1831- 1913

From: "Montreal, Pictorial and Biographical"
Pub. by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal, 1914

At the time of his death half a century was drawing to its close since the subject of this sketch, the late Robert Reford, first established a commercial connection with Montreal. The outstanding position which Mr. Reford occupied in the life of the city was the natural outcome of qualities which quickly bring men to be recognized as a source of strength to whatever spheres in which they may move. He was a man of very pronounced ability, tenaciousness of purpose, firmness of decision and of forceful character but by those who knew him best he will be remembered, chiefly for those high standards of honor which were his, for the straightfor-wardness and uprightness of all his dealings with his fellowmen and for the strong sense of justice which throughout his long career he was so often called upon to exercise.

Robert Reford was born at Moylena, which for generations had been the family seat near Antrim, Ireland, in 1831 and was a lad of fourteen when in 1845 he caine with his mother, three brothers and one sister to make his home in Canada. The family arrived at Quebec the night of the great fire when the lower town was almost completely destroyed. 

After a very brief stay in Montreal they settled in Toronto, where Mr. Reford completed his education. He was, however, still but a boy when he became engaged in business and, though he was indentured to work for his first employer for two years at a fixed salary, it is indicative of the great natural capacity which he possessed and of his steadiness and alertness in business, that at the end of the first year his salary was increased fivefold and again at the end of the second year that amount was doubled. In three years time, still barely on the threshold of manhood, Robert Reford had proved his ability to such an extent as to be offered a partnership with William Strachan in a wholesale and retail grocery business which the latter was about to open. 

This offer was accepted but the firm dissolved after a few years duration and Mr. Reford started a business on his own account, which he continued to conduct alone for several years, only taking Richard Dunbar as a partner when he acquired, by purchase, from William Ross, another large wholesale business of the same nature. The two businesses were run separately, one as Reford & Dunbar, the other in partnership with the late John Dillon, as Reford & Dillon, wholesale grocers and merchants. It would in-deed have been strange if a man, imbued with the spirit of enterprise and courage, as was Mr. Reford to a very remarkable degree, had been content to remain without some wider scope for his abilities than that offered, even by a successful wholesale business. It was not long before he took the initial step which was to lead him so far along the path of that vast question of transportation.

Mr. Reford was one of the pioneer workers in this direction, entering the carrying trade, in the early ‘60s. He amassed a considerable fortune during the forty odd years he was engaged in shipping pursuits but never did he lose sight of the fact that Canada’s interests as a whole are intimately and indivisibly bound up in every phase of the shipping industry, nor did he ever fail to consider and work towards the benefit of those wider interests of his adopted country.

The operation of vessels on the Great Lakes was the beginning of Mr. Reford’s shipping enterprises. in 1860 he equipped the schooner “Seagull” and sent her with a general cargo of Canadian produce to Port Natal, South Africa, thus being the first man to undertake direct shipping connection between Canada and that part of the world.

In 1865, associated with his old friend William Ross, the firm opened a branch in Montreal. This was the commencement of the present Montreal firm. The business was now assuming large trading proportions with Great Britain, the United States, China, Japan, the West Indies and other foreign countries; nevertheless it soon began to confine itself more strictly to ocean shipping. The firm became agents and part owners of the Thomson and Donaldson lines. When the story of the growth of Canada’s shipping comes to be written the name of Robert Reford will loom up largely on its pages. 

Mr. Dillon severed his connection with Mr. Reford in the shipping business in 1897 and it was then that the present company, the Robert Reford Company, Ltd., was incorporated, with very extensive steamship services of six different lines to many of the world’s principal ports and with branch offices established in Quebec, Toronto, St. John, New Brunswick, and Portland, Maine. Canada owes not a little to Mr. Reford for contributing so materially to the opening up of new markets for her produce along the east coast of Great Britain, and also for the building up of further valuable trade con-nections by giving direct shipping communication between Canada and the Mediterranean ports. Every aspect of the carrying trade had been studied by him with that thoroughness and regard for detail which characterized the man in everything he undertook. His opinions and advice on shipping and on transportation generally were ap-preciated as those of an expert, and sought after by people from all over the Dominion.

