Editor’s note:This is part II of a III part series, read part I here. Joseph Fleury Jr. launched an agricultural implement manufacturing enterprise in 1859 that eventually became J. Fleury’s Sons Co., Ltd. of Aurora, Ontario, Canada. The firm manufactured 22 models of single-furrow walking plows, a number of other agricultural implements, and home and forest machinery well into the 20th century. The products were sold worldwide. In 1937, the company merged with T.E. Bissell Co., an Elora, Ontario, producer of coulters and discs, and the new firm, which operated until 1969, was called Fleury Bissell Co. Ltd. Following is the second in a three-part series that reports on the history of the Fleury firm, written by Bruce F. Fleury, a direct descendant of Joseph Fleury Jr.
Joseph Fleury Jr. initiated business as a blacksmith in 1859 in Machell’s Corner (now Aurora), Ontario, Canada. After only a short time, however, he moved on to design and build experimental single-furrow walking plows, and established the Aurora Agricultural Works on Wellington Street, near Yonge Street in Aurora.
Fleury’s cast iron plow beams proved more durable and maneuver-able than the wood-beamed imported European plows more commonly found on Canadian farms of that day. Farmers quickly recognized the advantage offered by Fleury’s product, and his business soon enjoyed great success.
During Fleury’s most active business period, the 1860s and most of the 1870s, he developed 22 different models of the single-furrow walking plows. During the firm’s first 50 years, it turned out more than 100,000 plows – some 40 a week – that were sold coast to coast in Canada, and exported to the United States and other countries around the world.
The famous plows
Different models of Fleury plows were designed to meet every need that might arise for farmers. The single-furrow walking plows were identified by either numbers, names or both. Among those with double designations were the “Dandy,” also known as the famous No. 21; the “Farmer’s Friend,” or No. 11; and “Louise,” No. 17.
Single-furrow walking plows that were assigned only names included the “Little Queen,” which the company promoted as “highly esteemed in the Maritime Provinces,” and the “New Canada.” Numbered designations ranged from five to 60, but not consecutively. Little is known about how and why the numbers were selected. Tinker-patented wheel plows were similarly identified, although their numbers did not range as high as those given to the walking plows.
Joseph Fleury Jr., below, founded the Aurora Agricultural Works in 1859 in Aurora, Ontario, Canada. He died Sept. 23,1880.
Early on, the firm also began production of other field implements and of various home, farm and forest machinery. Catalogs from the day show straw cutters, power straw cutters, ensilage and straw blowers, oat flakers, reversible root cutters, pulpers and slicers, cylinder root pulpers, four-, six-, 10- and 12-horse powers, machine jacks, circular saws, and farm and garden wheel barrows. In addition, Fleury tractor plows were manufactured into the early 1900s, along with reapers, mowers, seed grain drills, hay rakes and cultivators, as well as a treadle sewing machine, marketed as “efficient, quiet and durable, for the farm home.”
During his lifetime, Joseph Jr. enjoyed his family and a local political career, as well as the challenges of his manufacturing business. On July 2, 1859, he married Ann Watson Hughes, who grew up on the farmstead next door to his childhood home, near King City, Ontario, and who was six years younger than him. They had three children, Herbert Watson (H.W.), Clara and William James. On Oct. 18, 1871, Ann died suddenly at age 39. Soon after Ann’s death, Joseph married her sister, Sarah Webb Hughes, who was 10 years younger than Ann, and subsequently, Sarah and Joseph had two children, Laurine Adele (Clute) and Viola Sarah.
Herbert Watson and William James later owned and operated J. Fleury’s Sons Limited. Viola Sarah lived to be 93, and always resided at the family mansion, called Inglehurst. The home was built in 1876 under Joseph Jr.’s direction on Yonge St., immediately across from the Agricultural Works. H.W.’s heirs sold it in 1945, and it was demolished in 1980.
In 1866, Joseph Fleury Jr. became interested in municipal political affairs and was elected to local office. He received 91 more votes than any other candidate according to the Aurora Banner, the local newspaper. In 1872, the Banner reported Fleury was recruited to seek the Reeveship of Aurora, which is similar to the post of mayor. A petition signed by 72 residents requested he run for the office, and he obliged the following year. He won and served as Reeve until his death, in 1880. He was also appointed Warden of York County in 1879. Joseph Jr.’s obituary in the Newmarket Era newspaper, portrayed him personally as a liberal and a man of great initiative, and politically as a reformer.
His personal journal, now on file in the Aurora Historical Museum, reveals his thorough and competent town management, including a systematic approach to town planning. It also includes a report of his single-handed organization of Queen Victoria’s birthday celebration on May 24, 1875, in Aurora.
