J.R. Booth - Businessman

It has been said that no man worked harder than J.R. Booth. Adept at working with tools from an early age, Booth was determined to learn a trade that would enable him to become a businessman and advance beyond his limited life on the family farm.  Booth began his illustrious career as an apprentice carpenter building bridges for the Central Vermont Railroad.  However, he knew that his hands alone would never make him rich, and so he looked for an entrepreneurial opportunity, which would eventually revolutionize the business world of the Ottawa Valley through his vision and ingenuity. 

In 1857 Booth rented a small saw mill near the Chaudiere Falls on the Ottawa River.  The following year, when bids were being sought to supply the lumber for the new Parliament Buildings, Booth won the contract as the lowest bidder.  He was able to outbid his competitors because he had calculated that he could save money by using horses to remove the timber from the forest rather than the traditional, more cumbersome oxen used by his competitors.  His ingenuity paid off and a handsome profit was realized from the venture as well as giving him a name in the lumber industry.  His business flourished and expanded as he began to export timber to the United States. Fueled by the raw power of the Chaudiere Falls, Booth eventually owned the largest timber limits in Canada and he became the most extensive manufacturer of lumber on the North American continent. 

Booths reach extended beyond the lumber industry.  Upon discovering that the transportation system of his day was not developed to a standard that would allow low cost transport of his lumber, Booth expanded his business, building the Canadian Atlantic Railway and forming the Canadian Atlantic Transit Company.  The railway shortened the distance from Montreal to Chicago by 800 miles and gave Ottawa a direct link to the Atlantic coast at Boston, thus playing a vital part in opening up of vast areas of eastern Canada to the rest of the North American continent. Booths drive for efficient transportation motivated him to build a bridge across the St. Lawrence Rivera feat of engineering completed in only nine months that eliminated the necessity for the costly and time consuming ferry.  Furthermore, Booth added value to his railroads by entering into the grain industry.  To ensure prompt delivery of his grain, Booth formed the Canada Atlantic Transit Company, which operated five large lake freighters on the Upper Great Lakes.  In 1904 J.R. Booth sold the Canadian Atlantic Railway and the Canadian Atlantic Transit Company to the Grand Trunk Railway for 14 million dollars.  In addition to serving the industry of J.R. Booth, the transportation routes later played an important part in the commercial evolution of Ottawa and the Ottawa Valley, as well as the district to the North. 

Booth never forgot that his core business was lumber, and consequently all his other endeavors stemmed out of this and were successful.  Booths success stemmed out of his unwavering commitment to quality and hard work, his shrewd business mind, and his ability to see future potential.  Booth acted upon his foresight with a fearlessness that often stunned the business world, but he was never rash, and his planning and investing proved to be very successful.  Booth guarded his credit and his name, always acting honestly and consistently.  Despite numerous setbacks, including the Great Fire of 1900in which J.R. Booth lost 50-55 million feet of lumber, 20 tenant houses, six stables, four stone houses, a wagon shop, paint shop, machine shop, blacksmith shop, and a double decker storehouse which contained 33,000 bushels of oats, 700 tons of hay, and a number of wagonsBooth resolutely rebuilt his empire. In keeping with his motto, God Helps Us, Booth trusted in Gods providence to preserve him and worked to ensure that his employees enjoyed the same material security. 

Booth was one of the first native-born Canadians to become a leading capitalist in a forest industry previously dominated by British or American businessmen. Not only did he amass Canada's largest timber holdings in his time but also became its biggest manufacturer of lumber for both U.S. and British export markets. Booth's contribution to Canadian industry was noted on October 29, 1904 in the journal, American Lumberman. In an article referring to H. Frederick Weyerhauser and John R. Booth as "the two great timber kings of North America," and outlining the similarity in their careers, the author stated, "It would be appropriate to say that Booth is the Weyerhauser of Canada or that Weyerhauser is the Booth of the United States."   Prime Minister Mackenzie King called him "a father of Confederation" for his contribution in building the economic base of Canadas capital.  When Booth left the farm in 1847 he had only $9 in his pocket.  Seventy-eight years later, J.R. Booth died, leaving a business empire worth $44 million dollars.