C. Beck Manufacturing Company

On Friday, September 9, 2005, at 2 p.m., the Ontario Heritage Foundation and the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum and Archives unveiled a provincial plaque commemorating the C. Beck Manufacturing Company in Penetanguishene.

The bilingual plaque reads as follows:


    The C. Beck Manufacturing Co. Ltd. operated from 1875 to 1969 with its centre of operations in Penetanguishene. The company sold wholesale lumber, shingles, lath, box shooks, pails, tubs and woodenware to firms in Ontario, Quebec, western Canada and the northern United States. It produced the special wooden tubs, boxes, barrels and pails that carried early 20th century Ontario food products to markets across Canada and throughout the British Empire. It was a family business whose founder, German immigrant Charles Beck (1838-1915), built a large lumber manufacturing business through aggressive marketing, shrewd diversification and technological investment. The C. Beck Manufacturing Co. was supported by an extensive array of Georgian Bay area lumber camps, specialty shingle, lath and lumber mills, two general stores, and three box, pail and woodenware factories in Penetanguishene and Toronto.


    La société C. Beck Manufacturing Co. Ltd., dont le centre des opérations se trouvait à Penetanguishene, était en activité de 1875 à 1969. Cette compagnie vendait en gros du bois d’œuvre, des bardeaux, des lattes, du bois pour caisses, des seaux, des cuves et des articles en bois à des entreprises de l’Ontario, du Québec, de l’Ouest du Canada et du Nord des États-Unis. Ses cuves, caisses, tonneaux et seaux spéciaux en bois ont permis aux produits alimentaires ontariens du début du 20e siècle d’être transportés vers les marchés de tout le Canada et de l’Empire britannique. Son fondateur, Charles Beck (1838-1915), un immigrant allemand, a su faire prospérer l’entreprise familiale grâce à un marketing dynamique, à une diversification perspicace et à un investissement dans les technologies. La C. Beck Manufacturing Co. était soutenue par un nombre considérable de camps de bûcherons et de moulins à bois spécialisés en bois d’œuvre, bardeaux et lattes de la région de la baie Georgienne, et par deux magasins généraux et trois usines de caisses, seaux et articles de bois situés à Penetanguishene et à Toronto.

Historical background

The C. Beck Manufacturing Company Ltd. was a lumbering and wood manufacturing company based in Penetanguishene, Ontario. In business from 1875 to 1969, it operated variously under the names the C. Beck Co., the C. Beck Lumbering Co., and the C. Beck Manufacturing Co. As a business, it straddled all activities in the wood business, from lumbering to production. Although the company languished in the 1930s, it continued operations until 1969.


Charles Beck (1838-1915) was a German immigrant who moved to Penetanguishene in 1865. Initially, he delivered wood in a cart about town,1 but he soon became determined to establish a sawmill.2 In 1854, a lumbering boom (second in scale only to that of the Ottawa Valley) opened in North Simcoe County.3 Beck acquired the rights to timber berths on the north east side of Penetanguishene Harbour and in 1873 Beck and his partner Gropp built the Red Mill, a substantial mill on the Penetanguishene waterfront. The mill began to prosper and by 1878 Beck had bought out his partner and established the C. Beck Lumbering Co.4 In the meantime, he had also opened a manufactory (or factory) to produce wooden pails and boxes from discarded mill ends. In addition, Beck was one of several regional businessmen to acquire a charter from the provincial government to build a railway from Barrie to Penetanguishene in 1874 with rights to extend it to join a major railway line. Their North Simcoe Railroad was, however, leased to the Canadian Northern Railroad in 1878 before being completed.5 By 1880, Charles Beck had set in place both his company’s modus operandi and the basis for its long-term prosperity.

Operations, 1875-1915

Both Penetanguishene and North Simcoe County were extensively settled during the 1870 to 1890 period, and building materials were required to construct farming, commercial and industrial enterprises. The C. Beck Lumber Co. was one of several lumber and milling operations that supplied this market. Beck, nevertheless, thrived because he was quick to expand and to diversify. He built the New Keane Mill in the early 1880s, a band mill that enabled him to produce regular and specialty lumber on a larger scale than other operations. He also diversified his investments. He built housing to rent to his employees and the public. He opened two retail stores selling groceries and dry goods to Penetanguishene residents, and guaranteed their success by paying half of his employees wages in “Beck dollars” — a practice that continued to 1920. In 1886, Beck also acquired a passenger steamer, the Georgiana, and offered connecting fares between Toronto, Penetanguishene and Midland.6 A description of Beck’s local holdings in 1904 includes the Penetang Mill (successor to the Red Mill), the New Keane Mill, a Planing Mill and Machine Shop, a Timber Mill, a Shingle Mill, the Craigie Mill, stables, sheds and piling grounds.7 During this period, his mills produced 200,000 feet of board lumber a day, making them the largest in the Penetanguishene area.8

While the C. Beck Co.’s Penetanguishene holdings were extensive, they were only a part of the company’s activities. Beck had his eye on areas opening for development in other parts of the province and acquired logging rights in several of them. A partial list of his camps during this period shows activity in areas on the Canadian Pacific Route in northern Ontario (Spanish 1892, Burpee Camp 1892-1893, Rainy River 1891-1893), around Georgian Bay (Metgamising Lake, 1904-1905, Webbwood, 1907-1908), and in Muskoka (French River, 1906; Restoule, 1904-1906).9 These dates align with periods of railway construction in these areas although it is unclear whether Beck moved into new areas as they opened through rail development or whether he was actually providing ties and supplies for railway construction. A sales book for at least one of these remote camps suggests he was selling lumber on site. Presumably, most lumber from these berths travelled to Penetang for milling.

Beck was an Ontario industrial entrepreneur of his time. He was an active member of both the Liberal party and the Canadian Lumberman’s Association. He not only lobbied Prime Minister Laurier to keep American goods out of the Canadian market,10 but he also associated with other lumbermen in an exchange of lumber products11 and in joint venture activities such as the Savanne Lumber Co.(1901-1904), and the Spanish River Co.12 He purchased timber rights in Alberta (1907-1921) and rights to run cattle on the Blood Reserve in Alberta (1904-1918).13 He sold lumber in Windsor and Detroit and brought back cargoes of salt and coal.14 He built workers’ housing in Cincinnati.15 In 1897, he also opened a box factory in Toronto, presumably to be closer to the source of both information and transportation for an expanding market both inside Ontario and in western Canada. His choice to do so coincides closely with decisions to construct two new transcontinental railroads to the west: the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern.

A 1907 advertisement for the C. Beck Mfg. Co. Ltd. records its products as “Lumber of all Kinds, Lath and Shingles, Bills cut to Order, Planing and Wood Working Done. Head Office: Penetanguishene, Can. Box Factory: Toronto, Can. We manufacture Wooden Pails, Tubs, Boxes and Box Shooks.”16 At about the same time, a 1910 list of customers for pail and tub sales includes customers from London, Hamilton, Toronto and Newmarket as well as companies in Winnipeg and Montreal.17 In 1910, the company’s lath mill held a world record for cutting 128,000 laths in 10 hours. When Charles Beck died in an accident in 1915, he left assets totalling $10 million.18

Operations, 1915-1959

Beck’s sons — Walter, Alfred, George and William — continued to operate according to these same general patterns after his death. They “logged every river from Shawanaga to the Thessalon on the north shore of Georgian Bay and brought logs to the sawmills in Penetanguishene.”19 Records show camps in Spanish River (1918), Thessalon (1914-1921), Beaverstone (1921-1923), and Little Current (1918-1922).20 They also continued cooperative logging arrangements with other Ontario lumber companies.21

Manufacturing and milling operations, too, initially continued along the same general lines. All of the Penetanguishene facilities ran at full capacity. Wholesale lumber continued to be sold to lumber companies in Ontario, Quebec and New York.22 In 1923, a special issue publication on Penetanguishene and Its Industries described the C. Beck Mfg. Co.:

    Two large mills operated from early spring to late fall every year, cutting some 15,000,000 feet of lumber per season; also, two up-to-date box factories, one of which is in Toronto, working year round, with an annual output of 5,000,000 feet of lumber made into boxes are the present tokens of what business ability can accomplish.23

Under its new president, William F. Beck, the company did introduce some improvements. One was a registration of a trademark for the “Horseshoe Brand” to identify company products.24 Another was a second factory in New Toronto to manufacture woodenware (c. 1919 or earlier). After the First World War, company business in manufactured products increasingly developed. The C. Beck Mfg. Co. sold woodenware and wood packaging, both regular and special order. In particular, the company sold wooden materials for manufacturing, handling and moving food products — flour tubs, shortening and lard tubs, pastry boards, pails, fruit crates and baskets, boxes for moving candy, butter, (milk, beer, wine, preserve) bottles and cans in bulk, trays for carrying bread, meat and fish.25 During this time, Canada was aggressively marketing its high quality food products throughout the Empire and Ontario was a major supplier of agricultural products, both fresh and processed.26 The C. Beck Mfg. Co. sold packaging to send Ontario food products all over Canada and to British Empire markets all over the world.

