Robert Miller

Robert Miller

1857 - 1935

There are few names of more significance to the history of the livestock business in Canada than that of Robert Miller. The famous livestock man was born on July 15, 1857 in Brougham (Pickering), Upper Canada into a Scottish family of immense importance to the livestock community of Ontario. His father, John, had migrated from Scotland to Upper Canada in 1835, bringing livestock with him. His farm, known as Thistle Ha’, was known far and wide, and is currently a National Historic Site. The Millers specialized in Shorthorns, which would dominate the family industry during Robert’s life.

Raised in such an environment, Robert developed a keen interest in livestock, even at a very young age: at only ten years of age he was already exhibiting sheep. After completing his education at the local school by age sixteen, he took up the farmer’s calling, joining his father’s livestock operation, John Miller and Sons. By the late 1890s Robert had become a capable livestock man himself- a breeder, importer, and showman of his family’s famous Shorthorns. After his elder brother, William, who was the chief buyer of the company, died young, Robert took up the position. He eventually opened up his own farm in Ringwood, Ontario, called Burnbrae, but he still worked with John Mills and Sons until its cessation in 1904.

Robert went to great lengths to establish markets for Shorthorns over a vast area. He made his first trip to Scotland in 1881, and afterwards made over twenty-five trips across the Atlantic in order to establish extensive sales networks for selling the stock of Ontario breeders in an international market. As a result of his travels, he obtained an acute understanding of international breeding trends, and he was able to secure sales networks all throughout Canada, the United States, Mexico, and South America. Furthermore, his business connection to the American breeder George Harding enhanced his international marketing (as Harding’s organization was dedicated to popularizing the breed in Mexico and South America). His merchandising prowess helped make Thistle Ha’ and Burnbrae worldwide centres of livestock activity, and they earned a reputation for top-quality products.

One of Robert’s main ambitions was the improvement of the transportation and importation of Shorthorns in Canada, a goal which he worked tirelessly towards. Throughout the 1890s and the 1900s, he was an ardent advocate for reducing railway rates on the shipment of purebred livestock. He was the first breeder to persuade the Canadian Pacific Railway to purchase bulls for the betterment of Western livestock, the first herd being shipped in 1898. Additionally, he advocated for the raising of tariffs on non-purebred animals in order to restrict the importation of inferior stock into the country. Robert was also fervently against the regulations put in place to restrict tuberculous cattle coming into Canada. He argued that the tuberculin test, introduced in 1894, which was infamous for being inaccurate, would severely damage the importing business.

Also spending some of his time as a showman at fairs, Robert’s reputation and expertise in livestock judging soon put him in international demand. He was even recruited to judge livestock in South American shows, such as the Palermo show in Buenos Aires in 1916, which was at the time the largest show in the world. He used these unique opportunities to promote the selling of Canadian stock in these countries. His international reputation is evidenced by his induction into the Live Stock Association of Mexico in 1902 as an honorary life-member.

Miller involved himself intensively in various national livestock associations for the development of various breeds in the country. Although his great passion was shorthorns, he also dealt with sheep and horses. He was president of no less than four livestock organizations- Hackney horses, Clydesdale horses, sheep, and Shorthorns. He also had a hand in creating the Canadian National Livestock Records, serving as chairman twice. Robert had the distinction of becoming the first farmer president of the Canadian National Exhibition Association in 1924, during which time he was involved in the creation of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, an event that is currently the largest indoor agricultural fair in the world.

Robert Miller was inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1980. His passion for Shorthorns and his mission of streamlining and developing the livestock industry of Canada established him as one of Canada’s great Cowmen.

Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture