Planting Seeds

Norman McLeod Paterson

Hugh Paterson’s son Norman McLeod Paterson inherited his father’s love of agriculture and grain. When he reached adolescence, young Norman Paterson followed in his dad’s footsteps by joining the Winnipeg Grain Exchange and working as a broker.

In 1908, Norman Paterson traveled to the Lake Superior port of Fort William. With little cash but supreme optimism, he convinced a banker to lend him money to buy a carload of grain, which he promptly sold for a modest profit. This transaction encouraged him to become an independent broker, facilitating the movement of grain from the field to markets around the world. He incorporated and rented an office, and the company that would eventually become Paterson GlobalFoods was born.


As Norman Paterson’s reputation for honesty and boundless energy grew, he won the support of Fort William bankers, and they helped him finance the construction of a small elevator. After his father Hugh retired from the grain business in 1911, Norman opened an office in the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, which was now regarded as the most important grain market in the world. Norman’s business kept growing and he kept ploughing the proceeds back into the company. By the end of the 1920s, Norman had established 107 wooden elevators across the west, all of them wearing the distinctive  that would eventually become so familiar to travellers on the prairies.

To make the journey from farm gate to foreign markets more efficient, Paterson began buying steamships, and naming them after the cities and provinces of Canada. At enormous expense (and at considerable financial risk) he also built 17 “canallers” in England. His boldness paid off, and by the end of the 1920s, Paterson Steamships was a well-known and respected firm in both Canada and Britain.

The great stock market crash of 1929 left the economies of the U.S.A. and Canada in ruins. But the economies of Europe and other parts of the world were not as severely affected. Even though business was rough, people still had to eat, and Paterson was able to maintain his clients abroad. “The depression really didn’t affect us that much,” said Paterson. “The demand was there.”

By the end of the 1930s however, bigger problems were brewing.

Next: Called to War