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Original title:  Walter E. Massey. From Commemorative biographical record of the county of York, Ontario : containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and many of the early settled families. Published by J.H. Beers & Co., 1907. From Archive.org: https://archive.org/details/recordcountyyork00beeruoft

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MASSEY, WALTER EDWARD HART, businessman, agriculturist, and teacher; b. 4 April 1864 in Newcastle, Upper Canada, son of Hart Almerrin Massey* and Eliza Ann Phelps; m. 11 July 1888 Susie Maria Denton in Lowell, Mass., and they had three daughters and a son; d. 28 Oct. 1901 at Dentonia Park Farm, east of Toronto.

Walter Massey moved with his Methodist family from Newcastle to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1871; at 12 he “made a profession to follow Jesus” and at 14 he became a class-leader in church. Educated in public schools and privately at Brooks School in Cleveland, during summers he participated with his family in religious-educational programs at the Chautauqua Assembly in western New York. In 1883 he entered Boston University, a Methodist Episcopal institution.

As a result of the death in February 1884 of Walter’s brother Charles Albert, manager of the family’s agricultural-implement factory in Toronto, Massey Sr resumed direction. Called back from Boston, Walter joined the Massey Manufacturing Company in October; the following year, he officially became secretary-treasurer. Although elder brother Chester Daniel was vice-president, Walter, sharp and more outgoing, became his father’s right hand and by 1887 had taken on advertising.

In 1887–88, accompanied by brother Frederick Victor and sister Lillian Frances*, Walter travelled around the world. The trip enhanced his position within the company. He established an agency in Australia, and his account of the journey was astutely conveyed in, and later published as, letters to the company’s employees. In his last he assured them that “it shall be my aim in life to do my little part to assist in bringing Canadian workmen to a higher standard of life.” Informed less by the needs of labour than by his family’s notions of popular education and religious uplift, he endeavoured to fulfil that aim on his terms. A keen photographer, he gave an illustrated talk on his tour at the Massey works; he became a founding director of the Home Missionary Society at his parents’ church; and at his own, Central Methodist, he took charge of the Young Men’s Bible League on its organization in 1891.

Massey was reputedly involved in the negotiations that preceded the merger in 1891 of the Massey group with its leading rival, the Harris firm of Brantford [see John Harris*]. Named assistant manager of the new Massey-Harris Company, with additional responsibility for advertising and promotion, he remained close to his president father and, despite differences, assumed an increasing load during Massey Sr’s periods of illness and philanthropic preoccupation. Following his father’s death in 1896, Walter became president of the British empire’s leading farm-implement manufactory.

Massey embraced the presidency in promising circumstances. Well trained, he had none of the roughness of his litigious father, and the social and agrarian criticism that had plagued Massey Sr had died down. Economic recovery was evident by 1897 and the Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier* would hold the tariff on implements at 20 per cent. Operating with a core of experienced implement men, Massey headed a cautious program of expansion. Financial and managerial restructuring, heavy borrowing, plant expansion, continued reliance on drawbacks and overseas trade, divestment of the company’s bicycle division, “working old territories more thoroughly,” and steady advertising (which utilized photography, motion pictures, catching lithography, and opportune themes such as Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee) all contributed to a rise in the value of Massey-Harris’s annual output, from more than $1.6 million in 1896 to almost $3.4 million in 1899.

By early 1900, however, Massey was facing the major challenge of his presidency, the spread into Canada of the struggle between America’s implement giants, McCormick and Deering. In February 1900 a perplexed Massey estimated that American imports equalled in value about two-thirds of the total volume of business done by Massey-Harris in Canada. Such competition, talk of which in 1893 he had dismissed as “largely bluff,” caught him unprepared, partly because Americans employed “forms of competition” that were “unknown in the trade here.” The contest removed whatever thoughts he had about cutting back in the Canadian west, where Massey-Harris carried massive debt from credit sales. Under Massey, however, ground was prepared for a response to the American challenge, notably in the production of large ploughs designed for western use and in the adoption of a prototype of the modern combine, brought from the Australian branch. The year 1900 was further complicated by the unfavourable effect of the South African War on shipping, American inroads into the European market, and a moulders’ strike at the Toronto factory, where Massey replaced the men with moulding machines.

