John Bertram, one of the most influential industrialists in Canada West, arrived in Ontario from Scotland in 1852. Following a tip, he traveled to Dundas and was hired on by partners Robert McKechnie and William McDonald, who operated a small pattern and machine shop near the old Baptist Church on 108 Park Street W. When the building burned down in 1861 a new shop was built at the southwest corner of Hatt and Ogilvie Streets. This location was where the company would operate for the next century. In 1863, Mr. McDonald left the company and John Bertram became a partner, the company then being called Canada Tool Works.
To meet the growing demands of the trade additional buildings were constructed in 1867, including an office building, a machine and pattern shop and a stable. Four years later they added a larger machine shop along Hatt St. in front of their first building. The company’s earliest products were equipment for the woodworking industry: planing and matching machines, surface planers and moulding machines, upright shapers, and scroll and band saws. Later, with the building of the railroads and new industries, their output shifted to metalworking machine tools, and by 1888 they were producing planers, shapers, drills, milling machines, lathes of various description, bolt cutters, punchers, shears, slotting machines, plate bending rolls, steam hammers, radial drills as well as special machine tools for the locomotive industry. A typical company catalogue describes these and other products for sale. By 1886 they had 150 workers on their payroll. Initially, the factory machinery was run by water power supplied through a mill race which at that time was owned by the executors of the estate of J.B. Ewart. In 1873 the owners purchased the portion of the mill race behind their factory, and property extending south beyond Spencer Creek. But as the land encompassing the watershed of Spencer Creek was settled and trees cut down, spring flooding became a problem, making water power less reliable. In 1889 John had a steam boiler and an 80 hp Wheelock steam engine installed.
The McKechnie and Bertram partnership continued until 1886, when Mr. McKechnie retired. Three of John’s sons, Henry, Alex, and Jim were apprenticed in the shop and then taken into the business. At this time the name was changed to John Bertram & Sons Company Ltd., although the previous name continued to appear on their letterhead. John held the position of president of the company until his death in 1906 when his eldest son Alexander assumed the presidency with Henry as Secretary-Treasurer. In 1905 the Company merged with the Niles Bement Pond Co., an American heavy machine tool manufacturer, but continued to operate under the John Bertram & Sons Company name. This merger opened up international markets through Niles Bement Pond’s office in London. In 1925 the Bertram family was able to buy out the Niles-Bement-Pond ownership and John Bertram & Sons became an independent company once again. Henry Bertram became President and General Manager; shortly thereafter Henry’s son, H. Graham Bertram, assumed control of the company.
Over the years Bertram developed or made improvements to the machinery that his company built. He owned patents for an Earth Boring, Steam Thawing Implement, Improvements on Machines for Planing and Shaping Metals, an Automatic Rack and Gear Cutter, and a Combined Milling and Turning Machine, to name a few. During the First World War, the Bertram company was extremely busy building lathes, milling machines, and specialized shell making machinery, as well as producing actual munitions. For his contribution to the war effort, Alexander Bertram was knighted by King George V. During World War II, John Bertram & Sons was once again producing machinery used in the manufacture of armaments.
John Bertram & Sons also produced large scale machinery for a number of ambitious civil engineering projects. They manufactured components for the Peterborough and Kirkfield lift locks and designed large turbines for hydro-electric power plants. By the 1930s, the Company was producing specialized machinery for use in mining. After the war, John Bertram & Sons made an unsuccessful bid to enter to European market. During the same period, the company built more and more custom-made equipment as well as specialized plastic and steel mill machinery under licensing agreements from other companies. By 1950, the factory complex included a huge machine shop, a foundry, and and a number of out buildings with a total area of 22,600 m² (243,000 ft²), not including the office building on Ogilvie St. In 1954 the total number of employees including those of its subsidiary Pratt and Whitney Canada was about 1000.
By the 1960s Bertrams were unable to compete with the sophisticated machine tools produced by foreign manufacturers. In 1951 the company was bought by Russell Industries. In 1964 the company was sold to Levy Industries Limited and became known as Bertram Machine and Tool Company. The German heavy engineering company Orenstein & Koppel Canada Limited bought the Bertram shops in 1974. The shops finally closed in the late 1980s and the buildings were demolished in 1997.
Content on this page is made possible by a grant from the Documentary Heritage Communities Program, funded by the Government of Canada and administered by Library and Archives Canada. The Dundas Museum and Archives is grateful for this support. Thank you.