From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
Remember This… Board of Trade – the precursor to the Chamber of Commerce
In 1889, the town of Sault Ste. Marie was in its infancy.
With the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway line to the Sault in 1887, it was hoped that this would provide the opportunity for large-scale industry to develop in the area.
In order to capitalize on this, forty local businessmen met and formed the Sault Ste. Marie Board of Trade on June 25, 1889. The president was thought to be John Collins since his signature was the first on the list. Membership to the Board of Trade was open to merchants, brokers, manufacturers, managers of banks and insurance agents, while other jobs were reviewed on a case by case basis.
The annual fee for membership was three dollars paid in advance. A visit from CPR magnate William Cornelius Van Horne on November 26, 1889 provided the first recorded activity for the Board of Trade. The Board members requested that the town council pay to entertain their guests.
The idea was to take them on a ferry ride across the river to see the American water works plant.
Francis H. Clergue saw the potential for business in this area in the 1890s and established his business enterprise here.
The Board of Trade was an advocate for Francis Clergue in November of 1901 during the Tagona Water and Light scandal. (Tagona Village was built on Clergue’s steel plant property to provide housing for his employees).
A health official, Dr. P.H. Bryce tested four taps in the Tagona water system and found that three of them were contaminated with bacteria. The outcry from the public forced the town council to threaten to cancel Clergue’s contract and take out a lawsuit or writ against his company.
The Board of Trade made a presentation to town council asking that the writ be withdrawn because of all the work that Clergue had done for Sault Ste. Marie. After two months of correspondence between Clergue and council the writ was finally dropped.
In 1902, the Board of Trade began an aggressive campaign to bring industries to Sault Ste. Marie. They again contacted Francis Clergue for advice, requesting his input on what manufacturers and types of industries would benefit the Sault. After 15 years the Board of Trade suspended this campaign feeling that it was actually the town council’s role to advertise for business.
In 1910, the Board of Trade began its most audacious campaign yet which was called “25,000 by 1915”.
This campaign was intended to increase the population of Sault Ste. Marie. The Board made an appeal to the residents and business owners that nothing negative should be said about Sault Ste. Marie, emphasizing instead the importance of being friendly to all visitors.
By 1910, the membership of the Board of Trade had increased to 82 members with an annual fee of $10. As a result of their aggressive campaign the population of the town rose by 2,893 people in 1912 alone. In that year as well Lake Superior Corporation planned to amalgamate and form Algoma Steel Corporation and it was the Board of Trade that supported the effort, demonstrating the influence of the Board at that time.
In 1913, the Sault’s population had increased to 18,800, leading the Board to increase its membership and its activities in the community. They reorganized themselves so that every member sat on a committee and they also created three new ones to cover Power, Real Estate and Trade & Commerce.
Due to the significant number of local men serving in the First World War, the Board of Trade was dormant between February 1915 and June1916.
R.H. Knight who had served as president for two terms at the turn of the century stepped up and worked to reestablish the Board by reducing membership fees from $5 to $2 in order to encourage others to join.
In the fall of 1917, the Board of Trade made an unsuccessful request to civic officials to house the 227th Battalion in the Sault during the winter. The Board also tried to secure a CPR train route from the Sault to Webbwood. Two delegates travelled to the Associated Boards of Trade of Ontario in Hamilton and upon return, indicated that Sault Ste. Marie should be represented at all future meetings.
The Board of Trade, the precursor to the Chamber of Commerce worked hard to make Sault Ste. Marie a thriving community and would continue for many years to come. But that is a story for another day.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.