pumps to keep the yacht afloat. The two vessels arrived in Whitby after daybreak, and the Gooderhams took a train to Toronto, where they discovered that their mill and distillery were undamaged. The fire had, however, destroyed a seven-storey sugar refinery in which they had invested.
On his father’s death in 1905, Gooderham began to assume the older man’s role as head of the extended family, though initially William Henry Beatty*, George’s principal legal and business adviser, took some responsibility. A “quiet retiring man” with an “aversion to being photographed or interviewed,” according to a business associate, Gooderham became a substantial shareholder in Gooderham and Worts Limited and its president, but he left the running of the distillery largely to his brother Albert. Instead he put his time and energy into the other family businesses. He had been a director from 1881 of the Bank of Toronto and from 1889 of the Canada Permanent Loan and Savings Company (Canada Permanent Mortgage Corporation after 1903). He became president of the latter firm in 1910, and he took on the same position at Manufacturers Life Insurance Company four years later and at the bank in 1916. He would hold all these posts until his death in 1935. In each instance he was taking on a function that had been performed for many years by his father and, in the case of the bank, his grandfather.
Like his predecessors, Gooderham was an outstanding if conservative businessman. According to A standard dictionary of Canadian biography, he had “a high reputation for long-sightedness, penetration and sound judgment, motivated by progressive ideals.” Despite the fact that his terms as president of the Bank of Toronto, Canada Permanent, and Manufacturers Life coincided with World War I and the Great Depression, all these companies grew significantly during his tenure. The insurance firm, for example, increased its policies in force from $82 million to $520 million and its assets from $19.2 million to $134 million. Gooderham oversaw many changes in the businesses he headed. In 1912 he orchestrated the creation of the Canada Permanent Trust Company, of which he became president when it was incorporated the following year. At Manufacturers Life in 1921 he superintended the installation of automated tabulating machines developed by Herman Hollerith, the founder of what would shortly become the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). Four years later, on 16 August, Gooderham officially opened the firm’s new head office on Bloor Street near Jarvis. This relocation, a radical move away from the city’s downtown financial district, was possible because business was now conducted almost entirely by mail, telegraph, or telephone. New premises for Canada Permanent at Bay and Adelaide streets were completed in 1930. Gooderham was also involved in a major shift in his family’s economic base when, in 1923, he and his brother sold the Gooderham and Worts distillery to Harold Clifford Hatch*.
In 1907 he had bought land north of Toronto in Hogg’s Hollow, where he built a grand home. Ever the businessman, when he discovered a spring on the hillside, he started a bottling enterprise to sell the water around the world. Gooderham played a key part in the improvement of the neighbourhood. He supported the Toronto Cricket Club and helped it to acquire new grounds near his property, to which it moved in 1926.
His interests extended beyond Toronto. In the late 1890s he had invested in the prosperous mining industry in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. Mines in the area, which yielded copper, silver, and gold ores, had quadrupled their output to 69,000 tons in 1896. In January the following year Gooderham and his brother-in-law and legal counsel, Thomas Gibbs Blackstock, put together a syndicate that also included Senator George Albertus Cox* and William Henry Beatty. For $850,000 they bought the War Eagle, Poorman, Iron Mask, and Virginia holdings. In April 1898 they purchased the Centre Star and Idaho mines for $2 million and created the Centre Star Mining Company. Their interests in the province also included the Rossland Power Company and the St Eugene Consolidated mining properties in Moyie. Gooderham’s father, George, acted as titular president, an indication that this investment was a family one. Later that year the syndicate incorporated the War Eagle Consolidated Mining and Development Company. All these investments would become part of the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Limited, better known as Cominco, in 1906, after the Gooderham–Blackstock interests were acquired by the new firm, which was dominated by the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Gooderham was also involved in the development of northern Ontario. With the brothers David* and Alexander Fasken, who served as his legal counsel after Blackstock’s death in 1906, he helped to promote the tourist industry in and around the village of Temagami through the Temagami Steamboat and Hotel Company. This investment proved the least successful of his ventures, and the partners sold out in 1914.