To a far greater extent than his father, Massey assumed additional business interests, serving as president or director of no fewer than ten bodies. A key to their operations and to Massey’s prominence was the intertwining memberships of a predominantly Methodist circle of shrewd financiers and managers, which included Joseph Wesley Flavelle*, George Albertus Cox*, Alfred Ernest Ames*, and Samuel John Moore*. As well, Massey served as a vice-president of the Toronto Board of Trade and as vice-chairman of the implements section of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association.

Massey met with mixed success in his ventures beyond farm machinery. As president of the Canada Cycle and Motor Company (formed in 1899 from five bicycle companies or departments, including that of Massey-Harris, and in which his coterie was active), he profited from a much-questioned stock flotation based on his estimates of costs and sales, but these were badly out and produced disastrous market results. His achievement in publishing was marginally better, but there his involvement shone with literary and nationalist intent. After he had joined Massey Manufacturing, he had encouraged the development of its journal, Masseys Illustrated. Though no littérateur in the opinion of the Toronto Daily Star, in January 1896 he launched the company’s most ambitious literary undertaking, Masseys Magazine, to foster Canadian writers and artists. The market, however, could not support his endeavour: for 18 months, reported the Star, he tried “to interest Canadians in a ten-cent magazine, and spared neither money nor effort. He . . . allowed it to be amalgamated with the Canadian Magazine only when convinced that he had engaged in a hopeless task.”

With equal zeal but greater commercial success, Massey established in 1896–97 a summer home and model farm east of Toronto, near the hamlet of Coleman. Expense was no obstacle: buildings were architecturally designed and fine Jersey cattle were imported. A family enclave and “private Chautauqua where sport, scientific experiment, and cheerful piety blended,” Dentonia was also business oriented. A Boston laboratory was brought in to set up the production of prescription milk and in June 1900, with Ames, Moore, and others, Massey, a devotee of pure food, established the City Dairy Company Limited in Toronto, one of the first suppliers in Canada of pasteurized milk.

In his undertakings Massey struck his associates with his “sense of duty.” Though Chester handled more of the administration of their father’s estate, Walter remained “proud of his family name.” His own interests were evident in the estate’s donation of a hall and library to the Ontario Agricultural College and Experimental Farm. As an executor he took pains to protect his father’s reputation and his own prestige. Reacting quickly in 1896 to “nasty imputations” in the press against the “business integrity and good faith” of the executors, which he claimed were influencing members of the Ontario government, he suggested to the Reverend John Potts that he and other Methodist leaders take counteraction, especially in view of Hart Massey’s munificence. In 1897 Walter and Chester were shocked by insinuations generated by a lawsuit which alleged that Massey Sr had taken over shares that belonged to Charles’s children. When a settlement was reached, at enormous cost to the estate, the brothers were jubilant.

Ever eager to win approbation, Massey was effusive in his public spirit. This spirit was tested in 1900, when Massey, a Liberal and financial backer of Joseph E. Atkinson*, publisher of the Liberal Daily Star, was asked to stand for federal election in Toronto West. He declined. His manufacturing interests, he told Laurier, demanded his “constant attention.” None the less, he had assumed many responsibilities: director of the National Sanitarium Association (the estate had funded its sanatorium at Gravenhurst), regent of Victoria University, patron of the Methodist Church’s deaconess work and the Fred Victor Mission, and trustee of Massey Music Hall, where he fought for the tax-exempt status Massey Sr was thought to have arranged.

Less activated perhaps than his father by social concerns, Massey quietly subscribed to the traditional belief that regeneration began with the individual rather than society. And he gave substance to his belief: as leader of the Young Men’s Bible League until his death he was strongly influential. A skilled biblical teacher, he had an extraordinary rapport with young people, conducting classes at his farm and Toronto home, leading trips to the Massey camp on Sparrow Lake in Muskoka, and drawing upon his photographic and archaeological collections in his lessons.

Described by the Globe as “boyish in appearance and way; simple in attitude,” and “working at something all the time,” he endeared himself not only to his students. Raymond Hart* and Charles Vincent*, Chester’s sons, remembered Walter fondly – bicycle and automobile rides with him at Dentonia, and camping at Sparrow Lake, where, Raymond recalled, his “fabulous” uncle “performed the most prodigious feats like shooting a water snake with a revolver.”

