This Week in History
For the week of Monday August 18, 2008
On August 22, 1827, Ezra Butler Eddy was born near Bristol, Vermont. During his lifetime, this successful businessman helped transform the Ottawa-Hull region into a major industrial centre.
Little is known about Eddy’s early life. In the early 1850s, he immigrated to Hull, Quebec, where he began a small, hand-operated match factory. His wife, Zaida, taught local women and children how to package the matches at home and then Eddy distributed them himself. Eddy soon expanded his products to wooden buckets, washboards and clothespins.
Eddy found continued success in the lumber industry. Unlike other lumber magnates in the region, Eddy did not come from the business elite. He started modestly by renting a sawmill but, by the early 1870s, he had built his own mill and had purchased three more. The E. B. Eddy Manufacturing Company (established in 1886) eventually diversified further to produce wood pulp and paper. Having controlled the Canadian match market since 1879, Eddy continued to expand this factory as well.
Eddy’s success did not come without challenges. Between 1873 and 1879, an international depression forced Eddy to temporarily relinquish control of his business to the Merchant’s Bank of Canada. In 1882, just as things were returning to normal, a fire almost completely destroyed Eddy’s plant. In fact, 27 fires occurred on factory premises throughout Eddy’s lifetime. After each blaze, particularly the Great Fire of 1900, which destroyed much of the industrial part of Hull and Ottawa, Eddy rebuilt and expanded.
Rebuilding led Eddy to use the latest technical innovations. His company was one of the first in Canada to use electricity in its factories and to transport its goods by truck. It was also among the first to use the Mitscherlich process of producing pulp, which Eddy tweaked and improved.
In addition to his great prosperity, Eddy is notable for his influence on the growth of the City of Hull, now part of Gatineau. As Hull’s population increased due to the jobs provided by the company, the city improved its services and infrastructure. The development of the city in turn facilitated the expansion of the Eddy Company and the creation of new jobs. In his role as Mayor of Hull in 1881–1884, 1887, and 1891, Eddy enacted changes that benefited both the city and the company.
E.B. Eddy died in 1906, leaving a fortune worth more than $2.5 million at the time. For his influence on the industry and development of the City of Hull, Ezra Butler Eddy is a National Historic Person.
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