For many years Gooderham chaired the board of governors of Upper Canada College and was president of the Old Boys’ Association. He and Beatty led a reform of the school’s administration in 1894 which resulted in the association’s being given a greater say in college affairs. Gooderham’s leadership and generosity were recognized in 1926 when the OBA presented a full-length portrait of him to UCC, to be hung in its library. At the ceremony Lieutenant-Colonel George Franklin McFarland, a fellow member of the association, observed, “Of all the men who have guided the fortunes of this college, none have gained and held the affections of the students in greater degree than you have done.”
Gooderham belonged to several business clubs, including the York and the National in Toronto and the Rideau in Ottawa, and sporting organizations such the Argonaut Rowing Club, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, and the Ontario Jockey Club. An Anglican, he was a pew holder at St James’ Cathedral and a member of the St George’s Society. The Toronto Globe called him “one of the greatest philanthropists” in the city, who “never refused assistance to any worthy cause.” His donations were often made without fanfare, however, and he did not attract public attention. Unlike Albert Edward Gooderham, he was first and foremost a businessman.
He had a heart attack in 1929 but recovered following a lengthy convalescence. Then in October 1935 he suffered another, after returning home from a business meeting at Manufacturers Life. He died 10 days later, just six months after his younger brother. Though reserved in manner and intolerant of “any kind of presumption,” William George Gooderham was remembered, in a biography published a few years after his death, for his “genuine sympathy and humanity,” his good relations with his employees, and his “spontaneous sense of humour.”
Correspondence of the Gooderham and Worts firm (1864–79) is part of Lanman & Kemp (New York) papers (S 24) held in the Special Coll. of the TRL. Annual reports (1914 and 1935) and other material relating to William George Gooderham’s tenure as president of the Manufacturers Life Insurance Company are held in the Manulife Financial Corporate Arch. in Toronto.
AO, RG 80-5-0-59, no.7564; RG 80-8-0-1561, no.6628. TRL, Special Coll., Biog. scrapbooks, 7: 481–84 (mfm.). [R. V. Ashforth], “And all the past is future” ([Toronto, 1962?]; 100th anniversary ed., 1987). C. M. Blackstock, All the journey through (Toronto, 1997). The first sixty years, 1887–1947: a history of the Manufacturers Life Insurance Company (Toronto, 1947). B. W. Hodgins and Jamie Benidickson, The Temagami experience: recreation, resources, and aboriginal rights in the northern Ontario wilderness (Toronto, 1989). R. B. Howard, Upper Canada College, 1829–1979: Colborne’s legacy (Toronto, 1979). C. I. Kyer, “Gooderham & Worts: a case study in business organization in nineteenth-century Ontario,” in Essays in the history of Canadian law, ed. D. H. Flaherty et al. (10v. to date, [Toronto], 1981– ), 8 (In honour of R. C. B. Risk, ed. G. B. Baker and Jim Phillips, 1999), 335–57. Jeremy Mouat, Roaring days: Rossland’s mines and the history of British Columbia (Vancouver, 1995). Joseph Schull, 100 years of banking in Canada: a history of the Toronto-Dominion Bank (Toronto, 1958). Basil Skodyn, The Permanent story, 1855–1980 … ([Toronto, 1980]). C. H. J. Snider, Annals of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, 1852–1937 … (2v., Toronto, 1937–54), 1. Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell), vol.2. D. M. Wilson, “Rossland, B.C.: history”: www.crowsnest-highway.ca/cgi-bin/citypage.pl?city=rossland (consulted 23 Jan. 2013).
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Cite This Article
C. Ian Kyer, “GOODERHAM, WILLIAM GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gooderham_william_george_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:||C. Ian Kyer|
|Title of Article:||GOODERHAM, WILLIAM GEORGE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2015|
|Year of revision:||2015|
|Access Date:||May 27, 2023|