Editor’s note: 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 Flora, Ontario, producer of coulters and disks, and the new firm, which operated until 1969, was called Fleury Bissell Co., Ltd. Following is the first of a three-part series that reports on the history of the Fleury firm and is written by Bruce F. Fleury, a descendant of Joseph Fleury Jr.
Fleury family legend has it that three Fleury brothers arrived in New France, which is now Quebec, Canada, in 1665, as officers in the crack Corrigan-Salieres French Regiment, sent by Louis XIV to battle against the British army and its ally, the Iroquois Nation, at Lake Champlain.
After the French defeat in 1670 at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, near Quebec City, the brothers went separate ways. The eldest returned to France, the second joined a precursor of the North West Co. as a ‘cour de bois’ or ‘runner of the woods,’ in Canada West and the third settled as a squire on a large seigneury, or French-style farm, at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec.
It is on the seigneury that our story begins some four generations later. In 1810, Joseph Fleury, a descendant of the squire, left Trois-Rivieres for Upper Canada (Ontario), where he was welcomed to the Sipes family’s pioneer farm near the village of Markham, close to York, now Toronto.
Joseph was described as a yeoman, farmer and soldier, having fought in the War of 1812 between Canada and the United States, and on Oct. 31, 1814, he married Mary Sipes in Markham. They moved a few miles west, to Temperanceville, now called King City, where Joseph purchased a 100-acre farm for 325 English pounds. The couple raised 11 children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Joseph Fleury Jr., the ‘standard bearer’ in this series, was their youngest son.
At age 27, in 1859, Joseph Jr., with his brother, Alexander, established a black-smith shop in Machell’s Corners, which changed its name in 1862 to Aurora. Earlier, Alexander apprenticed under a Newmarket blacksmith named Blaker and then established a shop on the family homestead, where he built farm implements as part of his business. At the same time, Joseph Jr. apprenticed with Joseph Wells of Temperanceville, and became an accomplished black-smith and ironmonger. Joseph Jr. also had an entrepreneurial spirit, and soon he formed a partnership with another blacksmith, Thomas Pearson. For a short time, they were joined by Alexander, too.
The men set up operations on two village lots near the center of Machell’s Corners, and ample business came their way. Young Joseph reportedly enjoyed his trade, but was particularly interested in farm equipment experimentation. The signing of the Reciprocity Treaty between Great Britain and the United States in 1854 created an immediate demand for many Canadian products, especially flour. Joseph Jr. and his partners seized the opportunity, recognizing the need Canadian farmers suddenly had for light, durable and strong single-furrow walking plows, as well as other farming implements. He knew the plows would have to be drawn by a team of horses, or more likely, a four-horse hitch, and that they would face difficult soil conditions, especially rocks, boulders and ground roots that were hallmarks of the Canadian fields.
By 1865, though, the blacksmithing partnership failed. Alexander moved on to Markham, where he went into his own blacksmithing business and built plows under the name of A. Fleury and Sons. Joseph Jr. retained the two business lots in Machell’s Corners, where he opened the Aurora Agricultural Works and began experimenting with a cast-iron beam for his plows.
Previously, Canada’s pioneer farmers bought their plows and other farm equipment primarily from Scotland and England. The imported plows were built mostly with wooden beams, suitable for the well-tilled farms of the old country but not strong enough for Canadian farms.
After five ill-fated attempts, Joseph Jr. successfully designed a stronger plow, which he introduced in 1860 and 1861. It was called the Fleury No. 10 and, after a series of improvements, renamed the “Famous Fleury No. 21” or the “Dandy.”
To produce his plow in numbers, Joseph Jr. had to resolve many problems, the biggest being a lack of iron ore. Not enough quality ore was being mined in Canada at the time to meet Fleury’s own estimated need of 2 tons each week, let alone that of other manufacturers. Imported pig iron, again coming primarily from Scotland, was expensive, and transportation costs added to its price. Alternately, Joseph Jr. bought all the scrap iron he could locate, including iron stoves, kettles and tools, and used that until Canadian mining interests caught up with domestic demand.
Another problem Joseph Jr. faced was establishing larger manufacturing facilities, and finding enough skilled workers to fill them. The number of Fleury employees grew rapidly, though. By 1873, the firm employed 71 workers, and more than 200 by 1880. It was said the ‘Works’ didn’t pay well but did pay forever – as long as the worker was able to come to the factory and put in a day’s work.
Finally, Joseph Jr. had to address the problem of how to distribute and deliver his extremely heavy and bulky equipment. Historical references report six-horse wagons laden with all types of Fleury products routinely departed from Aurora, destined for farm equipment distributors and Fleury agents in nearby towns.
The late Monte Robson, whose father, William Thomas Robson, was an early Fleury agent in Fennelon Falls, Ontario, reported that each spring with their order of Fleury equipment came a specially decorated ‘presentation’ plow – usually a No. 21 – hidden in the wagonload. The special plow, with brightly painted handles, was to be presented at the Fall Fair to the farmer who won the local plowing match.
In 1853, the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railway reached Machell’s Corners, providing Joseph Jr. with a more effective means of delivering his products. The small railway met up with major lines, the Canadian Pacific (CPR) and the Grand Trunk, which later became the Canadian National Railway (CNR), linking the Fleury factory with the rest of the world.
The first recorded sale of a Fleury No. 10 plow is thought to have taken place in the spring of 1861. The buyer was John Siddons, a farmer in Stonewall, Canada West, now just outside of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
That delivery was followed quickly by a $1,000 order for 100 No. 10 plows, placed by one of Joseph Jr.’s relatives, a well-known businessman named William Linton, who also lived in Aurora. These plows reportedly sold so well that Linton immediately ordered 100 more, and records show the early No. 10s earned an immediate reputation among their buyers for ‘quality, durability, lightness in weight and maneuverability.’
With this financial boost, Joseph was able to begin mass-producing the “Famous” J. Fleury’s Sons Plows and other farm implements.
Today, as many farm machinery and equipment collectors throughout North America know, a Fleury plow is very easily identified. Joseph Jr., never one to be humble according to family history, placed the Fleury insignia boldly on all his plows and equipment. It was cast into the beam of every model and embossed in brightly painted letters on all the other pieces of equipment, too. 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 Ltd. has been one of Bruce’s special interests; 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:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part two covers Joseph Fleury Jr.’s business productivity, a description of his manufacturing facilities in 1873, employees’ perspectives, the introduction of new products, a devastating fire in 1879, the early deaht of Joseph Jr. and subsequent changes at the firm that involved his sons.