This market began to recede as cardboard boxes and metal pails were introduced in the late 1920s. The Toronto factories closed during the Depression. By 1930, the company’s local timber limits had also been exhausted. Lumbering operations became more far-flung; the size of the milling operation became smaller. The company and the Penetanguishene Box Factory nevertheless continued to operate until 1969 when its assets were sold.27


Headquarters of the C. Beck Manufacturing Co. Ltd. were situated in Penetanguishene throughout its history. For a period of almost 60 years, the company was a major employer in the Penetanguishene area, with 300 to 400 workers in lumber camps and about 250 in local mills.28 Company facilities also occupied a large segment of the town’s landscape, and the Beck family’s impressive late-Victorian home is still prominent. The company’s founder and two of his sons were mayors of Penetanguishene.29 Charles Beck was particularly important in moving the community into the 20th century by ensuring its access to railway transportation, light and power. He was also an important supporter of community life.30 The C. Beck Manufacturing Co. Ltd. was a late 19th- and early 20th-century phenomenon. Its founder, Charles (Carl) Beck was a savvy businessman of his time. His business practices, though not particularly innovative, were aggressive and guided his lumbering company into niche markets that sustained it at a high volume until the 1930s and allowed it to continue until 1969.

The C. Beck Mfg. Co. is significant in Ontario’s history because of its lumbering and manufacturing activities, which demonstrate the link between primary resource harvesting and secondary manufacturing activities. The company’s lumbering activities are representative of tree harvesting in the Georgian Bay area — a part of Ontario prominent for such activity. More importantly, the packing and woodenware materials manufactured by the C. Beck Mfg. Co. and their use in transporting and handling Ontario products are a humble but critical aspect of Ontario’s dynamic early 20th-century manufacturing sector.

The Ontario Heritage Trust gratefully acknowledges the research of Margaret Carter in preparing this paper.

© Ontario Heritage Trust, 2005

1 John Bayfield and Carole Gerrow. This was Yesterday: A Pictorial History of the Early Days of Penetanguishene (Midland: Midland Printers Co. Ltd., 1982), p. 53.

2 Penetanguishene Centennial Museum [hereafter PCMA], File “Beck Family”.

3 Mark Bourrie and Rick Leroux, Penetanguishene: The Story of Industrial Development (manuscript at the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum and Archives, n.d. [c1980s]), Item 97002-176, Chapter 1.

4 PCMA, File “Beck Lumber Co.”.

5 Andrew E. Hunter, A History of Simcoe County (1909 original, reprinted Oshawa: Mackinaw Productions, 1998), p. 207-209 cites 37 Vic. chap. 54, “An Act to Incorporate the North Simcoe Railway Company,” 24 March 1874 and its amendment.

6 PCMA, Handbill in Penetanguishene 1875-1975 [reprinted from Midland Free Press, 1975], p. 27, offering fares from Toronto, Penetanguishene and Midland in the 1880s. Beck also had four tugs, these were the Tug Chamberlain (1888-1911), Tug Shawanaga (1883-1902), Tug Lucille (1889-1907) and the Tug Wahnapitae, 1903-1915 (see Simcoe County Archives, C. Beck Manufacturing Company Limited, Business Records, Provisional List and Inventory, Box 216 - p. 77 Index). It is not known whether he used any of them for passenger transport.

7 PCMA, File “Beck Family” quotes from the Penetanguishene Assessment Rolls for 1904.

8 Bourrie, Mark and Rick Leroux, Penetanguishene: the Story of Industrial Development (manuscript at PCMA), p. 20.

9 Notes on company activities from Simcoe County Archives, C. Beck Manufacturing Company Limited, Business Records, Provisional List and Inventory, Section G, shelf listings 12 to 21 and Box 216.

10 National Archives of Canada, MG 26 G, Sir Wilfrid Laurier Papers, Vol. 19, Letter, Charles Beck to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 3 May 1897, p. 14372-3. Letter, Charles Beck to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 28 March 1898, p. 22107. Letter, Charles Beck to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 19 June 1900, p. 46631, and reply, p. 46632. Letter, Charles Beck to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 28 March 1898, p. 142382.

11 Simcoe County Archives, C. Beck Manufacturing Company Limited, Business Records, Letter, The New Ontario Timber and Trading Co. to the C. Beck Manufacturing Co., 8 November 1913, showing co-operative working relationship with other Ontario lumber companies.

