August 16, 2018

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Time, fire erase last visible ties to community builder

John Hanbury oversaw construction of many early Brandon landmarks

When contractor and lumber magnate John Hanbury died in 1928 the Brandon Sun wrote: “John Hanbury needs no memorial in Brandon to perpetuate his name. He lives in the memory of his old-time friends and all around are concrete evidences of his business career and successful achievements.”

Over time, of course, his old friends died off and the physical traces of Hanbury’s business empire fell victim to the wrecking ball. The last prominent reminder, the Hanbury Hardware building on Pacific Avenue, was razed in the devastating fire that struck Brandon’s downtown last month.

John Hanbury was born in Markdale, Ont., in 1855 and apprenticed in the building trades, eventually becoming a successful contractor in the region. He moved to Brandon in 1882, the year the city was incorporated, to seek greater challenges.

Hanbury oversaw the construction of many of the Wheat City’s earliest landmarks, including the Langham Hotel on 12th Street (1883), the First Merchants Bank building (1890), Brandon’s first combined post office and federal building (1891), and the original Brandon Hospital (1892). All have long since been demolished.

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When contractor and lumber magnate John Hanbury died in 1928 the Brandon Sun wrote: "John Hanbury needs no memorial in Brandon to perpetuate his name. He lives in the memory of his old-time friends and all around are concrete evidences of his business career and successful achievements."

Over time, of course, his old friends died off and the physical traces of Hanbury’s business empire fell victim to the wrecking ball. The last prominent reminder, the Hanbury Hardware building on Pacific Avenue, was razed in the devastating fire that struck Brandon’s downtown last month.

John Hanbury was born in Markdale, Ont., in 1855 and apprenticed in the building trades, eventually becoming a successful contractor in the region. He moved to Brandon in 1882, the year the city was incorporated, to seek greater challenges.

Hanbury oversaw the construction of many of the Wheat City’s earliest landmarks, including the Langham Hotel on 12th Street (1883), the First Merchants Bank building (1890), Brandon’s first combined post office and federal building (1891), and the original Brandon Hospital (1892). All have long since been demolished.

CHRISTIAN CASSIDY</p><p>The Massey Harris building was built in 1913-14 for the Gordon McKay Company of Toronto, then the largest dry goods wholesaler in the country. In recent years it was converted to an affordable housing complex and renamed Massey Manor.</p>

CHRISTIAN CASSIDY

The Massey Harris building was built in 1913-14 for the Gordon McKay Company of Toronto, then the largest dry goods wholesaler in the country. In recent years it was converted to an affordable housing complex and renamed Massey Manor.

'John Hanbury needs no memorial in Brandon to perpetuate his name. He lives in the memory of his old-time friends and all around are concrete evidences of his business career and successful achievements' — Brandon Sun, 1928

Most of Hanbury’s projects were houses, many for well-to-do families. Of note was his own family home located on Lorne Avenue. Designed by prominent Brandon architect W. H. Shillinglaw, it was constructed in 1899 and considered by some to be one of the finest private residences in the province.

The Hanburys needed a large home as John and his first wife, Martha Miles, had eight children. She died in 1898 and the following year, while the grand, new home was under construction, Hanbury got remarried to Minnie Isbister of Wawanesa.

In 1892, Hanbury stepped back from contracting and created the Hanbury Manufacturing Company, which consisted of a lumber yard and factory that initially manufactured doors and window sashes. As the West’s population grew, the company branched out into store fixtures and hotel interiors.

To feed the company’s ravenous appetite for wood, Hanbury bought out the assets of the Assiniboine Lumber Company in 1898. The deal included a sawmill in Brandon and, more importantly, its vast timber cutting rights in the Duck Mountain region.

Each year, trees were cut in the winter months and in springtime were driven down river to the Assiniboine River and to the Brandon mill. The 1,000-kilometre plus journey took between three to six weeks to complete. In 1901 alone, according to a period article in Canadian Lumberman magazine, 2.1 million metres of lumber were delivered to Hanbury Manufacturing this way.

John Hanbury</p>

John Hanbury

Hanbury and his various enterprises at the time employed between 200 to 300 employees, depending on the season, making him the second-largest employer in town after the CPR. The Winnipeg Free Press referred to him as one of province’s "millionaire lumber dealers."

Over the next five years Hanbury purchased additional mills and cutting rights in British Columbia. In 1901, he created a retail hardware chain called the Manitoba Hardware Company which had stores in Hamiota, Virden, Miniota, Reston, and briefly, Vancouver. During this time the woodworking factory on Assiniboine Avenue in Brandon was doubled in size to 25,000 square feet.

The next business venture came in 1907 when wholesaler Hanbury Hardware Company was established.

The company, which distributed hardware to retailers across Western Canada, was housed in a new building located along the railway tracks on Pacific Avenue at Seventh Street. The top two floors were warehouse space, with the main floor reserved for the corporate offices of Hanbury’s various business ventures. It was this building that burned down last month.

In 1908, Hanbury turned his attention back to British Columbia and bought a defunct lumber mill in Vancouver on False Creek at Granville Street. He announced that he would soon build the region’s largest mill on the site.

W.A. MARTEL, ILLUSTRATED SOUVENIR OF BRANDON</p><p>The Hanbury Manufacturing Company drove logs downriver from the Duck Mountain region to its Brandon sawmill every spring.</p>

W.A. MARTEL, ILLUSTRATED SOUVENIR OF BRANDON

The Hanbury Manufacturing Company drove logs downriver from the Duck Mountain region to its Brandon sawmill every spring.

In 1910, as the new project was being constructed, Hanbury announced he and his wife were relocating permanently to Vancouver. He remained president of his companies, but the day-to-day operations were handled by his sons.

The departure of the Hanburys was a blow to Brandon’s civic life.

Minnie was involved in numerous charitable activities and had served as the chair of the Brandon YWCA. John was on the executive of numerous organizations, from the hospital to the curling club, and had also served multiple terms on city council and the school board.

When the new Vancouver mill was completed by 1911 it was said to have cost around $1 million and the adjacent woodworking factory could produce 1,000 doors a day.

In 1920, Hanbury sold off his Brandon-based hardware wholesale division to Wood, Valance and Company of Hamilton, which relocated the building’s contents to warehouses in Winnipeg and Regina.

Five years later, the remainder of his Manitoba assets were auctioned off, including the houses of many of his children as they followed their parents out to British Columbia to work at the Vancouver mill and factory.

John Hanbury died on April 3, 1928, in Vancouver at the age of 72. With the recent loss of the last significant remnant of his once mighty business empire perhaps it is now time for that monument to him in Brandon.

Christian Cassidy writes about local history on his blog, West End Dumplings.

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Christian Cassidy

Christian Cassidy
Columnist

Christian Cassidy believes that every building has a great story - or ten - to tell.

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