Know Your Neighbours – Lachlan Ebenezer McKinnon

4381-N oldest mckinnons image
Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum,4381-N

Lachlan Ebenezer McKinnon was born on September 19th, 1854 in Owen Sound, Ontario to parents John and Elizabeth McKinnon. John was of Scotch descent and was a Presbyterian minister. He died when Lachlan was only 10 years old. Lachlan’s mother Elizabeth raised the family in Owen Sound which is where Lachlan received his high school education. As a young teenager of 14 years, he began a job which lasted for four years, in a hardware store in Owen Sound owned by William Kough. Between 1871 and 1872 Lachlan left Owen Sound and settled in St. Catharines.

Once in St. Catharines, Lachlan found employment as a clerk with Andrew Jeffrey and Company, a hardware store located at 24 Ontario Street, according to the 1874 city directory. The same directory also shows that Lachlan was a boarder at 30 William Street. In approximately 1875 Lachlan entered into a partnership with Andrew Jeffrey under the firm name of McKinnon and Company which encompassed the carriage hardware portion of Mr. Jeffrey’s business. In 1878, at the age of only 23 years, Lachlan purchased Mr. Jeffrey’s interests in the business for $2000. By 1882 he had entered into a new partnership with James F. Mitchell and together they ran the McKinnon and Mitchell Hardware Company, located at 63 St. Paul Street. The business focused on saddle and wagon hardware and they had a four-man shop located behind the store to manufacture wagon gears and a patented adjustable dash. In 1887 McKinnon Created a subsidiary in Buffalo called McKinnon Dash Company. The company expanded into other products including suspender buckles, bicycles and chains. In 1888 the partnership with Mitchell dissolved and McKinnon took possession of the manufacturing portion and renamed it McKinnon Dash & Hardware Company.
On February 5th, 1878 Lachlan married Emma Esther Armstrong, a St. Catharines-born lady (born January 21, 1853). They had 6 children – 3 sons: James, Roy and John as well as 3 daughters; Flora Isobel, Ella Cecilia and Emma Mae. By 1900 the family had moved from 171 Church Street in St. Catharines and were living in Buffalo.
In 1901 McKinnon purchased lands out in the northwest end of St. Catharines on Ontario Street at the intersection of Carlton Street and moved his manufacturing business there. He also purchased the Niagara Falls Metal Works and moved that business into the Ontario Street plant. The business grew to become the McKinnon Dash and Metal Works Company and by 1907 there were plants in St. Catharines, Buffalo, Tonawanda and Columbus. In 1909 he formed McKinnon Chain Company. This company used the electric welding process to produce coil, ladder and “sugar” chain, donkey and horse trace chain, lorry and plough trace chain, as well as tire chain for the first car and truck tires produced. The First World War would bring major changes and work to the industries Lachlan ran here in St. Catharines. In 1916 a large 3-storey building was constructed to produce artillery shells and fuses.
In 1917 McKinnon Chain merged with the Columbus Chain Company and the new business was now known as Columbus McKinnon in America and McKinnon Columbus Chain in Canada. Lachlan’s younger brother Archibald became plant manager, a position he held until he retired in 1956 when he became chairman of the board until he died in December 1963. However, in 1922 McKinnon sold off his interest in the chain business. With the war over and the automobile quickly replacing the horse and buggy, the company’s focus shifted to manufacturing automotive products, mainly radiators and differential gears, and by 1922 rear axles had been added to the list. With production flourishing here, the family moved back to St. Catharines from Buffalo. Unfortunately, shortly after returning, his wife Emma died on July 22, 1922 in her 70th year and then just months later on January 11, 1923 Lachlan himself died in his 69th year. He had been in less than full health for about two years. The St. Catharines Standard heading read: “L.E. McKINNON, Local Captain of Industry, Answered Death Summons This Morning.” Lachlan’s funeral was held on January 14th, 1923 and his remains were taken from his residence to Victoria Lawn Cemetery where burial took place in a family plot in New Section “A” on the north side of Queenston Street.
At the time of his death McKinnon Industries had become the largest manufacturing plant in St. Catharines. But Lachlan’s estate was only valued at $180,000 which was divided up among his six children. The family residence known as “Strath Linn” at 8 Hillcrest Avenue, along with the furniture and his autos went to his two daughters Flora and Ella who were still living in the home. The balance of the estate was split among the four other children: John William who had joined the firm as a purchasing agent and lived in St. Catharines; Roy who was living in New York; James who was living in Cleveland; and to Emma Mae who had married John Russell Heath.
Biography was compiled by Bill Stevens for the Historical Society of St. Catharines.

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