James Thomas Gordon

James Thomas Gordon

DECEMBER 24, 1858 - DECEMBER 21, 1919

One of the most well known cattlemen in Western Canadian history, James Thomas Gordon was the cofounder of Gordon and Ironside Company. He was born on December 24, 1858 in Tweed, Hastings County, Ontario to John and Sarah Gordon, who were Irish immigrants. Upon completing his education at Tweed’s public school he promptly took up the career of his parents- farming. In 1879 he migrated to Manitoba where he began working for a local lumber firm, Dick Banning & Company. Through this experience he was eventually able to strike out on his own and forge ahead in the lumber industry, setting up his own company in Manitou.

It was in 1885 that he formed a partnership with Robert Ironside, a local agent of a farm implements manufacturing company. Together they formed the Gordon & Ironside firm, which dealt in lumber, coal, and building materials. Most importantly, it was then that Gordon first ventured into the cattle business, the firm shipping cattle to troops during the North-west Rebellion. This was a partnership which proved to be a very fruitful one that would significantly change the fortunes of the Canadian cattle industry. However, the firm initially got off to a rocky start, as it was formerly dissolved when Gordon moved to Pilot Mound, where he continued to deal in livestock.

In 1890 the two reformed their partnership and began shipping cattle to Britain, drawing on livestock from as far away as the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. They would tour through the ranching country in the early summer and buy cattle for delivery in the fall when the cattle would be fat from summer grazing.They would sometimes personally travel with trainloads of cattle to oversee them loaded in Montreal for overseas shipment. Eventually they began raising their own herds. The business grew at an incredible rate, and by the mid 1890s the company was the largest cattle exporter in Canada, shipping tens of thousands of head of cattle during their best years. The company expanded by exploiting the rapid growth of the international cattle trade during the end of the nineteenth century.

In 1897, they joined forces with Albertan cattle buyer William Henry Fares, and thus Gordon, Ironside, and Fares Co. was born. They centralized their operations in a large packing plant in Winnipeg in 1898, taking advantage of its proximity to the C.P.R. tracks for easier shipping. The three formed a trinity whereby each member would look after one of the three central elements of their business: Fares would be responsible for purchasing cattle, Gordon was in charge of the packing operation, and Ironside handled the export business.

Gordon, Ironside, and Fares dominated the Canadian cattle industry until 1918, when, after economic troubles during the World War during which the cattle trade with Britain collapsed, it was sold to Harris Abattoir Co. of Toronto. This company eventually was merged into Canada Packers Inc., a company that is now known as Maple Leaf Farms and has since become one of Canada’s premier meat industries.

Throughout his career Gordon involved himself in several other organizations outside of his company, most of them dealing with his life’s passion- livestock. He served as director of the Winnipeg exposition company, taking up the position in 1889 and served as President of the Dominion Exhibition at Winnipeg in 1904. He was also the founding president of the Winnipeg livestock exchange. He died on December 21, 1919, in his Winnipeg residence, leaving behind a legacy as one of Canada’s pioneers in the cattle industry.

Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture