Among the younger wholesale houses in Toronto which are yearly growing in importance, and which, judging by their constantly increasing trade, are rivaling the old established firms in pushing business with energy, foresight and success, the importing dry goods house of Messrs. G. B. Smith and Henderson is deserving of mention in a work which treats of self made men. George Byron Smith, the senior member, very justly ranks in this class of citizens. He is a native of Ontario, and was born in the village of Newtonville, county of Durham, on the 7th of March, 1839. His paternal grandfather came from the State of New York many years ago and settled near Cobourg, Out., where was born the father of our subject, N. C. Smith. The latter was for some time engaged in tilling the soil, but after his removal to Newtonville his business was that of general merchandising. The maiden name of the mother of G. B.
Smith was Sarah W. Bates, whose grandfather on her father’s side came from the State of Vermont, sometime during the latter part of the last century, since which time the family have been loyal Canadians, her father serving the Crown in the war of 1812.
Like many other self made men of today, our subject received but a limited education, such in fact as could be obtained in the public school of his native village. At the age of thirteen he entered his father’s store as a clerk, and remained there for nine years. Here under his father’s care he early learned habits of industry, thrift and steadiness, which have been invaluable in after years. This experience also gave him a practical business education, and acknowledge of men and affairs, such as cannot be learned at school.
In 1861, desirous of starting in business for himself, he selected St. Mary’s as a promising site, and purchased a stock of goods in Montreal and opened a retail store at this place. If to start with nothing and become successful, constitutes a self made man, then no one more properly deserves the distinction than Mr. Smith. His first stock of goods was obtained on credit on the strength of his father’s well earned reputation among the Montreal wholesale merchants. But it was speedily paid for, and many others in succession, for his business in St. Mary’s rapidly increased, and within three years he controlled the largest retail trade within the place, his name being a familiar household word throughout the country for twenty miles or more around. This prosperous yearly increase continued until 1875, when he took into partnership two of his former employees Duncan Henderson and Jeremiah White. Sometime previously he had added a wholesale branch to his business, and he now decided to remove this department to Toronto, which he did, opening a store on Wellington street under the firm name of Messrs. G. B. Smith and Henderson. Since then his home has been in Toronto, and the sales of the firm have been constantly increasing up to the present, showing a constant, healthy development. They are now located at 43 Yonge street in much more commodious quarters than previously where they keep on hand a general assortment of imported and domestic dry goods. They have, by fair dealing, gained for themselves an enviable reputation as a reliable firm to do business with. Mr. Smith continues in the retail business in St. Mary’s where it is conducted under the name of White and Co., being the largest in that part of the country. Mr. Smith is purely a business man, giving to the management and oversight of his store personal and constant attention, with no ambition to be other than a practical, energetic and go ahead merchant. He has worked his own way in the world, and, by his untiring zeal and activity, has won success and position. While in St. Mary’s he identified himself with the interests of the place, being well known as a public spirited and influential citizen, and serving two years in the town counciL Feeling that it was robbing his business of valuable time, be has ever since avoided outside matters.
In politics Mr. Smith is a thorough Reformer, and takes an active interest in political affairs, but is never an office seeker, and in religious views favors the Presbyterian church, where he attends with his family.
In 1861 he was married in Port Hope to Maria, daughter of William Allen, a farmer of the township of Hope, and by this union has two children.
In social as well as in commercial circles Mr. Smith has many friends. He is well informed on all the leading questions of the day, having by judicious reading and study amply made up for any lack of early schooling.