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Howard Hesson, lumber man with a penchant for hockey

A look at a Sault community member in the first half of the 20th century

The backbone of any community is probably the people who live and work there, especially those who own and operate a business to fill a community’s need.

When Sault Ste. Marie was in its infancy as a town it attracted many of those who were looking for new opportunities. One of those families to make their way to this area was the Hesson family.

Howard Hesson was born in Stratford, Ontario and moved to Sault Ste. Marie with his parents in 1900. It was an exciting time as he watched the growth of Sault Ste. Marie develops from a town to a city.

He recounted that he attended high school classes that were held in a building on Queen Street, between East and Brock Streets, which was later to be the home of the Virene’s store. An avid athlete, he enjoyed basketball, baseball, and lacrosse but his favourite sport was hockey. He played on the Canadian Sault hockey team that beat the Sault, Michigan team for the one and only time to win the Soo Falls Trophy in 1913.

His pursuit of hockey, however, did not end there. He played professional hockey in Toronto with the Toronto St. Pats in 1914 and 1915.

After his hockey career, Howard married in September of 1915 and had raised three children (Howard, Jr., Jack, and Mary) in Sault Ste. Marie. Howard’s father, William Joseph Hesson purchased the John Dunn sawmill in 1900 and renamed it W.J. Hesson & Co. This business was located on the south side of Bay Street at the foot of Spring Street.

With the formation of the new company, operations changed to continue as a combination sawmill and planing mill providing employment for 30 men.

In 1910 a fire spread through the mill site and had a significant impact on its future. Replacement equipment had to be acquired so William Hesson determined that this was a good opportunity to change the direction of the business by eliminating the sawmill portion and continue as a planing mill instead.

Howard began working at the mill in 1913 and took over the management of the mill in 1916 from his father. Howard eventually took over ownership of the company and continued to manage the mill for 27 years.

The Hesson Lumber Company played an important role in the life of the city, but a major change occurred on March 13, 1939, when the lumber company was purchased by the Beaver Lumber Company. Howard remained in his role as manager for several years after the new owners took over, but he made a drastic career change when he decided to give the insurance business a try.

He purchased Furse Insurance Agency on Aug. 1, 1942, and changed the name to Hesson Insurance Agency.

As a Kiwanis Club member as well as belonging to other organizations, he took an active role in his community and was one of the early business leaders that contributed to the growth of the city in the first half of the 20th century.