The Matthew & McLean Company was a major merchant and employer in Souris for over 100 years, and in its heyday was the largest employer in the town. Moreover, it was one of the largest companies in eastern Prince Edward Island, and through its development assisted in expanding Souris from a small fishing village to a prosperous town. The companies flagship location, the Matthew & McLean Building, remains to this day on Main Street in Souris, where it houses the Visitor's Information Centre and the Evergreen Cafe.
Early Years Edit
John McLean and Uriah Matthew arrived in Souris to establish their business in 1869, after having worked together in Charlottetown previously. The initial idea had been to establish a dry goods store, however it soon became apparent that Souris offered the opportunity for great diversification. The port of Souris was open for navigation longer than any other port on the Island, and, furthermore, the eastern Prince Edward Island agricultural industry was booming and prosperous. Thus, it appeared by all accounts to be an ideal location to open for business.
Initially there had been a third partner, Benjamin Heartz of Charlottetown, who acted as a financier to the company, but he was bought out by Matthew & McLean once they had established themselves firmly within the community.
A Booming Business Edit
It seemed that Matthew & McLean's foresight proved to be apt, as Souris soon developed into a booming rural community. In fact, by the 1870s, Cousins relates that "one reporter for the Patriot, observing its recent developments, hesitated to call it a "village," saying, "I suppose I should designate it by the more aristocratic application of town."
And quite often in these assertions of township and prosperity was there mention of the Matthew & McLean, as it proved to be the case that their entrepreneurial prowess was very much a factor in the town's success. Whereas elsewhere on the Island communities had seen an economic downturn as a result of the decline of the shipbuilding industry, the diversification present in Souris as a result of the Matthew & McLean company had prevented, or at the very least tempered, such economic hardships in the area.
This diversifaction was far reaching; Matthew & McLean began to directly import dry goods from Britain and the United States, and Uriah Matthew himself even travelled to Britain over the years to negotiate purchases and imports with a firm in Manchester. They eventually became the most important merchants of hardware and dry goods in eastern Prince Edward Island, and as George Leard wrote, they offered "everything in hardware from needles to anchors and everything in dry goods from cotton wrap to fur coats".
A further extension of the business was their expansion into the profitable lobster industry. Lobster canneries were becoming an integral part of the economy of eastern Prince Edward Island, and Matthew & McLean contributed greatly to their success. As Cousins writes, "according to a report in the Summerside Journal in 1883, the lobster factory at Bull Creek was one of the largest in the province, and employed over a hundred people". These are astounding numbers even by today's standards, and it is hard to imagine such industry taking place in Bull Creek.
Lobster exports constituted a significant portion of the company's exports, and these shipments allowed the company, and the town, to become a part of the international export economy. Vessels loaded with canned lobster and pickled fish from the Matthew & McLean would sail to the West Indies, and would later return with, among other things, coal and the salt necessary for fish processing. One such vessel, built by James Keefe in the Kickham shipyard, was the Nutwood, a two masted 99-ton ship constructed in 1888. It was named for a famous trotting stallion of the day.
Other industry included agriculture. The company purchased land, and local farmers were then financed to raise crops. The resultant produce was then shipped throughout Atlantic Canada, to Boston, or as far as the West Indies.
Furthermore, the company also managed rental properties. One such property is what was at the time known as their flour warehouse, which later became Leard's Men's Wear. It was built in 1873 and remains today on Main Street, across from Lea-Mac (The Source). Even while it was Leard's Men's Wear, coffins were still stored on the third floor. The company also owned rental properties throughout the town.
With success on such a grand scale, it seemed only natural that the business was to expand. In 1887 a branch store was established in Dundas at he crossroads, where they also operated a starch factory for some time. Later the Dundas store was moved to the wharf in Bridgetown, where it remained in operation until 1967.
By the early 1900s, fish stands had been established in Souris, Little Harbour, Red Point, North Lake, Bull Creek and Bay Field.
But their reach extended beyond Prince Edward Island as well; a branch store was established in the Magdalen Islands where they became key suppliers of essential goods such as merchandise, fishing supplies, and kitchen essentials such as flour and sugar. They also served as shipping agents for the vessels that regularly supplied goods to the Magdalen Islands.
The company continued to grow well into the early 1900s, where Cousins notes that "their fishery operation, based at the Souris wharf, was an impressive force in the local economy", where there were "30 boats engaged in ground fishing for the company and a dozen men employed full-time on the wharf", and it is claimed that it was astounding the number of people who were employed by the company to keep their entire
operation running by the 1920s. Cousins tells us that by the second decade of the twentieth century, "the upkeep of the merchandizing, fisheries, agricultural, coal, canning and transportation entities required the employment of more than two hundred people", yet even this does not account for the sum total of all their employs and enterprises. In fact, by the 1930s the operation had grown so large that they had begun to import tin from England to manufacture their very own tin cans for the canning process.
Succession and Decline Edit
Uriah Matthew suffered a stroke in the late 1890s, which rendered him seriously ill. This effectively ended his involvement in the company, and when he died in 1902 his son Brenton was left with Matthew's share of the company. Eventually another son of Matthew, Harold G. Matthew, came to be associated with the business as well.
As for McLean, his sons Harry D. and Roy C. became involved in 1903, although John McLean remained as head of the company until his death in 1936.
The store closed in 1974, and the company remained in the family until it went out of business in 1982.
- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 Cousins, David. "Some Island Entrepreneurs" Institute of Island Studies. UPEI. Date Unknown. Web. 4 November 2017.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Townshend, Adele. "Ten Farms Become a Town" Town of Souris. 1986. Print
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 UPEI. Matthew and MacLean. Island Narratives Program. Web. 11 November 2017.
- ↑ Uriah Matthew. Memory PEI. Prince Edward Island Public Archives and Record Office. Web. 4 November 2017.