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John Gillespie, wholesale manufacturer and importer, was born in the County of Wicklow, Ireland, on the 14th of July, 1836. He is a son of John Gillespie, senior, and Mary, his wife.
John received his early education from his father, and spent about five years at an academy, or “boarding school” at Dundalk, Ireland. It being the desire of his father, he commenced studying with a view of entering the ministry, but his own inclinations being in favor of commercial life, he chose the latter as offering the best field for the exercise of his natural abilities. His practical mercantile education he obtained in the employ of the celebrated commercial house of Todd, Burns and Co., in Dublin. They were at that time one of the most extensive mercantile establishments in the world, and the knowledge, discipline and business habits which young Gillespie acquired while with them, were of great value, and no doubt he owes his subsequent successful business career to the lessons then learned.
In 1854, soon after the death of his father, he resigned his position with Todd, Burns and Co., and emigrated to Canada, settling at Guelph, in the Province of Ontario. Here he engaged in the dry goods business, but sold out in 1858 to enter the employ of the well known firm of A.T. Stewart and Co., in New York city, as a general salesman. He remained with them until the breaking out of the Southern Rebellion in 1861, when he accepted a situation with the whole sale Fur house of Foster and Galbraith, of Montreal, Canada. Their principal house was at Hamilton. Ont., and thither Mr. Gillespie was soon transferred. Two years later he engaged in business for himself, opening a dry goods commission house for the sale of American fancy goods. This business he carried on successfully until 1866, when it was merged into the wholesale hat, cap, fur and straw goods business, opened at 39 Yonge street, Toronto, under the firm name of J. Gillespie and Co.; in this business he was joined by D. Galbraith of the firm of Foster and Galbraith.
In 1869, the business had enlarged so that a larger store was necessary, and the stock was removed to 64-68 Yonge street.
Mr. Galbraith only remained in the firm about a year, when Mr. Gillespie continued alone until 1870, when, on opening a branch store in New York city, he was again joined by Mr. Galbraith. On relinquishing this branch the two houses J. Gillespie and Co., of Toronto, and D. Galbraith and Co., of Hamilton, were united, taking in Mr. T. Christie of the latter house. The two houses were successfully maintained until 1875; the one at Hamilton under the name of T. Christie and Co., and the one at Toronto, under the name of J. Gillespie and Co. The partnership was then dissolved, since which time Mr. Gillespie has been alone. He is probably the leading representative of his line of trade in the Dominion, importing and manufacturing extensively every description and quality of hats and caps. During the season of 1879 he removed his business to a new and spacious building, put up expressly for his use on Wellington street, and is one of the finest stores in the city.
Establishing and maintaining a large business is not all that Mr. Gillespie has done for Toronto; he is actively interested in all matters that tend to benefit or enhance the prosperity and well being of the city. He is one of the Directors of the Bristol, West of England Mortgage Investment Company, the Hand in Hand Insurance Company, and on the consulting board of the Commercial Union; has been Treasurer of the Board of Trade for the last six years; is Government Trustee of the Toronto General Hospital; of the Church of St. James Cathedra; is Secretary of the Church Association, and Director of the Bible Society, and the Tract Society, of the House of Industry, and of the Newsboys Lodgings. He has always taken a great interest in Sunday schools, and for the last ten years has been the Superintendent of the St. James. Under his able management the school has increased during that time from two hundred and fifty, to over twelve hundred scholars.
Mr. Gillespie was married at Guelph, in 1855, to Miss Esther Cunningham, of that place. She died in 1876, leaving four children. one son and three daughters; Louisa, the eldest daughter was married in September, 1876, to Mr. Jeffrey H. Brock, a wholesale merchant, and respected citizen of Toronto; Frederick George is a student in Dr, Tassie’s School, at Galt,Ont., and Fannie and Eva are at home. Mr. Gillespie was married again, on the 11th of December, 1878, to Miss Julie Howland, daughter of Henry S. Howland, Esq.
The early lessons of Mr. Gillespie’s life must have been, not only excellent, but well learned and never forgotten. Never discounting the future, he has justly earned an enviable reputation for reliability and probity. He has always been careful, but at the same time prompt and honorable in all his transactions, and his business career has been uniformly successful.