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Caverhill Family Fonds (P645)

Crathern & Caverhill ad, excerpt from the Caverhill, Learmont & Co., Limited, centenary scrapbook (detail), between 1854 and 1897. Gift of Dr. J. Lawrence Hutchison, Caverhill Family Fonds P645, M2005.33.1 © McCord Museum

A "smart" mousetrap, courtesy of Crathern & Caverhill

"A Mechanical Curiosity!
Each Mouse Caught resets the Trap for another[.]
This ingenious trap [h]as proved itself to be PERFECTION. It is simple and effective, catching the Mice alive, leaving no blood or dead Mice to frighten others. In fact, the appearance of the Trap is such that is seems to offer inducements for Mice to enter, and when once caught, they reset it while passing to the Reception Room."

A clean, attractive mousetrap with a mechanism that automatically resets after each mouse is caught: too good to be true? Not according to the representatives of Crathern & Caverhill, the legendary Montreal hardware wholesaler and distributor of a multi-catch mouse trap with a swinging door. In the late 19th century, a time when domestic sanitation and rodent control were growing concerns, this innovative device dubbed the "Catchemalive Mouse Trap" claimed to be a veritable technological breakthrough.

Crathern & Caverhill, which had been run by brothers John and Thomas Caverhill and their partner James Crathern since 1854, was at that time one of Canada's largest wholesale hardware firms. It was absorbed by Caverhill, Learmont & Co. in 1897, a company that remained in the hands of the Caverhill family until 1970. Still in operation today, the business now operates under the name Caverhill Learmont Inc.

P645 Caverhill Family Fonds. - 1761, 1817-1970. - 1.39 m of textual records. - 129 photographs. - 4 plans.

Biographical Sketch

The Caverhill family originated in Scotland. In 1831, silk merchant Thomas Caverhill I (1785-1837) immigrated to Canada with his second wife, Elizabeth McKenzie (1787?-1856), and his five children: William, John, Thomas II, Jane (1822-1905) and Jessie (1827-1863), all born of his first marriage. In 1832, Elizabeth acquired Carillon Island in the Ottawa River and the family settled there.

Upon the death of their father, John (1819-1882) and Thomas II (1825-1882) moved to Beauharnois and began working in business and politics. By 1845, John was a councillor for the village of Beauharnois, while Thomas II was mayor in 1848. The two brothers opened stores in the surrounding villages, under the name J. & T. Caverhill. In 1854, they founded Crathern & Caverhill with partner James Crathern. This firm, which moved to Montreal's St. Pierre Street in 1865, became one of the largest hardware wholesalers in Canada.

The Caverhills engaged in numerous activities in addition to their business. In 1873, Thomas Caverhill II was elected to head the Richelieu Navigation Company. Crathern & Caverhill also supported the creation of a Canadian fire insurance company. In the late 1870s, Thomas Caverhill II and some colleagues were involved in a court case pitting the Montreal City & District Savings Bank against the Montreal City Passenger Railway Co. (of which Thomas II was Vice-President). The transit company was accused of conducting fraudulent transactions in order to falsify its actual profits.

Thomas Caverhill II married Elizabeth Spiers Buchanan (1828-1904) in 1854, while John wed Mary Jane Sibley (1830-1910) in 1859. Following the death of both brothers, two of Thomas Caverhill II's sons, George (1858-1937) and Frank (1854-1899), took over the administration of the family business. In 1884, together with Joseph Bowles Learmont and Thomas Henry Newman, they founded Caverhill, Learmont & Co. Crathern & Caverhill continued to exist until 1897, when it was taken over by Caverhill, Learmont & Co. The company prospered and opened warehouses in Winnipeg and Vancouver before expanding to Toronto and to Ottawa in the 1940s.

After Joseph Bowles Learmont's death in 1914, George Caverhill became the sole owner of the company, which was incorporated in 1925. He was also involved in the world of finance. He became a director of Canada Steamship Lines and president, in 1907, of the Montreal Board of Trade. He went on to become president of the Montreal Loan and Mortgage Co. and a director for several companies, including the Montreal Trust Co., Canadian Cottons Ltd., Montreal Light Heat and Power Co., Montreal Tramways Co., Montreal Island Power Co. and Bell Telephone.

On February 2, 1887, George Caverhill married his cousin Emily Margaret Caverhill (1862-1934), the daughter of John Caverhill. The couple had three children: Marjorie (1899-1970), George Rutherfurd (1897-1939) and Andrew (1892), who died in childhood. During the 1910s, the family lived in a sumptuous home at 84 Simpson Street. Having become a millionaire, George Caverhill was a great collector of art and antiques, in addition to pursuing his passions of genealogy and animals.

When George Caverhill died in 1937, his son George Rutherfurd took over as president of Caverhill, Learmont & Co. Although he was succeeded by L. Davies and then Ross Hutchison, his sister Marjorie Caverhill remained the sole owner of the company until her death, in 1970. Benedicta (Caverhill) Innes-Kerr and members of the Hutchison family then took control of the company, which is in operation to this day and has been called Caverhill Learmont Inc. since the 1960s.

Scope and Content

The Caverhill family fonds documents the personal and professional activities of generations of Caverhills who lived in Beauharnois and Montreal.

A number of legal papers document life in Scotland for Thomas Caverhill and Elizabeth McKenzie, the family's first arrivals in Canada, their home on Carillon Island and the estate of Elizabeth McKenzie. A significant number of documents are also affiliated with two of the former's sons, John Caverhill and Thomas Caverhill II, and their respective spouses, Mary Jane Sibley and Elizabeth Spiers Buchanan. The personal and family lives, finances, land holdings, and professional activities of this second generation are traced through legal documents and financial records, correspondence, personal notebooks and press clippings. In addition, court documents chronicle the case of the Montreal City & District Savings Bank versus the Montreal City Passenger Railway Co.

Several documents focus on the personal and professional lives of George Caverhill and Emily Margaret Caverhill. For example, there are retail and hardware trade magazines, travel accounts, receipts illustrating George's interest in fine art and antiques, genealogical research notes, correspondence and a plan of the garden in the family's Montreal home.

The fonds contains documents associated with George Caverhill's children, Marjorie Caverhill and George Rutherfurd Caverhill, and his nephew, Thomas Caverhill: school papers, a guest book from the family's country house in Murray Bay (La Malbaie), correspondence, invitations, wills and codicils, and press clippings.

A large share of the fonds is made up of documents related to the family's businesses. These include financial and legal records, correspondence, inventory lists for the firm of Crathern & Caverhill, a Caverhill, Learmont & Co. company catalogue and a scrapbook celebrating the firm's 100th anniversary.

Mining company stock certificates, courtesy cards from various railway companies and documents associated with Canadian grain companies (Lake of the Woods Milling Co. and Ogilvie Flour Mills Co.) chronicle the activities of Hutchison family members, who are closely related to the Caverhills.

Finally, the photographs in the fonds include portraits of several generations of Caverhills, as well as related families like the Newmans and the Hutchisons.

Source of title proper: Title based on the creators of the fonds.

Immediate source of acquisition: The fonds is composed of several donations made from 2003 to 2009.

Language: The documents are in English, French and Latin, but primarily in English.

Associated material:

BAnQ (Old Montreal): Fonds Cour supérieure. District judiciaire de Montréal. Greffes d'arpenteurs Fonds (CA601)

LAC: Caverhill, Learmont and Company Fonds (R10940-0-6-E)

Related groups of records: Buchanan Family Fonds (P196)

General note: The Notman Photographic Archives collection includes numerous photographs of Caverhill family members taken at the Notman Studio from the second half of the 19th century to the second half of the 20th century.

The fonds is divided into the following series, subseries and files:

  • P645/A Thomas Caverhill I and Elizabeth McKenzie
      • P645/A,1 Life in Scotland
      • P645/A,2 Marriage
      • P645/A,3 Elizabeth McKenzie Trust
      • P645/A,4 Carillon Island. - 1832-1841, 1857. - 1.5 cm of textual records.
        Digitized documents

        Scope and Content:
        This file documents transactions associated with Carillon Island in the Ottawa River, which was acquired by Elizabeth McKenzie in 1832 and sold in 1841. It contains inventories of assets, correspondence and notarial documents.

        Source of title proper: Title based on the contents of the file.

        Language: The documents are in English.

      • P645/A,5 Estate of Elizabeth McKenzie

  • P645/B John Caverhill and Mary Jane Sibley
      • P645/B,1 Marriage
      • P645/B,2 Execution of Susan Letham's will
      • P645/B,3 Correspondence. - 1847, 1856-1882. - 3 cm of textual records.
        Digitized documents

        Scope and Content:
        This file chronicles nearly 25 years of letters that John Caverhill received from friends and family, primarily from his brother Thomas Caverhill II.

        Source of title proper: Title based on the contents of the file.

        Language: The documents are in English.

      • P645/B,4 Death and estate of John Caverhill

  • P645/C Thomas Caverhill II and Elizabeth Spiers Buchanan
    • P645/C1 Thomas Caverhill II
      • P645/C1,1 Finances and assets
      • P645/C1,2 Correspondence
      • P645/C1,3 Montreal City Passenger Railway Co. court case
        • M2004.117.2.1 Act of Incorporation, Montreal City Corporation By-Law, and By-Laws of the Montreal City Passenger Railway Company. - 1865. - 1 textual record ; 21.5 x 14 cm.
          Digitized document

          Scope and Content:
          This booklet documents the founding and organization of Montreal's first public transit company, which set up a system of horse-drawn trams. It contains a copy of the 1861 law incorporating the Montreal City Passenger Railway Company, and the company's by-laws.

