James A. McSloy

James A. McSloy

SEPTEMBER 5, 1855 - APRIL 10, 1926

James A. McSloy was a manufacturer, fruit grower, dairy farmer, and horseman of considerable reputation and capability. He was most well-known for founding the Canadian Hair Cloth Co., a company which thrived under his leadership, and operating the Martindale dairy farm, which was famous for its Guernsey stock.

McSloy was born on September 5, 1855, in St. Catharines, where he would spend the majority of his life. He was educated at a private school before attending the St. Catharines Collegiate Institute. Upon graduating he made his first foray into the business world, opening a dry goods store and operating it from 1870 to 1874. In 1874 he purchased a bakery, which he conducted under the name of McSloy Bros. from 1874 to 1884.

In 1884 McSloy established his most successful business venture, the Canadian Hair Cloth Company, for which he served as president. The company manufactured cloth from horse tail hair, which would be utilized by tailors in lining and padding garments and train seats. In 1888, McSloy and his brother, Hugh, purchased land near the Welland Canal from one Mr. R. Bligh and promptly set up a large textile mill for their company. The four storey building ran on hydraulic power generated from the canal plant. By the 1910s, the company had become so successful that McSloy was able to purchase more land next to the factory.

McSloy’s foray into the farmer’s calling began in 1908 when he and his brother inherited a sizeable piece of property known as Martindale farm from their uncle, Edward McArdle. The brothers started out with a fruit farm on the location, with the production of peaches being their special feature. The farm quickly became a thriving operation, with over thirty-two acres of land producing grapes, asparagus, cherries, and peaches.

However, it was the decision to venture into the dairy business that truly launched both Martindale and McSloy into national fame. There were several reasons why McSloy decided to take such a course. Using his sound business sense, he realized that a large and growing city such as St. Catharines would need a reliable supply of good, pure milk. Furthermore, as farms were struggling to secure enough manure to maintain high standards of production in fruits and vegetables, McSloy realized that maintaining fertility would be done more efficiently by getting the farm itself to produce its own manure. Thus, he established on Martindale a herd of high-class Guernsey dairy cattle, which would contribute to the requirements of the city and solve the fertilizer problem.

Increasing and maintaining the fertility of the land was quickly overshadowed by the financial success of the Guernseys themselves. In 1924, the sales from milk alone equaled $10,000 a year. McSloy quickly became a Guernsey enthusiast and one of the most active and consistent promoters of the breed in the country. He took great cares to secure the best of the breed obtainable; for example, in 1920, he visited the place of origin of the breed, the Island of Guernsey, a place known for the healthiness of its stock (tuberculosis was practically non-existent on the isle), in order to hand pick ten females and a young bull for his farm.

Martindale was not only an iconic image for the community - it became known throughout the province and the country. On four occasions field days were held at Martindale Farm, which were largely attended by people from far and wide. These events were so impressive that the Ontario Department of Agriculture had motion pictures taken illustrating them, which garnered great educational demand throughout Canada.

Aside from being a renowned businessman and farmer, McSloy was also an exemplary human being. He was incredibly generous in contributing to the welfare of his fellow citizens, and he always played an active role in his community. He donated the ground for the public library in St. Catharines and also the site and original building for the Tuberculosis Hospital in the same city. He was also Captain of the St. Catharines Home Guard. Furthermore, his residence (known as “Suncroft”) was a focal point for St. Catharines social activity, hosting several evening events and clubs, notably the Hunt Club.

Although his main area of focus was cattle, he also had an interest in horses and was an avid equestrian. He exhibited at principal horse shows throughout Canada and the United States, including the International Horse Show at New York. His exploits at these competitions gained him numerous trophies.

McSloy died on April 10, 1926. Throughout his life, he proved to be a remarkable farmer and skillful businessman, and his contribution to the community of St. Catharines was substantial. Today his hair cloth company building stands as the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts at Brock University, having shut down in 2007. His famous Martindale farm was sold to Stokes Seeds, a St. Catharines based seed company, which relocated the operation to Thorold, but a small barn still stands at the old property today as a last reminder of the exploits of the great dairy farmer.

Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture