Butcher Family local success story
by John Merriman April 4, 1979
Grand River Avenue and a couple of little ‘tributary’ streets running off the Avenue, such as Hilda Street and Spring Lane, is a small area of Brantford which, for nigh onto 66 years has been the ‘home’ of the Butcher family of ‘painters and decorators’.
Although there is nothing earth-shaking about the above statement, it is a fact nevertheless that a small business – but one with potential – was started in the area by an Englishman, Bert Butcher, in the early 1920s and his son and grandson have successfully carried on the business, under the name Butcher & Son Ltd., since the death of H.H. ‘Bert’ Butcher in 1967.
Furthermore, not only has the Brantford firm become recognized as one of ‘the best in the business’ locally and elsewhere in Ontario, but early last year the Butchers bought out Dayson Sandblasting & Coatings Ltd., Hamilton, Ont., and immediately made the former owner, Jim Day, general manager of the firm.
With the foregoing synopsis, one must now turn back the clock and see just how the firm got started and how it has obviously become successful. In other words, it has ‘achieved its potential’.
I found out all about this firm’s history and its growth from President Herbert D. ‘Herb’ Butcher, with a few succinct interjections from his wife, Jewell, who is the capable secretary-treasurer of the company.
So, the company was started in a small way by Herbert Harry Butcher, born and educated in Dover, Kent, England. He served his apprenticeship there and came to Canada in 1912, settling in Brantford, and quite naturally in the area of Grand River Avenue.
However, Bert Butcher was employed as general foreman by R. Chave & Co., which firm did both painting and glazing. Bert went overseas with the ‘125th’ and served from 1914 to 1918 before returning to Brantford to resume his work with Dick Chave.
But H.H. ‘Bert’ Butcher had ambition. In fact he had two all-consuming ambitions.
One was to get married, which he did in 1920 at Grace Anglican Church. He was 28 at the time. The other ambition was to open his own painting and related business. Three years after his marriage, young Bert realized his second ambition. And he never looked back because before his death in Sept., 1967, at the age of 75, Mr. Butcher saw his son heading up a successful business and his grandson being readied for the business, too.
Mind you, the enterprise was a modest one with business done at the back of the house at 104 Grand River Ave. Hard work and the determination to establish a reputation for integrity and sound business practice paid dividends for this English craftsman.
In 1939 he built a house at 7 Hilda St., a little ‘tributary’ street off Grand River Ave., and operated his business from a garage.
All throughout the Second World War years the business continued to grow. In those days, it must never be forgotten, a painter had to be skilled at related trades and Bert Butcher, profiting from his apprenticeship and working with Dick Chave, commenced doing a mixture of residential and commercial work in the Brantford area. He bid and secured contracts for painting, glazing and the finishing of hardwood floors.
Soon space in which to operate was at a premium, so the premises at 7 Spring Lane, another little ‘tributary’ street running off Grand River Ave., was built in 1946. The war years had been busy ones, but the post-war era turned out to be busier still for the young company.
Remember, in those days there was no such thing as wall-to-wall carpeting. People in most homes were proud of their grained, finished and polished hard-wood floors and the Butchers were only too pleased to keep their customers happy.
“One could not hazard a guess as to how many miles of hardwood flooring the firm has finished. Nowadays itâ€™s a different story. Carpeting is laid right over the cement floors, especially in apartment houses,” Herb Butcher told me in a recent interview, adding: “I know father and his small staff were kept busy on the floors, perhaps more so than on the actual paintwork and paperhanging. However, I still say there was no better painter in the business than my father,” he declared.
RELIABILITY, INTEGRITY RECOGNIZED
According to Herb Butcher, “We have decorated most of the larger homes in Brantford, and in some cases several times. The Scarfe mansion when built was finished by us, and we worked on the house on several occasions later on. The same applies to the former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario’s estate. The Hon. Harry Cockshutt had only good words to say about dad’s workmanship.”
In addition, many educational institutions, schools and so on, and industrial buildings have had the Butcher firm refurbish them at one time or another. And still do, for that matter.
That the reliability of the company was without question can be noted by the fact the contractors with whom the Butchers, father and son, worked were the best in the business too. These included firms such as Schultz Construction, Cromar Construction, Jese Bartle and the Second firm.
Butcher & Sons Ltd. has not confined its business activities solely to Brantford and surrounding area. The firm soon became well known throughout Ontario. Some examples are in order:
It did the glazing work on the Ontario Hospital at Woodstock when it was built; the reformatory at Guelph and International Nickel buildings at Port Colborne. And don’t forget that when the Woodstock job was done in 1930, the firm had only been in business for seven years. During WWII, Butcher & Son did a thorough job on No. 20, CATC, just off East Colborne St. at Mohawk Park.
At this juncture, one should mention Herb Butcher’s brother, Jack, who was in the business before joining up on the outbreak of WWII. He was in the RCAF and was killed in 1943. Herb himself joined up when he was only 18 and rejoined the family business after his discharge from the army. Of his brother, Herb said:
“My brother was quite a hockey player and played for a team which was coached here by the well-known Tommy Ivan. The team won the OHA championship in 1939-40. Jack was killed Dec. 26, 1943, and is buried at Chester, England,” he concluded.
Following WWII, with Herb Butcher ‘back on the job,’ the business grew considerably. The firm was incorporated as Butcher & Son Ltd. in 1961.
A store downtown was also a new acquisition. Scarfe’s paints were sold along with wallpaper, rugs and draperies. “However,” Herb said, “this operation was a bit out of our line, so we sold the business after five years in the retailing game.”
While space does not permit a listing of most of the Butcher contracts, it can be recorded that the largest contract thus far undertaken by the firm was in 1976. The Ontario Police College at Alymer, Ont., was completely refurbished, inside and out.
“This job took us 18 months of steady work and we had up to 30 men on the job,” Herb told me, adding: “Locally, when new schools were built and/or refurbished, we were successful in securing the contracts. These included the Lansdowne and Queen Elizabeth School; the B.C.I.; Bell Telephone building; Brantford Golf & Country Club; City Hall; Aquatic Centre; Grace Anglican Church (three times); Zion United Church, Harding Carpets Ltd., both in Brantford and Collingwood.
Out of town contracts successfully completed include the 500-bed Mental Hospital in Woodstock in 1950 and the Woodstock General Hospital. Also in Cambridge the firm has successfully bid on contracts for work on Canadian General Tower and the regional jail. Simcoe’s Norfolk General Hospital and the Bell Telephone building have also felt ‘the Butcher touch’, it was stated.
IFAIR SHARE ON BUSINESS
The president of Butcher & Son Ltd. concedes that “Through the years we have received our fair share of the business, although this has only been achieved through out record of performance. Integrity and reliability are ‘musts’ in this business.
“Just to give you an example. We put literally tons of decorators’ cotton on the walls of the Scarfe mansion before applying five coats of paint!” After the disasterous fire at Grace Church June 25, 1975, we made stencils and applied the gold leaf to the walls. In fact, we refurbished everything in Grace Church except the organ, at a cost of some $55,000,” he said. Services in the church were not resumed until Oct. 19, 1975.
NEAR FUTURE PROSPECTS UNCERTAIN
As to the future, Herb had this to say: “We here are feeling the pinch of a falling Canadian dollar, higher interest and mortgage rates. These factors, plus inflation and rising costs for just about everything, discourages developers who want to build houses, apartments, etc., because they cannot see a reasonable return on investment.
“I can’t see much change until the proposed development of the downtown core is well underway, and that could be two to three years away.” However, our business in Hamilton, Dayson Sandblasting & Coatings Ltd., purchased in May, 1978, is doing exceptionally well. The firm has built up a first class reputation so that it is well booked for several large-scale jobs. The company specializes in industrial work, sandblasting, special industrial coatings, etc., and is well able to challenge the competition for new markets in the industrial field. Dayson does much work for Dofasco, Stelco and other large industrial concerns,” he concluded.
Now, the third generation Butcher is very much involved in the family business.
Jeffrey, who at 27 is vice president of both companies, was born and educated in Brantford, although probably not on Grand River Ave. where his father, Herb, first saw the light of day. He graduated from Appleby College in Oakville, Ont., after which he took a course in Architectural Technology at the Mohawk College of Applied Arts & Technology before joining the J.D. Lee Engineering Co. in Brantford to gain a couple of years’ experience before joining the family business.
He is now with Dayson in Hamilton and this company, like Butcher & Son Ltd., is by no means confined to Wentworth County, but takes in as well Sudbury, Coppercliff, Thamesville, Brockville, etc.
Herb Butcher said that “Dad didn’t have much time for outside service work; except he was an active Mason, being Past Master of Reba Lodge and Mocha Shriner’s Temple, London, Ont. With me, its been a different story.”
H.D. Butcher is a past president of Rotary; Jaycees; Golf and Country Club; Brantford Red Cross Society; Boys’ and Girls’ Club; and the Cerebral Palsey Association. He is also a member of the Board of Management of Grace Anglican Church. He is active in his business associations, too, being a past president of the Canadian Paintings Contractors’ Association, ; a regional director of the Grand Valley Chapter, OPCAQ; director, Ontario Society for Crippled Children; member of the Advisory Committee for Apprenticeship, and a Mason and Shriner, like his father.
And so it is that the firm of Butcher & Son Ltd. is really a family concern in every sense of the word, even after purchasing the Dayson company in Hamilton.
Herbert D. Butcher is president of both companies; Herb’s wife, Jewell, is secretary-treasurer of both companies, while both firms have Jeffrey Butcher as vice-president.
PRICES REFLECT CHANGES
Just before concluding the interview, Herb showed me some company records of the early 1930s. Certain invoices to customers contained such items as:
3 packages of Alabastine at 65 cents; 1 gal. Boiled linseed oil 80 cents; 1 1/2 gal. Turpentine 75 cents; 270 lbs. Semi-ready exterior paint at 15 cents; and 32 hours labour at 70 cents.
With 70 cents per hour as a selling price for labour, they must have been paying the employee about 35 cents per hour! The paint was purchased from Scarfe & Co.
How times have changed! But then, so have human values and attitudes.