          Source of title proper: Based on the title of the document.

          Edition: Printed by John Lovell.

          Language: The document is in English.

      • P645/C1,4 Death and funeral
    • P645/C2 Elizabeth Spiers Buchanan

  • P645/D Jane Caverhill and Henry Willis Newman

  • P645/E Jessie Caverhill and William Kissock

  • P645/F George Caverhill and Emily Margaret Caverhill
    • P645/F1 George Caverhill
      • P645/F1,1 Personal life
      • P645/F1,2 Professional life
      • P645/F1,3 Travel and social activities
      • P645/F1,4 Fine art and antiques. - 1889-1919. - 4 cm of textual records.
        Digitized documents

        Scope and Content:
        This file documents the fine art and antiques acquired by George Caverhill, chronicling the tastes of this wealthy Montrealer as well as a lifestyle typical of a certain socio-economic status. The records include a list of engravings, receipts, correspondence and three catalogues produced between 1889 and 1919.

        Source of title proper: Title based on the contents of the file.

        Physical condition: The cover of one of the catalogues is brittle.

        Language: The documents are in English and French, but primarily in English.

      • P645/F1,5 Genealogical research
      • P645/F1,6 Death
    • P645/F2 Emily Margaret Caverhill
    • P645/F3 Family home

  • P645/G Marjorie Caverhill

  • P645/H George Rutherfurd Caverhill

  • P645/I Thomas Caverhill III

  • P645/J Caverhill family business activities
    • P645/J1 J. & T. Caverhill
    • P645/J2 Crathern & Caverhill
    • P645/J3 Caverhill, Learmont and Co., Limited
    • Scope and Content: This subseries chronicles the evolution of the wholesale hardware firm Caverhill, Learmont & Co., founded in 1884 by brothers Frank and George Caverhill, their cousin Thomas Henry Newman, and Joseph Bowles Learmont. The company was the successor to Crathern & Caverhill, founded 30 years earlier by brothers John and Thomas Caverhill II and James Crathern. The subseries is composed primarily of documents commemorating important anniversaries of this line of businesses.

      The subseries notably includes a scrapbook of various documents compiled on the occasion of the firm's centenary. These documents include, among other things, the menu of the 100th Anniversary Banquet hosted at the Mount Royal Hotel on December 22, 1937. The scrapbook also contains ads dating from the late 19th century along with press clippings and magazine excerpts, most of which were published on the occasion of the centenary. For example, both The Gazette and The Montreal Daily Herald newspapers reported on the company's long history as part of articles on the December 22 event. On the same subject, the scrapbook includes articles from The Montreal Daily Star newspaper, New York magazine Hardware Age, and Hardware and Metal magazine, which devoted several pages to the event. There is also a supplement from the January 1905 edition of Hardware Dealers' Monthly devoted to the 50th anniversary of the firm, as well as an article from MacLean's magazine dated January 15, 1926, that examines its history and longevity. There are two albumen print photographs the size of calling cards. One, taken by photographer James Inglis, features former employees, while the other, taken by Notman & Sandham, reproduces an illustration of the firm's offices and warehouse on St. Peter Street in Montreal.

      In addition to the scrapbook, the subseries includes a copy of the March 6, 1896, edition of the Montreal publication The Canadian Journal of Commerce, in which an ad for the firm boasts that it has the "Largest and most complete stock of shelf hardware in the Dominion." There are also copies of newspaper clippings and magazine excerpts, some of which are in the scrapbook. One article reports on the death of Joseph Bowles Learmont (1914), retracing his career as a leading figure in Montreal business circles. Finally, the subseries contains a Caverhill, Learmont & Co. catalogue listing the hardware items sold by the company and a supplement from Hardware and Metal magazine entitled More than One Hundred Years of Service - and Still Expanding, which chronicles the company's expansion into Ontario.

      Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the subseries.

      Dates of creation: The subseries contains an undated document.

      Language: The documents are in English.

        • M2005.33.1 Caverhill, Learmont & Co., Limited. Montreal and Ottawa. 1837-1937. - [ca 1854-1938]. - 1 textual record ; 48 x 37.5 cm.
          Digitized document

          Scope and Content:
          This scrapbook was put together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Caverhill family's various hardware businesses. It focusses primarily on the firm of Caverhill, Learmont & Co. and its predecessor, Crathern & Caverhill. The contents include menus, a copy of an ad dating from the late 19th century, and magazine and newspaper articles.

          Source of title proper: Based on the title of the document.

          Language: The document is in English and French, but primarily in English.

  • P645/K Hutchison Family
    • P645/K1 James Alexander and Keith Ogilvie Hutchison
    • P645/K2 Grain industry

  • P645/L Miscellaneous documents

  • P645/M Photographs


Last update: February 15, 2019