Apart from his shipping enterprises, which remained the main issue of his commercial life, the most important of his other business activities was his interest in the Mount Royal Milling and Manufacturing Company. Mr. Reford founded the company in 1882 for the milling of rice, with mills in Montreal and Victoria, British Columbia, and acted as its president up to the time of his death. He was also president for many years of the Charlemagne & Lac Ouareau Lumber Company, president of the York Lumber Company, president of the Crown Trust Company and vice president of the Labrador Company; and a director of the Bank of Toronto, of the Lake of the Woods Milling Company and of the Paton Manufacturing Company.

From 1901 to 1905 Mr. Reford was a member of the Montreal Board of Harbour Commissioners and in 1903 was a delegate to the fifth congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the Empire, but no doubt his chief public service was rendered first as a member and then as chairman of the Royal Commission on Transportation, 1904-1905. The work involved in this important commission necessitated its members visiting every Canadian port, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with a view to recommending all possible desirable improvements for the increase of and facilitating the transportation trade appertaining to the Dominion, both ocean and inland. The commission sent in an exhaustive report to the government in December, 1905, based on very thorough personal observations and study, together with the result of carefully gathered evidence of those residents in the different sections of Canada who were best fitted to judge. It strongly advocated the building of the Georgian Bay canal and the formation of national ports on the Atlantic and Pacific, the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes. Further, it was urged that there should be a fast all-round-the-world British steamship service which would bind to-gether more closely all portions of the empire, by taking advantage of the shorter ocean route which services between Canada and Europe, via Great Britain on the east, and Asia and the Orient on the west, could offer, if Halifax and Galway were used as the termini for the Atlantic coasts. 

Mr. Reford’s work on this commission was stupendous, but none of it was done in the light of the public eye. Few knew of the great personal sacrifices which it demanded and which were willingly made by this man of then seventy-four years. In fact all his life Mr. Reford avoided rather than sought any kind of prominence or recognition.

Many of Montreal’s educational and charitable institutions looked to him for guidance and help and whether the requests came to him for his advice, or for financial support, provided he was in sympathy with the object, to either his response was equally ready and generous. He was a governor of McGill University and was the first to respond to an appeal for aid by donating fifty thousand dollars towards a fund for the increase of salaries of the professional staff. In 1911 when the campaign for the general funds of the university was held, it found in him one of its leading spirits and most ardent supporters. Again he gave proof of his faith in the higher education of men’s minds as being an asset of immeasurable national value and set the inspiring example of a contribution of one hundred thousand dollars.

Could we mention all the hospitals, homes for the aged poor and for little children, and in fact every kind of philanthropic institution which knew and enjoyed his generous help, the list would indeed be a long one and few such in Montreal omitted from it. Some of his largest donations were to the Montreal General Hospital of which he was a life governor and to which in recent years he gave thirty-five thousand dollars; to the Young Men’s Christian Association he gave ten thousand dollars, and a like sum to the Diocesan Theological College.

In manner the late Robert Reford was somewhat abrupt but this arose purely from that eagerness and energy which every move of the body seemed to betray, and not from any unkindly feeling. He was an exceptionally clear thinker, his mind worked with precision; his plans were made and carried out with unvarying promptitude and method which perhaps supply the key to his amazing capacity for the accomplishment of work. Self indulgence knew no place with him and to the end he adhered to his stern habits of life, granting himself but little respite and no holidays. 

From the age of twenty-two when he was made captain of No. 4 Company in the Queen’s Own Rifles his interest in civic affairs never waned. He fought untiringly for reforms, often with a lack of support which would have discouraged most men, but this North of Ireland man was not of such stuff. He was of the kind which the hand of Providence seems to have scattered far from their native shores, over the face of the British Empire to give it that salt, without which it could have no savor.

