One of the first men to have faith in the feasibility of converting the large lakes and furious and foaming waterfalls of the Ottawa river into a channel for the driving of saw logs, was Henry F. Bronson, a pioneer manufacturer of sawn lumber at Bytown, now the city of Ottawa, and the Capital of the Dominion of Canada. He is a native of the Empire State, and was born in the town of Moreau, Saratoga County, February 24, 1817, his parents being Alvah and Sarah (Tinker) Bronson. He is of Scotch descent on his father’s side, and Welsh on his mother’s. The Bronsms early settled in New England. They are now found in most of the northern States of the Union. Hon. Greene C. Bronson of the New York Bench, and the Rev. Asa Bronson, for many years pastor of the First Baptist church, Fall River, Mass., being members of this branch of the family. Our subject, was, we believe, one of the first of the Bronson to find his way into Canada, and to lead off in the lumber business.
He spent his youth at Queensbury, Warren County, N.Y., in the family of John J. Harris, finishing his education at the Poultney Academy, Vt., where he attended one short year. Mr. Harris, like the father of our subject, was a farmer, and also a lumberman, “after the manner of men,” fifty years ago in northern New York. Young Bronson became an apt scholar in agricultural sciences, but soon showed a preference for woodland foraging, predestined, as he was, to become a great marauder of pine forests.
In 1840 Mr. Harris enlarged his lumbering operations by purchasing pine lands and erecting mills on one of the lakes on the Upper Hudson, at the same time forming a partnership with his young and faithful friend Mr. Bronson, whose assets at that period consisted of a sound constitution, a resolute will, unbending integrity, skill with the hand, and “a mind to work.”
The partnership of Harris and Bronson continued unbroken for twenty-two years, the care and chief responsibility devolving largely on the junior member of the firm, owing to long periods of illness to which Mr. Harris was subject during the last decade or more of their association in business. After lumbering a few years in the valley of the Upper Hudson, it became evident that the supply of pine would ere long be exhausted; Mr. Bronson therefore thought it would be wise to seek a field of ampler scope, and in the summer of 1848, made a prospecting tour into Canada. Striking the Ottawa valley, and ascending it as far as Bytown, where the famous Chaudiere Falls are located, he made up his mind that here was a favorable spot for the manufacture of sawn lumber on the most liberal scale, the quality of the pine in this region being excellent and its supply seemingly inexhaustible. He saw also, at a glance, that the motive power of the Chaudiere Falls was abundant, and that it would be no miracle to utilize it.
Returning to the State of New York, Mr. Bronson spent three more seasons in operations at the old establishment, his thoughts all the while wandering back to the vast forests of the Ottawa district, and the superior hydraulic privileges of the Chaudiere. At length in the spring of 1852 he persuaded Mr. Harris to accompany him on a second trip to the Ottawa valley. Explorers from Maine, and other States engaged in lumbering, had preceded them, and after a thorough investigation of the “lay of the land” more particularly of the water, had pronounced the Ottawa river, with its large lakes and angry waterfalls, entirely unmanageable for the safe driving of saw logs, the tributaries only of this stream, having, up to that date, been used for such a purpose, and those simply for the running of logs used in the deal trade with Great Britain. In spite of this judgment of old and experienced lumbermen, Messrs. Harris and Bronson, after visiting Bytown, and looking it over very carefully, decided that this was the place in which to centre their future operations. At that time Mr. Horace Merrill was General Superintendent of the Ottawa River Works, and they urged him to recommend an early sale of hydraulic lots at the Chaudiere Falls, then held by the Crown. At the same time they signified their intention to be purchasers at such sale. The superintendent complied with their wishes, with the result that a sale was ordered for the following autumn. When it took place, Mr. Harris was present, and bought the lots on which one of the mills now owned and operated by the firm of which Mr. Bronson is senior partner, is situated. Mr. Bronson immediately removed his family to Ottawa (Mr. Harris’s family remaining in New York); and in 1853, Messrs. Harris and Bronson began to build their mill, and in 1855 cut their first lumber north of the St. Lawrence. This was the first movement in this part of Canada, for the manufacture of sawn lumber for the United States market, and now the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec, not to mention the other Provinces of the Dominion, are sending hundreds of millions of feet annually across the boundary line, where the chief market for Canadian lumber is found.
A portion of the original mill put up under the eye of Mr. Bronson is still standing. It embodied all the “modern improvements” found at that time in such mills, as well as iron gates of novel model, constructed after designs prepared by Mr. Bronson, and which have since been introduced and are now used in most of the gang sawmills on the Ottawa river.
Messrs. Harris and Bronson were soon followed to this point by Alanson H. Baldwin, of New York, and Levi Young, of Maine, and the several gentlemen began the putting in of a series of costly river improvements, which, says a writer in the North-western Lumberman, of Chicago, “have made the driving of saw logs on the mighty Ottawa a matter of greater safety and certainty than upon many a smaller stream which has no large lakes to act as reservoirs for checking the fury of the spring freshets.”
Since settling in Ottawa and starting the first mill here, Mr. Bronson has been constantly engaged in the manufacture of sawn lumber, being one of the most enterprising men in that line of traffic in this part of Ontario. Mr. Harris retired from the firm in December, 1864.
The present Ottawa firm, known as Bronsons and Weston, is composed of Mr. Bronson, his son, Erskine H. Bronson, and Abijah Weston, of Painted Post, N.Y., also one of the most extensive lumbermen in the United States, interested in the various branches of the trade at nine or ten different points in the States of Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and Vermont. They own two mills at Ottawa, running ten gates, and having a capacity of forty-five million feet per season, for the supply of which they also own extensive and valuable pine lands upon the upper Ottawa and its tributaries. The Ottawa firm, in connection with Mr. John W. Dunham, of Albany, New York, and Harvey K. Weaver, of Burlington, Vermont, also own and operate, at Burlington, the second largest, and in many respects the finest mills for the dressing and resawing of lumber, in the New England States, and have established a yard at Albany for the sale of lumber in the rough, which, says the Northwestern Lumberman, “gives them, with their Ottawa mills, the necessary facilities for converting the standing timber into all the varieties of manufactured lumber required for the builder’s use, and placing it directly in the consumer’s hands, without the intervention of middle men” The style of the Burlington firm is Bronsons, Weston, Dunham and Co., and of the Albany firm J. W. Dunham and Co.
Mr. Bronson has a wife and four children, the maiden name of Mrs. Bronson being Editha E. Pierce, of Bolton, N.Y. They were married November 5, 1840. Gertrude, their only daughter, is the wife of Levi Crannell, confidential clerk for Bronsons and Weston. The eldest son, Erskine Henry, of this firm, is also married. Frank P. and Walter G. are single. Mrs. Bronson and her four children are members of the Presbyterian Church.
Mr. Bronson has lived a life of great industry, thoroughly devoted to his business, which he has managed with great prudence and care and with success. He is president of the Board of Managers of the Ottawa Ladies’ College, and may have held some other non salaried office in some benevolent or literary institution, but has managed to keep clear of all political offices, leaving them to men whose ambition runs in that direction. His principal aim in life seems to be to aid in building up the material interests of his adopted home, the beautiful city of Ottawa, to which he gave its grandest start, when he commenced utilizing the waters of the Ottawa, at the falls of the Chaudiere; and at the same time to place himself and family in independent circumstances. It is a few lumbermen like Mr. Bronson who, in subduing a mad cataract like the Chaudiere, and converting it into a grand centre of lumber traffic, have given the noblest impulse to the growth and prosperity of Ottawa, and to whom, on that account, the citizens owe the heaviest debt of gratitude.