Among the prominent and successful business men of Ontario, none presents an example of greater energy, enterprise and propriety, than the subject of this brief memoir, Hermon Henry Cook. As a representative of the lumbering interests of the Province, being one of the most extensive dealers in that important branch of Canadian industry, he is fairly entitled to rank among the leading citizens of Ontario. His name is also well and favorably known as an ex-Member of Parliament, and at present a Member of the Provincial House.
He is descended on both sides from U. E. Loyalists, his grandfather George Cook, coming to Canada from the Mohawk Valley, N.Y., and settling in Dundas County about the time of the Revolutionary War. Here his two sons, John and George, were born and brought up, both living to be prominent and influential citizens. John took an active part in political affairs, and from 1829 till 1841 represented the County of Dundas in the old Canadian Parliament. He was prominently identified with the movement for responsible government, and o lived to see his most ardent wishes, in this respect, become fixed facts. He died a few years since in Dundas.
George Cook, father of our subject, was truly a self-made man, and owed his success in life wholly to his own energy and industrious integrity. He began life with nothing to rely upon but his own enterprising spirit, owing to the death of his father without making a will.
The law of primogeniture being then in force, his whole estate went to the elder son, leaving the younger with nothing. Nothing daunted, however, he set about making something for himself, and his success was such as may well encourage others to do the same. Among other business enterprises he engaged in the lumber trade, and was one of the first to manufacture and export lumber to Europe. He was also interested in the pearl ash trade, and the mercantile business; was Postmaster for some time, and probably held other minor local offices; he was a Captain of Militia, and took part in both the War of 1812 and the Rebellion of 1837, receiving from the Queen a gold medal for his services in the former. His life was a very active one, and his death, which occurred in 1869 in the County of Dundas, was widely mourned. The wife of Captain Cook was Sarah Castleman, of German descent. Her father was the late Tinus Castleman, of Dundas County, a well known and prominent man in his day.
Hermon H. Cook was the youngest of five sons, and was born in the County of Dundas, on the 26th of April, 1837. His brothers, all of whom are living but one, have all been more or less prominent, and deserve mention here. James William, the eldest, who died in 1875, was a Member of Parliament for Dundas County, from 1857 to 1861. He was also the senior member of the firm of Cook Brothers, who carry on the largest square timber business probably in Canada. The other members of the firm are George J. and John L., who still continue the business under the same name. Their business interests are very extensive, their different establishments being located at Morrisburg in Dundas County, Quebec, Toronto and Barrie. The other brother, Simon S., was returned to the Provincial Parliament at the first general election after Confederation, representing the County of Dundas for eight years. He is at present engaged in the lumber trade, and resides in Morrisburg, Ont., the principal town in the county.
Our subject was educated at the Iroquois Grammar School, in his native county, and in 1858 began business for himself in the square timber trade, on the Northern Railway, in the County of Simcoe. This business he prosecuted successfully, shipping extensively from Quebec to European markets, chiefly London and Glasgow, until 1872, when he decided to widen his field of operations.
The Midland Railway was then being built to open up the country to Georgian Bay, and Mr. Cook, with characteristic sagacity, foresaw that the proposed terminus, would be, if any thing, an advantageous lumbering point. He therefore invested largely in timber lands situated in the Georgian Bay Territory, and erected the most extensive saw mill in the Dominion. It was a bold and enterprising investment, but the result has fulfilled his expectations, and attested his sound judgment. The unbroken wilderness of 1872 is now a thriving village of about 1,500 souls, and being the terminal point of the railway mentioned, has been named in honor thereof, Midland City. It is within the bounds of truth to say that this town owes its prosperous existence, almost wholly to the subject of this sketch. His business there gives employment to a large number of hands, probably about two hundred and fifty men, whose families alone would make quite a respectable village. Although of late years his business has been curtailed somewhat; he also employed at that time about the same number in the various other branches of his extensive business. And to show how completely the whole is controlled and operated by Mr. Cook, it is only necessary to say that the timber, the saw mills, the vessels that carry the manufactured lumber to foreign ports, and even the tugboats that tow the vessels in and out of the harbor, are all his own property, and under his direct management. To manage these widespread interests successfully and yet find time to devote to public life, evinces executive ability of a high order. His shipments are made to Goderich, where Messrs. Secord, Cozzens and Co., who have a working interest in part of his business, are situated.
In 1877, the immense mill at Midland, which had a capacity of twenty-five million feet yearly, was totally destroyed by fire, but was immediately replaced by another, built upon a smaller scale, in consequence of the existing commercial depression. The new one is a model mill, fitted with all the modern improvements, and having an annual capacity of about fifteen million feet.
Mr. Cook is a man of active temperament, and though his business has had sufficient energetic attention to make his commercial career successful, yet he has found time to fill with credit, ability and zeal, the political offices to which the suffrages of his fellow citizens have elected him, and as a legislator, has given his earnest support to all measures which in his judgment were calculated to benefit the Dominion. He has always been a consistent Reformer from principle, believing that the welfare of Canada demands progression.
In 1871, he was induced by the supporters of the Reform party in North Simcoe, one of the largest and most important constituencies in Canada, to contest the local election. His opponents were W. D. Ardagh, Esq., and Mr. Lount, and owing, doubtless to its being 4 three cornered fight, he was defeated. In 1872, he was again nominated by the same constituency, for the Commons, and was opposed by Mr. McCarthy, the Conservative candidate. This time, Mr. Cook was returned, and upon the downfall of the existing government and consequent appeal to the country in January, 1874, he was again elected. But being unseated by petition, he was again nominated in the following December, when there was another appeal to the people, and was again returned to his seat by ’72 majority. In the general election in 1878, he was unsuccessful, and Mr. McCarthy, who had bitterly opposed him in the three preceding contests, was elected by a majority of 49 votes. The campaign of 1872, in which Mr. Cook received only 56 majority, has been characterized as the hardest fought political contest ever known in Canada. The constituency of North Simcoe is about equally divided between the two parties, and it was only by constant, indefatigable work, and good generalship, that the Reform party was successful.
In the Commons, Mr. Cook was an earnest working member. He was an active member of various committees, and his thorough knowledge and experience of commercial interests was of great value in shaping legislation. Want of space forbids a detailed mention of the various bills with which he was identified, and we must let it suffice to say that his work was not confined to the committee room, as is too often the case, but when necessity required, he advocated his cause upon the floor of the House, with much ability and force. As a speaker, he is earnest and forcible in manner, addressing his arguments, not to passions, but to the judgments of his hearers. In the general elections of June, 1879, a part of the same constituency which he represented in the Commons, elected him to the Local House, by over 300 majority.
In religious views Mr. Cook is a Protestant; and an adherent to the Methodist persuasion. He was married in 1861, to Lydia, daughter of Mr. James White, of the County of Simcoe, by which union he has two daughters.