The Aurora Agricultural Works
A May 30, 1873 Banner report gives a detailed glimpse into Joseph Jr.’s business world, too. The piece reports on operations at the Works and some of the innovations Fleury’s employees had at their disposal. The article describes the molding shop and a nearby building for complimentary tasks such as cleaning castings, the blacksmith shop, machine shop, iron finishing shop, planning room, wood and paint shops, finishing shop and other areas.
In the blacksmith shop, the newspaper reports, “The boy to blow the old-fashioned bellows is dispensed with. And the blast for the forge is supplied by one of Sturtevant’s blowers, placed in the machine shop, and the wind carried in pipes laid underground to each forge, so that all the workman has to do is to pull a lever which opens a valve, and his forge is supplied with an excellent blast.”
The piece also mentions the engine that powered the entire factory, “… is a new one put in by Sykes and Elviridge, of Newmarket (just north of Aurora). It is 30 hp and runs very free and true.”
The Banner reported that the factory focused on building reapers and mowers. “Two kinds of reapers are made -the Johnson, and Wood’s self rake. And are well known throughout the country for the satisfaction which they have given to all who have used them. The mowers are also made, the Cayuga Chief, Jr., and the Sprague. While passing through the factory we noticed that the best material is used, and great pains taken by the workmen to have all parts of the machines fit properly together.”
The Banner concluded its piece by congratulating “proprietor Mr. Fleury, upon the success which has attended his efforts in building up a first-class agricultural implement manufactory, and we hope he will continue to increase his business, and thus add to the permanent interests of our village.”
In late 1873, three events took place that might be of interest to collectors. First, Fleury investigated diversifying his business through the manufacture of treadle sewing machines. He built an addition to the Agricultural Works, and produced Fleury sewing machines using blueprints provided by the machine’s inventor, J.C. Bond.
The second even, as the Banner reported, was a “complimentary supper” provided by the workmen for Joseph Jr., and all the employees – 71 at the time – to express their appreciation to him for their continued employment at the factory and for the manner in which they were treated, even in difficult times.
According to the Banner, the chairman of the event congratulated the guest of honor on the early success of the new sewing machines coming off the lines, and since he was given the opportunity, Joseph responded. The company’s founder expressed his appreciation for the dinner and the kind remarks, complimented the organizers for not serving “loquacious” beverages and wished them good health. He also gave an extensive overview of the company’s history.
The third event worth noting occurred Aug. 5, 1876, when sewing machine production and manufacture of all other Fleury products halted abruptly after a devastating fire hit the factory. The Newmarket Era reported that the fire spread with “fearful rapidity, burning the entire Works, except the molding and blacksmith shops, which were built of brick.”
No insurance existed in those days on either the buildings or the stock, and losses were estimated between $45,000 to $70,000. More significant was the loss of patterns, designs and plans that had to be re-created before business could resume. At a well-attended public meeting soon after the fire, a $3,000 municipal loan was granted to the company, to be repaid over a five-year period. By the time Joseph Fleury Jr. died Sept. 23, 1880, the Agricultural Works were completely rebuilt and expanded, and a 200-man workforce was on the job.
Death of the patriarch
Fleury was only 48 years old when he died suddenly. The funeral was held on Saturday, Sept. 25, 1880, and 100 employees, 300 townspeople and a number of Freemasons from Aurora and nearby communities attended the service. Eighty vehicles made up the cemetery procession, described as “one of the most imposing ever seen in the village.”
Fleury’s passing signaled more than the demise of one individual. He’d exhibited extraordinary pioneer and business ingenuity with respect to farming in Canada. Had he lived longer, he surely would have continued to make significant contributions to the field and to his community. His enduring Fleury plows and other implements, though, can still be seen in museum and private collections, and sometimes, in use to work farms and large gardens.
Fleury’s sons took up their father’s work after his death, and the Fleury name was associated with agricultural plows and other implements until the late 1930s. Operating as Fleury Bissell Ltd., the old Aurora Agricultural Works remained open until the end of World War II. Then, operations moved to Elora, Ontario, where they continued until the mid-1980s – 120 years after Joseph Fleury Jr. opened his first blacksmith shop. FC
Bruce 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 is a former teacher and the retired commissioner of municipal recreation, parks and culture for the city of Scarborough, Ontario. He and his wife, Patti, now live on their 200-acre farm near Kinmount, Ontario. Documenting the history of the Aurora Agricultural Works and J. Fleury’s Sons Limited has been one of 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, KOM 2A0; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The third and final installment covers the work of Joseph Fleury Jr.’s sons, Herbert Watson Fleury and William James Fleury, and the Canadian company’s global marketing efforts, including at the Paris World’s Exposition in 1889, where the company received various awards, medals and diplomas, and at the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, and ties to the John Deere Plow Co. in Canada West.