Final Fleury: Famous Joseph Fleury Jr. Plows – Part III

After the death of Joseph Fleury Jr., his sons continued changing lives for farmers in Canada

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Joseph Fleury Jr. founded the Aurora Agricultural Works in 1859 in Aurora, Ontario, Canada.

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Editor's note: Joseph Fleury Jr. launched an agricultural implement manufacturing enterprise in 1859 that eventually became J. Fleury's Sons Ltd. of Aurora, Ontario, Canada. The firm manufactured 22 models of single-furrow walking plows, extensive numbers of other agricultural implements, and home and forest machinery well into the 20th century. The products were sold worldwide. In 1938, the company merged with T.E. Bissell Co., an Flora, Ontario, producer of coulters and disks, and the new firm, which operated until 1969, was called Fleury Bissell Co. Ltd. Following is the final installment in a series that reports on the history of the Fleury firm, written by Bruce F. Fleury, a direct descendant of Joseph Fleury Sr.

View part I and part II 

Part III

The death of founder Joseph Fleury Jr. in 1880 placed the Aurora Agricultural Works, Aurora, Ontario, without clear management. Joseph Jr.'s two sons were too young to assume operation of the firm. The eldest, Herbert Watson (H.W.), was only 20, while his brother, William James, was 15, and both were in school. As a consequence, the company's long-time manager and bookkeeper, Andrew Yule, assumed control of the operation until 1886, when H.W. was old enough to assume responsibility himself.

Prosperous times

According to the Aurora Banner newspaper, Yule performed in "a most efficient and effective manner." H.W., 26 years old in 1886, succeeded Yule and operated the company for the next 53 years until 1938. In due course, William James earned a law degree and established the firm of McMaster, Montgomery and Fleury in Toronto. Then he opened an annex office at the Aurora Agricultural Works to provide managerial and legal services to the family firm, of which he was a full and active partner.

The company's name changed to J. Fleury's Sons Ltd., and the firm enjoyed unprecedented product growth and financial prosperity during H.W.'s tenure. Western Canada was finally open to settlement when the Canadian Pacific Railway reached the Pacific Ocean in 1889. The farm population, as well as demand for farm equipment in those far reaches of Canada, far exceeded production of quality agricultural products in the United States.

Free trade agreements provided added opportunities for exceptional sales, as did the Fleury company's highly successful involvement in the 1889 Paris World Exposition and the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. An effective product distribution system was established from the beginning, which efficiently supplied thousands of farmers with equipment and parts to Canada, the U.S. and other countries. To ensure the company would continue to meet the demand for its implements, the newly built manufacturing plant was expanded to 70,000 square feet. It was staffed by a highly skilled workforce of more than 200 employees that provided the necessary labor to meet orders. A new office building was also built on Wellington Street at the town's center to handle the increased business.

New century, new leadership

H.W. Fleury was born in 1860, grew up in Aurora, attended Upper Canada College - a prestigious high school in York (Toronto) - and went on to study at the university level. He married Leila M. Meyers, and they had one daughter, Marguarite. She later became an opera singer and lived most of her life in Paris, where she was a prisoner during World War I.

Like his father, H.W. was an excellent business manager and local political leader. His quality reviews of company products - particularly at shipping time - were renowned, and he was reported to have been very considerate of employees and their families. Many, including foundry worker Jacob Anderson, who was 93 in 1938, knew no other employer. Most employees built, owned and lived in their own homes thanks to extra financial assistance from the company. Herbert was also politically active, serving as mayor of Aurora for a number years, and he gave generously to community groups through both monetary donations and personal service. Inglehurst, the family mansion, was used for social fund-raising events through the difficult years of WWI and the Great Depression to benefit the community.

H.W. died Sept. 16, 1940 at age 80 after a long illness. Before he became sick, he and William James led the company into a merger with T.E. Bissell Co. of Elora, Ontario, Canada. The Elora Express reported that the deal was official on Dec. 7, 1937 for $233,000 in stock shares. The new entity was called the Fleury-Bissell Implement Co., a well-known company in the contemporary agricultural industry.

William James, born in 1865, followed his brother's footsteps, attending Upper Canada College and law school. He married Margaret E. Buck, and they had one daughter, Elinor, and one son, William Eric, an architect who formed Fleury-Arthurs Architects in Toronto. William James was a strong influence on all legal and management aspects of the company. In addition to his law practice, he served with J. Fleury's Sons throughout his life. He died May 22, 1946 at age 81.

Prolific Production

The extent of the Fleury firm's overall production was enormous. The company made 100,000 single-furrow walking plows in the first 50 years, plus the extensive production of other farm implements and equipment. The majority of sales were in Ontario, and throughout Canada through dealerships and provincial agents, including the John Deere Plow Co., which became a major distributor in Western Canada. Provincial agents in addition to Deere included the Fairchild Co., Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary; T.J. Trapp and Co., New Westminster, British Columbia; J. Clark and Son, Fredrickton, New Brunswick; and the Lounsberry Co., Newcastle, New Brunswick.

International sales were successful, too. As early as 1878, the Aurora Banner reported J. Fleury's Sons shipped two boxcar loads of its "famous" Meadow Lark reapers to France, with an additional eight boxcars prepared for later shipment. This was followed by the announcement of two boxcar loads of plows to the Lower Provinces -Canada's Atlantic Provinces - with four more to follow. Clearly, the company's products were popular with farmers in Canada, the U.S. and across the Atlantic. The world market opened on a grand scale for the business following the company's successful participation in the Paris and Chicago World's Fairs, which the brothers effectively advertised in its catalogs.

In 1988, sponsored by the Fleury Family Board, Joseph Fleury Jr. finally received permanent recognition for his diligent work and agricultural legacy. He was inducted into the Ontario Agriculture Hall of Fame at the Ontario Agriculture Museum, Milton, Ontario. Like the man who founded the company, most Fleury plows and farm implements completed their chores without much notice of their significant role in the agricultural history of Canada and the world. Today, many of those well-used plows and other equipment are displayed in front yards and farms across North America. They stand as mute witness to Joseph Fleury Jr.'s accomplishments and those of his descendants, and remind us never to forget the importance of J. Fleury's Sons Co. Ltd. FC

Bruce F. Fleury is a fifth-generation descendant of Joseph Fleury Sr., and has been chairman of the Fleury Family Board since its inception 24 years ago. He's a former teacher and retired commissioner of municipal recreation, parks and culture for the city of Scarborough, Ontario. He and his wife, Patti, live on a 200-acre farm near Kinmount, Ontario. Documenting the history of the Aurora Agricultural Works and J. Fleury's Sons Ltd. has been Bruce's special interest. He also owns a small collection of Fleury plows and farm implements. He would be pleased to hear from fellow Fleury collectors and other descendants of the original Fleury brothers. Contact him at 2081 Galway Road, Rural Route 1, Kinmount, Ontario, Canada, K0M 2A0; e-mail:  brucefleury@ptbo.igs.net .