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HENDRY, JOHN, businessman; b. 20 Jan. 1843 in Belledune, N.B., second son of James Hendry and Margaret Wilson; m. 21 Feb. 1882 in Esquimalt, B.C., Adaline McMillan, and they had one daughter; d. 17 July 1916 in Vancouver.

John Hendry’s father had immigrated to New Brunswick from West Kilbride, Scotland, in 1840, settled in Gloucester County, and was engaged in the sawmill and flour milling businesses. John was educated in New Brunswick, and he received formal and practical training with his father. In the 1860s he and his elder brother started their own sawmill. When their father died John took over the family business temporarily. He then travelled in the “western States,” but in 1870 he returned to New Brunswick to establish a sawmill, which exported to the West Indies.

Hendry moved west in 1872, arriving in British Columbia to find the lumber industry in a slump. For two years he worked as a log and timber surveyor and millwright for sawmills on Puget Sound. In 1874 he was employed in the rebuilding of the Moodyville Saw Mill on the north shore of Burrard Inlet, and he stayed on as the night shift superintendent. The next year Hendry was attracted to Winnipeg by the city’s prospects as a lumber-retailing centre, but he found Manitoba in an economic decline, and so left for San Francisco. He soon returned to British Columbia, where he built a sawmill in Nanaimo during the winter of 1875–76, and another in New Westminster in 1876.

In Nanaimo late in 1876 Hendry and David McNair established Nanaimo Planing Mills. Two more partners joined them in the spring of 1878 to form Hendry, McNair and Company. By July that year Hendry had moved to New Westminster and was managing the firm’s new Royal City Planing Mills, manufacturing lumber, doors, sashes, and other wood products. The company grew rapidly in response to a strong local demand, both for general millwork and for boxes to ship canned salmon from the Fraser River fishing industry. In May 1880 Royal City Planing Mills Company Limited was incorporated, with capital of $30,000. Hendry was president and general manager, and a fifth partner was brought in. RCPM flourished, and in 1886 a plant was built on False Creek in Vancouver. Escaping the fire of that year which destroyed most of the city, this mill was very profitable during the rebuilding period. From 1884 to 1890 RCPM acquired extensive timber limits throughout the province. Hendry entered the export trade in lumber by purchasing the Dominion Saw Mill Company Limited of New Westminster and enlarging its operation. With 425 men employed and production for 1888 valued at $750,000, up 50 per cent from the previous year, RCPM was the largest lumber company in the province. In 1888 and 1889 Hendry, as president of the New Westminster Board of Trade, lobbied the federal government to improve shipping conditions on the Fraser River, though with mixed results.

The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Vancouver in 1887 had spurred a response from New Westminster. Hendry played a leading role in promoting the New Westminster Southern Railway, which was granted a federal charter in 1888. Hendry, who had been a member of city council in 1879–80, was elected mayor of New Westminster in January 1889, but he resigned in July because of a perceived conflict between his official duties and his business involvement with the NWSR.

Hendry solved some of the problems inherent in shipping forest products from New Westminster with RCPM’s purchase in 1889 of the Hastings Saw Mill in Vancouver. Located between Burrard Inlet and the CPR line, the mill provided convenient access to ocean and land transportation. A new firm was created, the British Columbia Mills Timber and Trading Company, commonly known as B.C. Mills. Hendry became the president, and Richard Henry Alexander, manager of the Hastings mill, was the secretary. By 1899, like RCPM a decade earlier, it was the largest lumber company in the province. It employed over 1,100 workers and had a sawing capacity of 400,000 board feet per day. The Hastings mill served the export trade, while the two Royal City mills sold to local and eastern Canadian markets. During the 1890s domestic sales had become more important, and in 1900 a Winnipeg office opened to distribute lumber to the prairies.

B.C. Mills purchased the Moodyville Land and Saw Mills Company in 1902 and soon began calling itself “the largest lumber manufacturing establishment in Western Canada or on the Pacific Coast, and one of the largest in the world.” Its four plants had a daily capacity of 500,000 board feet of lumber, 200,000 shingles, 600 doors, and 100,000 lineal feet of mouldings, and the Vancouver Royal City mill produced a selection of patented prefabricated buildings. The head office moved to Vancouver and Hendry followed, settling in a house in the West End in 1903.

Although Hendry’s lumber empire flourished, he continued to speculate in railways, often in partnership with James Jerome Hill. In 1894–95 he played a key role in developing the Kaslo and Slocan Railway, a narrow-gauge line running from Kootenay Lake to the Slocan district which was controlled by the Great Northern. During the 1890s Hendry also acquired rights to bring American railways into Vancouver and to extend lines to the north. The provincial charter he had received in 1900 for the Vancouver, Westminster, Northern and Yukon Railway (VW&Y) was superseded in 1901 by a federal one he obtained. The route’s potential to link Vancouver with booming northern regions made this federal charter attractive, and Hendry would attempt to sell it to various railway companies. Using Hill’s capital, he built the section between New Westminster and Vancouver. In 1904, over the objections of the CPR, a provincial bridge across the Fraser would be completed, making Hendry’s line an alternative to the CPR route into Vancouver.

