Historical Plaque Properties

 

Whyte Packing Company/Butcher Shop
174 Queen Street
1905


The founder of the Whyte Packing Company, John Whyte Sr., was born about 1822 in Ardlui, a tiny hamlet located at the north end of Scotland’s famous Loch Lomond. Little is known of John’s father. His mother’s name was Margaret and she emigrated to Canada to live with John’s sister, Mary, in Farquhar.


John grew to become a big strapping fellow of six foot five. Family lore has it that in his late teens he left Ardlui and walked to Glasgow where he apprenticed to become a stone cutter and mason. It was in Glasgow that he married Margaret Cooke Miller on February 19, 1843. She was the eighteen year old daughter of Walter Miller and Margaret Black. John and Margaret had two children in Scotland, John Jr. and Margaret.


John emigrated to Canada in 1849. Census data suggests that he came first and that Margaret followed with the two children and her mother in 1850. They settled on a farm in Hibbert Township, Perth County where they lived in a one storey log house. During the next fourteen years, Margaret gave birth to an additional six children.


Farming was difficult in the early years, however, John was able to supplement the family’s income by taking commissions for stone cutting and masonry work, and was particularly in demand for stonework on bridges throughout the county and beyond.  On one commission, he worked in Stratford on the stone bridge on Huron Street, which crosses the Avon River. As a result of the Crimean War (1854-56) the prices for agricultural products substantially increased. John prospered and with his new found capital expanded his land holdings. In 1859 he diversified his business to include pork barreling, which was the genesis of the Whyte Packing Company. Within a few years he built a small processing plant in the village of Cromarty, but by 1870, had built a larger plant in the town of Mitchell with its link to the rail lines and easier access to expanding markets.


John Jr., would manage the business while his father travelled by train and boat to logging camps and saw mills in the Gravenhurst-Muskoka area, which he supplied with his pork products. He also regularly travelled to the Red River Colony, which took him by rail from Stratford to Sarnia, Chicago and St. Paul and then up the Red River by boat to what is now Winnipeg to sell his products.


In the late 1890s, the Whyte Packing Company was one of the largest such companies in Canada. John Jr. went to England to successfully establish a network for their products. As a result, he convinced his father to move their operations to Stratford, which had better and more diversified rail links. They hired some of the best architects and engineers from Chicago, the hog processing capital of the U.S., to design and build the largest and most modern processing plant in Canada. The plant opened on July1, 1900. It was located on a six-and-a half acre site on Linden Street just off Erie Street where the municipal bus garage now stands. They also built a plant in Brockville and established retail stores in Toronto, Montreal, Mitchell, St. Mary’s and two in Stratford – one on Downie Street where the TD Bank is located and 174 Queen Street to serve the expanding east end of the city.


John Whyte Sr. and Margaret retired to Mitchell where he was a very popular citizen, especially with the children who apparently followed him around because he always kept candies in his pocket for them. John died on October 13, 1907 and Margaret in 1911. They are buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Cromarty, Hibbert Township.


In 1959, the firm held a big party at what is now the William Allman Arena to celebrate its 100th anniversary. More than five hundred employees and guests were invited to an Elizabethan feast, which included honey and mead beer specially brewed for the occasion by the O’Keefe Brewing Company. In 1966, facing bankruptcy the firm was sold and in the seventies the site was purchased by the city and the plant was demolished. The last remaining vestige of the Whyte Packing Company, in Stratford, is the building that housed their butcher shop at 174 Queen Street.