Mr. Reford was twice married; first to Miss Margaret MeCord, daughter of A. T. McCord, chamberlain and treasurer of the city of Toronto, who died within a year after the marriage. In 1866 he marred Miss Katherine S. Drummond, daughter of Andrew Drummond of Stirling, Scotland. Mrs. Reford survives him, as do five of his children, they being: Robert Wilson Reford, president of the Robert Reford Company, Ltd.; A. D. Reford; L. L. Reford, M. D.; Mrs. H. B. MacDougall; and Miss Kate Reford.

Mr. Reford was a member of St. George’s church and a stanch believer in the power of the church to be a light unto the lives of men. In all things he acted as he believed and so the community is bereft of a personality of strength, of courage and of truth.

From: "Canadian Men & Women of the Time 1912
Ed. Henry James Morgan, Toronto, William Briggs, Richmond St. W., 1912 

Reford, Robert, merchant; capitalist.
Born Mailera, near Antrim, Ireland in 1831, he came to Canada with his mother, brothers and sister in 1845. They settled at Toronto, where he was educated and where he lived up to 1861, when, having opened an office In Montreal, removed there. 

He married 1st, Miss M. McCord, Toronto (d.); 2ndly, in 1866, Miss K. T. Drummond, of Stirling, Scotland (a governess of the Montreal Maternity Hospital, a member of the general committee of. Victorian Order of Nurses; a member of the committee of management and honorary treasurer of the  Girls’ Reading Rooms). 

While in Toronto Robert Reford was a member of the firm Reford & Dillon, wholesale grocers and general merchants; also operated vessels on the Great Lakes, and in 1860 loaded and sent the schooner Seagull with a cargo of Canadian produce to Port Natal, S.A.  She being the first Canadian vessel from the Great Lakes to visit that country. 

He went into steamship agency business in Montreal in 1870; is the president of the Robert Reford Co. (L.P. 1897), agents for the Donaldson Line to Glasgow, the Thomson Line to London, Hull, Newcastle, etc.; Cairn Line, Crown S. S. Co. and Pickford and Black’s Lines to the W. I. He operates branch offices at Quebec, Toronto, St. John, NB., and Portland, Me.

Reford is the president of the Crown Trust Co., Mount Royal Milling & Mfg. Co., and the Charlemagne & Lac Ouareau Lumber Co.; a director of the Montreal Grain Elevating Co., Lake of the Woods Milling Co., Paton Mfg. Co., Bank of Toronto, N. S. Steel & Coal Co., Labrador Co., and York Lumber Co.

Also a deligate of the 5th Congress, Chambers of Commerce of the Empire, 1903; appointed a member of the Royal Commission on Transport, 1903, chairman of the same, 1905; is a governor of  McGill University, Western Hospital, and the Montreal Diocesan Theological College

He was gazetted ensign in the Queen’s Own Rifles, Toronto, in 1863; captain, commanding No. 4, “The Merchants’ Co.,” in 1865. 

In 1911 Robert Reford was rated as a millionaire by the Montreal Star. He gave $10,000 to the Montreal General Hospital in 1904 and $21,000 in 1906; $50,000 to McGill University in 1908, and $10,000 to the Montreal Y.M.C.A. in 1909. He also founded the Robert Reford prize of $90 given annually, at the Montreal Diocesan Theological College in 1905.

He has been a councillor on the Montreal Board of Trade 1890-1 ; on the  Harbour Commission for Montreal, 1901-5 and a frequent contributor to the press on commercial and cognate subjects.