In 1901 Hendry and Hill secured the charter of the Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern Railway and Navigation Company. This line, connecting the Kootenays to Vancouver and Victoria, had the support of those cities and promised to benefit Hendry, who now had coal interests in the southern interior. The CPR opposed it and Vancouver city council, although positive about the new line, was reluctant to surrender more waterfront land on Burrard Inlet or False Creek as a terminal site. From 1905 to 1908, as acting president, Hendry lobbied for federal permission to let the company absorb the VW&Y, the NWSR, and the Victoria Terminal Railway and Ferry Company, which would have given him the access to waterfront that he wanted. At the time, Hendry’s influence was strong with the Liberal federal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier but weak with Richard McBride’s Conservative provincial government. By 1906 he had settled with the city of Vancouver, which gave up land on False Creek in exchange for becoming the Pacific terminus of the line. Acquisition of the VW&Y property on False Creek and Burrard Inlet and in New Westminster was delayed until 1908. Hendry received some $185,500 for his services on behalf of the companies involved.

Around 1909, with B.C. Mills operating four plants, each in a strategic waterfront location, Hendry began to value their sites rather than their industrial capacity. He expressed interest in selling them and getting out of the lumber business. The anticipated coming of the Canadian Northern Railway to British Columbia enhanced the attractiveness of the properties, which were possible situations for a terminal, as well as raised the value of the VW&Y charter. Hendry’s management of B.C. Mills at this time seems to have reflected his waning enthusiasm for the lumber industry, and matters were aggravated by increasing competition and declining prices. By 1910 the firm had lost its status as the largest of its kind in the province to Alexander Duncan McRae*’s Canadian Western Lumber Company Limited. It was, however, still a major enterprise, having assets valued at more than $12 million in 1911. The Hastings Saw Mill operation, including the site, plant, logging department, with tow boats and machinery, and “Timber Lands,” represented almost two-thirds of that total.

Hendry was involved in several other businesses in the 1910–13 period. He was president of the Nicola Valley Coal and Coke Company Limited and a director of the Hendry Land Company Limited, the British Columbia Sugar Refinery Limited, the Dundee Gold Mine Limited, and the West Shore and Northern Land Company Limited, firms with combined assets of just over $4.5 million. In 1906 Hendry and a partner had lent money to the Stave Lake Power Company Limited, and Hendry had continued to invest during the next two years. With its 1909 reorganization into the Western Canada Power Company Limited, it had become the only serious competitor to the British Columbia Electric Railway Limited, the regionally dominant utility company. Hendry was made a director of Western Canada Power, which was owned in large part by the Bank of Montreal and eastern shareholders, and he was active in lobbying politicians to prevent competitive development by BCER.

In 1910–12 Hendry made several extended trips to England and the Continent for business and for pleasure. In the spring of 1912 he visited a London “nerve specialist” who advised him to wind up some of his business activities. It was at this time that he sold the Royal City Planing Mills land in Vancouver and adjacent Carrall Street waterfront to BCER for $625,000; an option on the site in New Westminster was granted to the Canadian Northern for $700,000. Although the Pacific Great Eastern Railway and the CPR had expressed interest in the Moodyville mill site and the VW&Y charter, neither firm completed a deal. Hendry retained the Hastings and Moodyville mills, the core of his lumber empire.

The marriage in London of his daughter, Aldyen Irene, to Eric Werge Hamber in the spring of 1912 forced Hendry to cancel his passage home on the Titanic. While returning to Canada he slipped and hurt his hip, and the injury prompted him to step down as president of B.C. Mills in favour of Hamber in 1913. Already he had established a family dynasty there which included his nephews Arthur J. and John Alexander Hendry.

During his career Hendry was involved in a number of business organizations. He was president of the Vancouver Board of Trade in 1891, the British Columbia Lumber Association in 1904–5, and the British Columbia Lumber and Shingle Manufacturers Association Limited in 1908. From 1908 to 1910 he was the first British Columbia president of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association, having previously served as provincial vice-president and general vice-president. In 1911–12 he was vice-president of the Canadian Lumbermen’s Association, and in 1910 and 1912 was president of the Canadian Forestry Association.

