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McKenzie Machinery Company: One of Guelph’s Forgotten Companies

Machine shops are not a new invention. However, the term “machinist” dates back only to the early 18th century and the growth of the Industrial Revolution. These makers of machines and engines found increased popularity after Englishman, John Wilkinson (1728-1808) constructed a machine capable of boring engine cylinders in 1775 and an American, David Wilkinson (1771-1852), invented the first Lathe capable of mounting and driving a machine’s master screws in 1798. This marked the beginning of the age of the machinist.

In Guelph, blacksmiths and mechanics were sufficient for a time and continued to provide basic services for foundries and early industrial concerns. However, in the early 20th century, machinists increasingly were called upon to provide tools and equipment solutions for Guelph’s industries. Among the growing concerns at that time, is the little-known company operated by Daniel McKenzie and his partner, James Andrew Taylor.

The Taylor and McKenzie Machine Shop

On May 30, 1903, The Guelph Mercury posted a small notice. The old James T Brill,  premises on Nottingham Street – built by architect David Kennedy in 1876, was being taken over. The new business was to be the machine shop of JA Taylor and D. McKenzie. Since Brill had been a meat-packer, butter and pork merchant, the shop would require renovation and the addition of a significant amount of equipment.

The company was to focus on the production of machine tools and related equipment. Although early ads suggest the company initially also produced boilers, this was quickly abandoned in preference for machinery required by “modern industries.

Taylor & McKenzie were compatible for the first 3 years. They successfully established a small machine shop capable of producing lathes, drills, shapers, power hack saws and similar items for more than the local market. However, in 1906, the paper remarked that the company was planning a move to Sussex British Columbia. In actuality, it seems Taylor departed while McKenzie remained.

D. McKenzie Machinery Company

The new firm changed its name to the D. McKenzie Machinery Company in 1906 – although Canadian Machinery only announced the change in February 1914. From 1906 until 1939, it continued to produce a variety of machine tools and machinery for various firms.

Although the company remained small, having a staff of 18 men, it attracted reputable staff, including Frank Knowles, of the Goldie & McCulloch Co., Galt in 1914. The firm produced solid machine tools and through advertising in various trade magazines received favourable attention. A writer for Canadian Woodworker and Furniture Manufacturer, wrote in May 1921 that the company’s “Split Tilting-top Saw Table” was A very handy combination boring machine and variety saw.” It was capable of working any angle up to 45 degrees. The article talks about the various advantages of the machine and ends by noting “The base of this machine may be arranged for direct motor drive if required.”

By 1921, D. McKenzie Machinery Company had been incorporated. The date given in the “Report of the Secretary of State for Canada for the Year Ending March 1919,” gives the date as November 5, 1918. In that same year, the newspapers reported that the company had taken over the former Dominion Bronze Company in Preston. Here, McKenzie set up a branch plant. The American Machinist recorded at that time that this branch plant was to focus on “the manufacture of metal working machinery.” The corporation and directors for the company and its branch consisted of the following people in 1919:

    • Daniel McKenzie – manufacturer
    • Isabella McKenzie – married woman and probably his wife
    • Jean Charlesworth – Accountant
    • Florence Gertrude Biscoe – accountant
    • Verna Charlesworth – stenographer
  • However, according to Vintage Machinery, AR Williams, President and founder of AR Williams Machinery Company in Toronto became both President and General Manager of the Preston Branch. This was beneficial for all involved parties since, it appears, AR Williams Machinery Company was a major distributor of many products made by D. McKenzie Machinery Company.  

However, the Preston branch did not last long. It was gone by 1921/22. This did not mean the end of McKenzie Machinery. It was to continue producing machine tools well into the 1930s. During this period, it moved on from producing metal working machinery and now included woodworking machinery. Their letterhead from 1923 stated they did both woodworking and metalworking and offered the following services:

  • New and Second-Hand Machinery
  • Dodge Power Transmission Supplies
  • Dodge Shafting
  • Dodge Belting

They continued to obtain contracts for local institutions such as the Guelph College and the Hamilton Ontario Technical School. They also actively promoted their products in such trade magazines as:

    • Canadian Machinery
    • Canadian Woodworker and Furniture Manufacturer
    • Industrial Canada

Little else is known about the McKenzie Machinery Company. No picture remains of their premises in spite of their longevity; no artifacts are available to record their existence. This, regardless of the fact, that their time in Guelph spanned three decades. The last mention of them is made in the Vernon Guelph City Directory of 1939 where they are listed as still operating from premises at Nottingham/Gordon.  

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