Robert Hay, member of the House of Commons for Centre Toronto, is a son of Robert and Elizabeth (Henderson) Hay, and was born in the parish of Tippermuir, Perthshire, Scotland, May 18, 1808. His father was an agriculturist in moderate circumstances, with a family of nine children; and at fourteen years of age our subject had to leave school and rely upon his own small hands for support. He became an apprentice to a cabinet maker; learned the trade thoroughly in the town of Perth; worked at it as a journeyman in the old country until the summer of 1831, when he sailed for the new world, reaching Toronto on the 10th of September. Here has been the home of Mr. Hay for almost fifty years, and by hard work and the most careful attention to his business in all its details, he placed himself in comfortable, and we might say independent, circumstances years ago. In the year 1835 he commenced business, forming a partnership with John Jacques, a native of Cumberlandshire, England, and the firm of Jacques and Hay continued between thirty and forty years. They commenced with a capital of about $400 each, and with a “force” of two apprentice boys, enlarging from year to year until they had something like four hundred men.
After they had been in business about twenty years, they were burnt out twice, losing, in the aggregate, about $200,000 the accumulations of two decades of solid work. Without “bating a jot of heart or hope,” they rebuilt, and pushed on to fortune, good luck thenceforth attending them.
In 1870 Mr. Jacques retired from the business, and two worthy men, long in the employ of the firm Charles Rogers and George Craig took his place; and the firm of R. Hay and Co. continues the business, their present store rooms being at the corner of King and Jordan Streets their sales averaging, during the last nine or ten years, about $350,000 per annum. It is safe to say that no better furniture is manufactured in the Dominion of Canada. Its sales are not altogether limited to this country: several shipments yearly have been forwarded to Great Britain. Some very prominent families in England have been supplied from the shops of this firm, among whom are Lord Abinger, and Mr. Bass, M. P., son of the extensive brewer, well known the world over.
Mr. Hay has a saw mill at New Lowell, County of Simcoe, cutting 4,000,000 feet of lumber annually; also at the same place a hair factory and a turning shop, equipped with the best of machinery. He has likewise a farm there of 700 acres, which he owns in company with his nephew, Robert Patton, which is all cleared and improved. They raised 4.5 acres of potatoes in 1879, and are preparing to plant more than twice that number of acres in 1880, the soil being admirable for root crops. Mr. Hay has recently commenced the breeding of shorthorn cattle on the farm, and has also a few sheep and swine of choice breeds. Near New Lowell he has 2,500 acres of woodland.
Mr. Hay is a Director of the Credit Valley Railway, and of the Electric Manufacturing Company of Toronto. In September,1878, he was elected to Parliament to represent the riding of Centre Toronto, one of the wealthiest and most important constituencies in the Dominion. He was formerly, and for many years, a Liberal in politics, but latterly has favored what is known as the “National Policy,” which means a protective tariff to Canadian industries, and now acts with the Liberal Conservatives, having received their unanimous and hearty support along with many Liberals at the election just mentioned. He also favors the adoption of a prohibitory Liquor law, as soon as the people are educated up to that high standard of morality.
November 18, 1847, Mr. Hay married Miss Mary Dunlop, a native of Glasgow. She was born in 1827 and died in 1871, leaving six children, one of whom, Sophia, has since died. One son and one daughter had preceded her to the other world.
Mr. Hay is as much of a self made man as almost any province or country can present. Relying upon his own labor for support since he entered upon his teens; applying himself to his daily toil with an industry that never flags, he has won the crown of well merited and notable success.