In September 1901 Massey contracted typhoid in Ottawa; he died the following month, at age 37. His untimely loss was mourned in scores of obituaries, memorial addresses, and company resolutions, all of which praised his Christian goodness; a few acknowledged how much he had enjoyed prominence and his almost idyllic life. Voicing the ethos of progressive Methodist businessmen of the era, Joseph Flavelle said that Massey had “held everything of which he was possessed with the high purpose that he was primarily responsible to God as a steward for the use of his talents for the good of his fellow men.”

The last of the family’s real business leaders, Walter Massey left an estate worth more than $760,000. Of his Massey-Harris stock, 1,000 shares were bequeathed in trust for company employees, Victoria University and other Methodist causes, and various institutions and charities.

David Roberts

[Walter Massey is the author of The worlds fair through a camera, and how I made my pictures, intro. W. H. Withrow (Toronto, 1894). Other photographic works by or likely by Massey are to be found in the holdings of Massey College Library, cited below, and in the private collection of family records and memorabilia held by Vincent Massey Tovell of Toronto, a grandson. Mr Tovell granted the author access to his collection, and provided additional detail and insight in an interview on 15 March 1989.  d.r.]

AO, RG 22, ser.305, no.15060; RG 55, I-2-B, liber 62: f.70. Arch. of Massey Hall/Roy Thomson Hall (Toronto), Board of Trustees of Massey Music Hall, minute-book, 1894–1933. Mass., Dept. of the State Secretary, Arch. Div. (Boston), Marriage records, Lowell, Mass., 11 July 1888. Massey College Library, Univ. of Toronto, Massey papers, scrapbooks, and photograph albums (on deposit). NA, MG 26, G: 49407–9, 58434–42, 59559–60, 60526–31; MG 32, A1. Ontario Agricultural Museum Library and Arch. (Milton), Massey-Ferguson Arch. QUA, J. [W.] Flavelle papers, box 67, J. W. Flavelle, memorial address on W. E. H. Massey. UCC-C, W. E. H. Massey, letter of 2 Jan. 1891. Univ. of Toronto Library, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, ms Coll. 194 (G. M. and W. J. Miller coll.), boxes 12, 14–15. Western Reserve Hist. Soc. (Cleveland, Ohio), Brooks School (Cleveland), Annual catalogue (Boston), 1877–78; (Cleveland), 1880–81; muster rolls. Christian Guardian, 27 March 1901. Farmers Advocate and Home Magazine, 1 Sept. 1898, 1 Nov. 1901. Monetary Times, 1 Nov. 1901. World (Toronto), 1896–1904. Michael Bliss, A Canadian millionaire: the life and business times of Sir Joseph Flavelle, bart., 1858–1939 (Toronto, 1978). C. T. Currelly, I brought the ages home (Toronto, 1956). The dairy industry in Canada, ed. H. A. Innis (Toronto, 1937). Merrill Denison, Harvest triumphant: the story of Massey-Harris, a footnote to Canadian history (Toronto, 1948). Ross Harkness, JE. Atkinson of theStar” (Toronto, 1963). Industrial Canada (Toronto), 2 (1901–2): 123. T. J. McBride, Glimpses into spirit life (Christchurch, N.Z., [1927]). [C.] V. Massey, Whats past is prologue: the memoirs of the Right Honourable Vincent Massey, c.h. (Toronto, 1963). R. [H.] Massey, When I was young (Toronto, 1976). National encyclopedia of Canadian biog. (Middleton and Downs). Newspaper reference book. W. G. Phillips, The agricultural implement industry in Canada; a study of competition (Toronto, 1956). G. H. Stanford, To serve the community: the story of Torontos Board of Trade (Toronto, 1974). J. D. Thomas, “Servants of the church: Canadian Methodist deaconess work, 1890–1926,” CHR, 65 (1984): 371–95. Gordon Winder, “Continental implement wars: the Canadian agricultural implement industry during the transition to corporate capitalism, 1860–1940” (progress report for phd thesis research, Univ. of Toronto, 1987; copy in Ontario Agricultural Museum).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

David Roberts, “MASSEY, WALTER EDWARD HART,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/massey_walter_edward_hart_13E.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/massey_walter_edward_hart_13E.html
Author of Article:   David Roberts
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   October 2, 2023