12 Notes on company activities from Simcoe County Archives, C. Beck Manufacturing Company Limited, Business Records, Provisional List and Inventory, Section B, shelf listing 8 and Section G.

13 Notes on company activities from Simcoe County Archives, C. Beck Manufacturing Company Limited, Business Records, Provisional List and Inventory, Box 134, p. 68 of Index.

14 PCMA, File “Beck Lumber Company”, excerpt from unidentified manuscript, p. 20. This manuscript is based on local interviews.

15 Mary Haskill, “Carl Beck of Penetanguishene – A Success Story”, Midland Free Press, 30 Sept. 1977, p. 4.

16 A.C. Osborne, Penetanguishene the Historic Town (Toronto: 1907, microform 1995), advertisement, n.p.

17 Simcoe County Archives, C. Beck Manufacturing Company Limited, Business Records, “Pail and Tub Sales, Dec. 1st 1909 to Nov. 15th 1910".

18 PCMA, File “Beck Family”, unidentified 4 page description of Beck and his business, p. 2 and 4.

19 PCMA, File “Beck Lumber Company”, excerpt from unidentified manuscript, p. 21. This manuscript is based on local interviews.

20 Notes on company activities from Simcoe County Archives, C. Beck Manufacturing Company Limited, Business Records, Provisional List and Inventory, Section G, shelf listings 12 to 21 and Box 216.

21 Simcoe County Archives, C. Beck Manufacturing Company Limited, Business Records, Provisional List and Inventory, Section B, Shelf 6 and 7, French River Boom Co., 1919-1922; also PCMA, #97001-15 Letter Thos. O’Neill, Thos. D. O’Neill, Manufacturer and Dealer in Timber, Lumber, Shingles, Cedar Posts, Craighurst, to C. Beck Mfg., 10 January 1927.

22 Simcoe County Archives, C. Beck Manufacturing Company Limited, Business Records, Provisional List and Inventory, Box 116, p. 39 shows orders during the years 1919-1921 in Ontario from Williams Lumber Co., Ottawa; the Oliver Lumber Co.. Ltd, Muir & Kirkpatrick Wholesale Lumber and Leak & Co., Toronto; Nicholson Lumber Co., Burlington; McCormick and Stewart, Hamilton.; in Quebec from the Montreal Lumber Co., Montreal; in the United States from A. Whyckoff & Son Co. Elmira N.Y., the Valley Creek Lumber Co., Rochester N.Y., Hendricks - Caskey Co., and Wm. Hendricks Sons Co., Buffalo, N.Y.

23 PCMA #46, Frederick W. Gilmour, Penetanguishene and the Men behind its Industries, excerpt on “The C. Beck Mfg. Co.”, 1923.

24 PCMA, Beck Lumber file, Document, Minister of Trade and Commerce, Ottawa, Registration of Horseshoe Brand trademark by C. Beck Manufacturing Limited, 28 March 1921.

25 SCA, Letter, The Export Association of Canada Ltd. to C. Beck Manufacturing Co., 23 May 1919, placing a custom order for food packing tubs to send goods to Great Britain; Letter, The Export Association of Canada Ltd. to C. Beck Manufacturing Co., 26 May 1919, request on quote for standard packing materials to send goods to Great Britain; undated clippings for products requiring special fruit packing [1920s]; also PCMA #97001-10 and -11, Letter, C. Beck Mfg. to Belleville Electric and Stamping, Belleville, 24 October 1924; and Letter D. Elliott, Beck Mfg, Toronto to C. Beck Mfg., Penetang, 6 June 1925 respectively.

26 Margaret Carter, “The 1920s” in 20th Century Canadian Consumer Patterns: a Preliminary Overview for Planning (Ottawa: manuscript produced for the National Museum of Science and Technology, 1999).

27 SCA, “Liquidation Sale, The C. Beck Co. Ltd., Mfgrs. Lumber and Wood Products, Woodworking Machinery and Equipment”, no year given [1969]. List of equipment in Penetanguishene factory at time of final liquidation.

28 PCMA, File “Beck Lumber Company”.

29 Charles Beck (1892-1895), Jacob Beck (1901-02) and W.F. Beck (1916). See John Bayfield and Carole Gerrow. This was Yesterday: A Pictorial History of the Early Days of Penetanguishene (Midland: Midland Printers Co. Ltd., 1982), p. 182.

30 PCMA, File “Beck Family”.