Time to Grow

After John and Don Paterson joined their father’s firm, the company adopted a new name — N.M. Paterson and Sons, Ltd.

Donald Paterson became Vice President of the Grain Division in Winnipeg, and John Paterson became Vice President in charge of the Steamship Division in Fort William. Senator Paterson remained President of the company.

The western grain network was booming. Farmers were mechanizing, becoming more efficient, and producing greater harvests, and N.M. Paterson and Sons stimulated the boom by pouring development money and personnel into centres of high activity on the prairies. New annexes and second elevators were built at key locations, and by 1960, the company’s Winnipeg-based grain division was handling about twice as much grain as it did in the 1930s.

All this growth didn’t come without challenges. The construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway opened up the Great Lakes shipping route for larger, deeper more expensive boats. The Seaway was a toll route, in which small vessels were charged as much as large vessels, and these new costs upset the old economies of scale. Shipping companies had to cope with the harsh, age-old reality of evolution — adapt or die — and N.M. Paterson and Sons rose to the task. With characteristic boldness, the company sold off its older obsolete boats and replaced them with state-of-the art vessels like the S.S. Paterson — 574 feet in length — and the Senator of Canada, which measured 604 feet and carried over 15,000 tons of grain. During the 1960s, the company consisted of 40 vessels, the second largest fleet on the Great Lakes, and hauled millions of tons of grain, iron, newsprint, gypsum, and copper.

In the west, N.M. Paterson and Sons also launched subsidiary companies like Canadian Protein Pellets, which manufactured alfalfa-based pelletized animal feed in Alberta and shipped it to markets in Japan. Another subsidiary was Great West Coal, based in Bienfait, Saskatchewan. Underground coal mining was a dangerous and difficult business in the early days of the 20th century but after World War II, large excavating machines became available and it was no longer necessary to go underground. N.M. Paterson and Sons strip-mined coal at Bienfait with the biggest dragline in Canada — an enormous crawler shovel named Mister Klimax. With a bucket that was large enough to hold a truck, Mister Klimax did the backbreaking work of a hundred miners. Some of the coal produced by Great West Coal was distributed to Paterson grain elevators (and to Paterson’s competitors) across Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where farmers and local people could purchase it for heating fuel.

With the introduction of machines like Mister Klimax, miners could work in safety, and black lung disease became a thing of the past. Saskatchewan’s strip mines also resulted in creating social and environmental benefits. After being depleted of their coal, some of the larger sites were converted into wetlands for wildlife.

Another subsidiary, Northwest Design and Fabrication Ltd., manufactured camper trailers, mobile homes and boats. Originally based in Winnipeg, this small manufacturing company grew as Paterson purchased a large American modular housing firm called Commodore. The company became the largest manufacturer of mobile homes and motor homes in Canada in the 1970s and had four manufacturing plants across the nation. Paterson’s manufacturing arm was eventually sold to allow the company to continue to grow its core operations.

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