Hendry was a freemason and a member of the Ancient Order United Workmen, the St Andrew’s and Caledonian Society, and the lumbermen’s Hoo Hoo Club. As part of Vancouver’s business and social élite, he belonged to the Vancouver Club, the Terminal City Club, the Jericho Country Club, and the Canadian Club. He maintained similar affiliations in other cities, including Victoria, New Westminster, Ottawa, and London, England. He was an enthusiast for motoring, yachting, and fishing, and by 1905 had one of the first automobiles in Vancouver. He was a member of various motoring and yachting clubs in Vancouver, the United States, and Europe.

With B.C. Mills, Hendry had assembled what is generally acknowledged as the first major conglomerate in the British Columbia forest industry. From the late 1880s to 1910 his company dominated the industry, both in its size and in the extent of its horizontal integration. By 1911 B.C. Mills controlled over 100,000 acres of timberland, with logging operations concentrated in the Johnstone Strait region. The company led the way in mechanized logging, introducing steam donkeys in 1891 and a logging railway at the Thurlow Island site by 1900. It also attempted to control all aspects of production and transportation. Although the domestic market had become more important, the export trade was not neglected, with lumber shipped to many foreign destinations, including Australia, China, Japan, South Africa, South America, and Great Britain.

Hendry dominated the province’s forest industry, but there was a quixotic aspect to his railway ventures and “chartermongering,” in which he placed himself in opposition to the CPR, the major company in the field. In the same way, Western Canada Power competed directly with BCER, the primary utility company. Although Hendry concentrated on such ventures after 1900, they never proved as successful as his efforts in the lumber industry. At his death B.C. Mills shares constituted almost 73 per cent of his gross estate of $1.25 million; 25,020 shares in the VW&Y, whose charter had expired in 1915, were “of no value.”

Typical of pioneer industrialists in British Columbia, Hendry brought technical skills from an earlier centre to the rich resources of the province. He was unusual in the scale of his success: he introduced “big business” to the forest industry by creating an integrated company that controlled all aspects of production, distribution, and marketing. Hendry served as a prototype for the lumber barons of the 20th century, who built on their antecedents in the forest industry to become an economic, social, and political élite in the province.

Jamie Morton

BCARS, Add. mss 75. B.C., Attorney General, Registrar General (Victoria), Company registration files, files 5–6 (1862); file 10 (1878) (mfm. at BCARS). City of Vancouver Arch., Add. mss 46 (William McNeill papers); Add. mss 538 (Hastings Saw Mill Company papers, 1899–1905); Add. mss 1036 (Hamber family papers), vol.1, files 1–4. Univ. of B.C. Library, Special Coll. and Univ. Arch. Div. (Vancouver), M290 (Hastings Saw Mill records). “British Columbia captains of industry: Mr. John Hendry,” British Columbia Saturday Sunset (Vancouver), 15 June 1907. British Columbia; its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources, comp. H. J. Boam, ed. A. G. Brown (London, 1912). L. B. Dixon, The birth of the lumber industry in British Columbia ([Vancouver, 1956]; offprinted from 11 issues of the British Columbia Lumberman, vols.39–40, November 1955–September 1956). J. B. Kerr, Biographical dictionary of well-known British Columbians, with a historical sketch (Vancouver, 1890). R. A. J. McDonald, “Business leaders in early Vancouver, 1886–1914” (phd thesis, Univ. of B.C., 1977); “Vancouver’s ‘four hundred’: the quest for wealth and status in Canada’s urban west, 1886–1914,” JCS, 25 (1990–91), no.3: 55–73. G. E. Mills and D. W. Holdsworth, “The B.C. Mills prefabricated system: the emergence of ready-made buildings in western Canada,” Canadian Hist. Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and Hist. (Ottawa), no.14 (1975): 127–69. Harris Mitchell, “Old Granville saw birth of British Columbia’s most famous sawmill,” Forest and Mill (Vancouver), 15 Feb. 1949: 3. Patricia Roy, “The fine arts of lobbying and persuading: the case of the B.C. Electric Railway, 1897–1917,” in Canadian business history; selected studies, 1497–1971, ed. D. S. Macmillan (Toronto, 1972), 239–54. Scholefield and Howay, British Columbia. G. W. Taylor, Timber: history of the forest industry in B.C. (Vancouver, 1975). Phyllis Veazey, “John Hendry and the Vancouver, Westminster and Yukon Railway: ‘It would put us on easy street,’” BC Studies, no.59 (autumn 1983): 44–63. Western Canada Lumberman (Vancouver), 5 (1908), continued as Western Lumberman, 6 (1909)–18 (1921).

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Cite This Article

Jamie Morton, “HENDRY, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 24, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hendry_john_14E.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/hendry_john_14E.html
Author of Article:   Jamie Morton
Title of Article:   HENDRY, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   September 24, 2023