Religion: Anglican
Clubs: Mount Royal Club, Canada Club
Home: 560 Drummond St., Montreal
Summer: Little Metis, P.Q,

"A man who still takes an active interest in all that conduces to the well-being at the Dominion.”— Montreal Star

From: "A History of Quebec, It's Resources and People"
By Benjamin Sulte, Dr, C.E. Fryer & Sen. L.O. David
Canadian History Company, Montreal and Toronto, 1908

Robert Reford, of the Robert Reford Company, Ltd., Montreal, came to Canada from Belfast, County Antrim, Ireland, in 1845, settled in Toronto and resided there until 1865, doing business as a wholesale grocer, importer and shipping agent under the name of Reford & Dillon. In 1865, by wish of shipping friends in Scotland, this firm opened a branch in Montreal for the extension of the same business, and work of ocean shipping, this being the beginning of the present Montreal firm. About 1870 the Toronto business was disposed of to Messrs. Smith & Keighley. Some years afterwards Mr. John Dillon retired, and still later the present company of the Robert Reford Company, Ltd., was formed, consisting of Robert Reford, President; W. I. Gear, Vice-President, and R. W. Reford and A. D. Reford, Directors.

The new firm since its formation has done but little in importing or general business, confining itself almost entirely to ocean shipping, being agents and part owners for the following ocean steamship lines of steamers:

The Donaldson Line, with weekly, and sometimes more frequent, sailings between Montreal and Glasgow in summer, and St. John and Glasgow in winter, with subsidiary lines to Baltimore and Newport News, also from Glasgow; 

The Thomson Line, running weekly steamers during the summer between Montreal and London, and during the winter between Portland and London, also giving steamship services to Newcastle, Leith and Aberdeen and other ports on the east coast of Great Britain, with a regular service from French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Greek ports, in spring and fall of each year, thereby creating a large trade in the products of these countries and between the Mediterranean and countries bordering thereon and Canada. 

The firm also acts as agents for the Pickford and Black Line of steamers running to the West Indies, and many other steamers engaged in trade to West Indian ports and also those of South America.

In addition to the above steamship services the company has in the past done a large business with other ports in Great Britain, Europe and elsewhere, being the pioneer company in opening up trade between Canada and Avonmouth and Cardiff, also the Atlantic and Mediterranean ports of France, Bordeaux, Charente, Havre and Marseilles, and Rangoon, Burmah.

Whilst resident in Toronto the firm despatched the first cargo ever shipped of Canadian produce to South Africa by the sailing ship “Sea-gull,” under command of Captain Jackman, which sailed from Toronto for Port Natal about 1863. The venture not proving profitable, owing to native wars and disturbances in Africa, was dropped.

In addition to the shipping business above mentioned, Mr. Reford is also interested in the following Canadian enterprises: President of the Mount Royal Milling & Manufacturing Company, Director of Bank of Toronto, Lake of the Woods Milling Company, Labrador Company, York Lumber Company, and Nova Scotia Steel & Coal Company, and Montreal Elevating Co. He is a governor of McGill University, and a member of the Mount Royal and Canada Clubs of this city. 

He was also Chairman during the years 1904-5 of the Royal Transportation Commission, whose business it was to report on all desirable improvements possible for the increase of the shipping and transportation trade of the country, ocean and inland, the work of which necessitated the members of the Commission visiting every Canadian port and waterway between the Atlantic on the east and the Pacific on the west, and making a report on each from personal observation and evidence given by residents on the spot best able to judge of the wants of the country, said report being presented to the Government in December, 1905, and embodying recommendations for •the building of the Georgian Bay Canal; the formation of national ports on the Atlantic, the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and on the Pacific Coast; and the recommendation to the Canadian Government for the formation of a Canadian fast steamship service on the Atlantic and the Pacific, which would be equal, if not superior, to any service given or possible to be given by the United States, because of the shorter ocean passage between Canada and Great Britain, as compared with that between the United States and Great Britain, and especially between the ports of Halifax and New York, and so make Canada in future the peer of that country, and the great highway of travel, not only between Europe and Canada, but in time between Europe and the Orient, including Australia and Africa, thereby making Canada and her great natural riches and advantages known to the world as they can be by no other means.

This recommendation has since attracted world-wide notice on both sides of the ocean and in the British Parliament as the “All Red Line Route,” and will, without doubt, some day become a reality.

Robert Reford died in Montreal on March 16, 1913
See also:
His son Robert Wilson Reford

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