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Andrew Gault (1833 - 1903):
Industrialist and philanthropist

Andrew Gault was one of the most successful businessmen in nineteenth century Canada, whose acumen and outstanding organisational skills, allied to ambition and industry, earned him a special sobriquet: in the cotton industry, the most successful individuals were known as “Cotton Lords” while Gault came to be known as the “Cotton King of Canada”. 

Andrew Frederick Gault was born at Strabane, County Tyrone, eighth of nine surviving children of Leslie Gault, one of the most prominent businessmen in the town, who achieved control of a large proportion of the general business not just of Tyrone but also of adjacent counties. He branched out into the transatlantic shipping business, providing a shipping line for emigrants to North America, while importing grain and timber in the other direction, back to Ulster. He was in fact one of the leading tradesmen in east Ulster; though in the 1840s he suffered terribly bad luck, losing several of his best ships and suffering losses in, for example, the grain trade. In 1842 he emigrated to Montreal, Canada, taking with him most of his family, including nine-year-old Andrew. Leslie Gault continued to struggle commercially, the family’s farming enterprise being a notable failure, and died of cholera within a year. Andrew attended the High School of Montreal then entered a dry goods firm to learn the business. He formed a partnership with one James B Stevenson in 1853, which last some five years, when he formed a business with his brothers. This was slow to expand: in 1863 its sales were not over $100,000, but by 1873 sales were $2,000,000, and its net worth had expanded from $150,000 to $400,000. Andrew Gault by then was beginning to sit on numerous boards of directors in banking, insurance, and cotton textile firms. He was also a member of the Montreal Board of Trade. 

The Gaults entered the cotton industry in 1872 when they built a cotton mill, in Cornwall, Ontario. This burned down in 1872 but they built another on in 1879. In that year, the government introduced its “National Policy” which almost doubled the tariff on cotton. A Toronto journalist, Thomas Philips Thompson of the Globe newspaper, commented that the Gaults were the most prominent members of the cotton industry who had been able to profit from “the full opportunity afforded by the new tariff to rob the general public of the dominion”. In the period between 1879 and 1883, variously described as a “cotton orgy” or “cotton bonanza”, Andrew Gault’s investments almost doubled their returns. But after 1883 the industry suffered slump, and those involved in it were struggling more and more to produce a “living profit”; it was now that Gault’s considerable talents enabled him to re-organise production in the Canadian cotton industry, and was his efforts, with no little success, earned him his sobriquet. He was respected as a “”great organiser, energetic, with “natural force of character”, “clear-sighted business instinct” and “he was as a good fighter as he was a friend” (he was said to have surprised a burglar at work in his Montreal mansion and to have tackled him head-on). Generally, it was said of him that he “did not establish the industry but he transformed it.” 

In 1888 a Royal Commission on relations of labour and capital was established which was critical of conditions for workers in his mills (many of whom were children). Gault said he regretted their long hours, but took no interest in his mills’ internal organisation. Conversely, he was a philanthropist who contributed unknown – though considerable – sums to all sorts of branches and institutions of the Anglican Church of which he was a devoted member all his life (the considerable list of good causes to which it is known he contributed, was very much denomination-specific). After his death, Bishop James Carmichael said of him that he never turned down a request for donations dedicated to the poor, the sick and the needy; he was a “kindly generous, whole hearted man who often, literally, did good by stealth”. 

Gault had only two children surviving into adult. He bequeathed each of them over one million dollars. His son eschewed business for, firstly, the army, where rose to the rank of Brigadier, and also completely unlike his father, entered politics and was at one time a Westminster MP.

Born: 14 April 1833
Died: 7 July 1903
Richard Froggatt