Book Review October 2017
WOW! What a treasure! I am so excited! I have just finished reading Bill Cockshutt’s new book entitled Merchants Exchange: Ignatius Cockshutt, 1812-1901, Canadian Entrepreneur.The author, Ignatius Cockshutt’s great grandson, Bill Cockshutt, has brought Brantford’s history to life, using Ignatius’ letters and notebooks, plus photos, maps, family charts, portraits and facts about family members, and weaving them into a readable story and a very attractive book. The references to family historical documents fills gaps with facts never before accessible to Brantford’s historians and creates a history of the whole Cockshutt family, covering from their early beginnings as yeomen and gentry in Lancashire, England, to the lives and careers of Ignatius’ nine children and their families. This attractive book can be enjoyed by local history buffs and researchers or anyone who would like a good story about Brantford’s founding.
Ignatius Cockshutt has been described as “Mr. Brantford”, and the book centres around him and his family’s influence on Brantford’s development from its early beginnings. With the family already having established a mercantile store in “muddy York”, the young Ignatius set out alone to locate and start a business on an ideal lot near the waterfront and in the downtown of the small village at Brant’s Ford. Using his wits, common sense, high energy and his unique talents, he established a business which grew rapidly and successfully with the town to become the biggest and most competitive store in Brantford, The Merchants Exchange.
The business methods that made Ignatius and his family such successful business people were: being honest and fair, locating strategically, bartering with people who had goods but no cash, paying for investments with ready cash, using caution and good timing in his dealings. The family had vast real estate holdings and invested in farms, city lots, buildings, toll roads, bridges, mortgages and loans. Ignatius and his wife and family lived modestly above the store and all were involved in the business, which gave good training to all the children. They went on to flourish in various businesses or politics. Ignatius’ sister Jane married and soon became a widow. She left the Exchange to become a teacher, opened a private school and then an orphanage. The Jane Laycock School was supported by her brother from 1851 until she died in 1880 and later, and lasted until 1955. It was one of many philanthropic projects that Ignatius supported.
Ignatius sold out to family members and retired from The Merchants Exchange in 1882 with a big celebration. Moving to an elegant home, The Cedars, on Charlotte St., not far from the store, he continued with his many benevolent works , his business and various investments until he died in 1901.
With Ignatius’ financial support and business skills, his son James G. Cockshutt, after working at Waterous Engine Works to learn blacksmith skills, Cockshutt Plow Company in 1877 to produce quality equipment. This was when Canada was expanding westward and immigrants were establishing new grain farms. Agricultural implements were in great demand and the factory expanded quickly. When James invented the J.G.C. Riding Plow – “The Plow That Broke the West”- Cockshutt was the brand name everyone wanted. In 1885, James died of tuberculosis. In 7 years, he had built a base for what would become one of the largest farm equipment companies in Canada eventually with 4000 employees. In 1885, Ignatius’ son, Frank, became President with his father as VP keeping strong control over everyday affairs.
W.F. “Will” managed half of the Merchants Exchange and became a prominent member of Parliament. Charles became an important merchant in Toronto. William Foster worked with the plow company, and became Mayor of Brantford. Harry “The Colonel” worked his way up to become the very successful President of the plow works and “Dean of the Canadian Implement Industry” and an aggressive Canadian Statesman. Edmund , a shy bachelorand very successful commercial gardener, established Glenhyrst Gardens and left the estate to the City of Brantford when he died.
The book contains facts about other Brantford families connected by marriage to the Cockshutts, namely the Stedman and Laycock families. The author explains Ignatius’ relationships with close friends prominent in Brantford’s growth. He saved C.H. Waterous and others from bankruptcy and worked with and supported them in developing their businesses. Ignatius was very religious and lived his religion every minute of his life building a fortune in a fair and honest way, and helping others in need . Influenced by his first wife, Mary, an Ingamite (a religious movement that broke away from Anglicanism) Ignatius was a founder and strong supporter of the Farringdon Church in Brantford.
Four Appendices round out the text, including a Heritage “Tour” of Cockshutt sites in Brantford ; a summary of Ignatius’ miscellaneous letters kept in Letterbooks; notes on the text; and sources. This is a book you should not miss! The book is available in three formats: hardcover ($46.00) softcover ($33.00). It may be purchased at the book launch and later from Canadian Industrial Heritage Centre CIHC Books for Sale and Brant OGS https://brant.ogs.on.ca and local bookstores.
Past Chair, Brant County Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society,
and Retired Teacher-Librarian, Brantford Collegiate Institute