Western Libraries

Business and History - The Ogilvie Flour Mills Company, Limited

The Ogilvie Flour Mills Company, Limited

This page was reproduced with permission from the Canadian Manufactures Association. The Canadian Manufacturers Association, renamed Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, holds the Copyright for the text and images.

This information came from Industry '67 Centennial Perspective, published by The Canadian Manufacturers' Association in May 1967. The original document is accessible through Western Libraries Shared Catalogue.

Canadian Centennial Companies Logo

When Sir William Van Horne, who pushed the Canadian Pacific Railway to completion in the 80's of the last century, was asked by a British visitor to name the national flower of Canada, he replied, "Ogilvie Flour, of course." The witticism had point: Ogilvie has been a household word in Canada since long before Confederation.

The first of the clan to settle in this country was Archibald Ogilvie, a prosperous Scot who carried 2,000 English pounds and three sons with him when he emigrated to Canada in 1800. Archibald's son Alexander erected a grist mill at Jacques Cartier, Quebec in 1801, moving in 1811 to Montreal, where he joined his brother-in-law, John Watson, in a new milling venture. Watson died in 1819, and almost 20 years later, in 1837, Alexander Ogilvie formed a new partnership with another brother-in-law, James Goudie. The old mill was transferred to a new one beside the St. Gabriel Lock of the Lachine Canal, which promised to be the key to future commercial development, as in fact it proved. When Goudie retired in 1855, Alexander's sons, Alexander Walker and John, took over, and the company name was changed to A. W. Ogilvie & Company. A third son, William Watson Ogilvie, joined them in 1860, completing a triumvirate that was to administer the family enterprise for 40 years. Their father, the first Alexander, had died in 1858, aged 80.

In 1886 work began on a modern mill in Montreal with the immediate objective of entering the British market on a major scale, in competition with Minneapolis millers. This new mill added 2,100 barrels of flour a day, raising the total production of all Ogilvie mills at that time to 5,500 barrels daily. The new unit was equipped with all the latest devices, including gradual reduction rolls, the so-called "Hungarian process" which combined stone and roller grinding to produce flours of previously unattainable fineness.

By 1888, when William Watson Ogilvie was alone in active management, the company owned mills at Montreal, Winnipeg, Goderich and Seaforth, as well as 20 grain elevators in Ontario, Manitoba and Northwest Territory. In 1895 William Watson Ogilvie was the biggest individual flour miller in the world, a power in business and financial circles, and a widely-respected philanthropist. He was the first flour miller to be elected President of The Canadian Manufacturers' Association. He died in 1900 and his surviving brother, Alexander Walker Ogilvie (who had retired in 1874) two years later. In 1902, A. W. Ogilvie & Company and W. W. Ogilvie Mill ing Company were purchased by a Montreal syndicate and re-named The Ogilvie Flour MillCo., Limited.

During both World Wars, when flour was, in effect, a munition, the output of The Ogilvie Flour Mills was an important factor in the struggle. Between the first and second wars, the company weathered boom and bust (in December 1932, No. 1 Northern Wheat dropped to 42 cents a bushel, the lowest price for grain since Middle Ages) and adopted the modern marketing methods, the new packagings and diversified specialty products that were among the innovations of the late 30's.

Cereal and feed mills were built in Montreal in 1940. Construction of the new Royal Mill in Montreal was begun in 1941 and completed four years later. In 1946 Industrial Grain Products, Limited, Fort William, was formed for the manu facture of wheat starch and gluten.

In the mid-1950's new developments took place as part of a major expansion. The Lake of the Woods Milling Company (established in 1887) was acquired in 1954, bringing the widely accepted brand Five Roses Flour under the Ogilvie roof. The Ogilvie Flour Mills Company, Limited, now marketed a complete line of baking flours cake mixes and hot cereals.

Another important step was the acquisition of Catelli Food Products Limited in 1959 with its variety of products under the Catelli, Habitant and Dyson labels. The sales of these products were extended into the United States market in 1966 when Catelli-Habitant Inc. of Manchester, New Hampshire, became a subsidiary.