John Deere in Pioneer Manitoba

The Fairchild Company was a wholesaler jobber which purchased machinery from various manufacturers and sold it to dealers in rural areas. John Deere was just one of the companies Fairchild was wholesaling. This ad was not directed at farmers but at dealers who had not yet tied up with a wholesaler which explains the sentence in the ad “If you have not secured an agency, remember the above goods satisfy and are trade getters all the time.”

The John Deere Company’s involvement with Manitoba agriculture began in April 1878 with an initial shipment of plows and other cultivation tools to Winnipeg. However, it is suspected that, previous to 1878, homesteaders in Manitoba had bought implements in the United States, including John Deere implements and brought the equipment to Canada. At the time, many homesteaders felt that American implements were of a higher quality than those from Canada. Initially, John Deere equipment was sold through a wholesaler, Wesbrook and Fairchild, a very common practice at the time by machinery manufacturers. Wesbrook and Fairchild obtained implements from John Deere and other manufacturers and resold them to dealerships in the country who then sold them to farmers. While this is a strange way of operating by modern thinking, one has to remember that implement manufacturers at the time built a limited number of items. No farm machinery manufacturer built a complete line of equipment at the time. In 1878, John Deere only manufactured various models of plows, cultivators, and harrows. So, the dealers that sold John Deere equipment had to sell other manufacturers machinery as well in order to meet the needs of their customers. Wholesalers also offered cheaper distribution costs to the manufacturers.

Frank A. Fairchild came to Manitoba from Illinois accompanying a rail car load of John Deere plows and a number of horses in April 1878. While Fairchild had been in Illinois long enough to get married there, he was born in Ontario and had clerked in a dry good store in Dundas, Ontario. He somehow became acquainted with Henry Wesbrook in Winnipeg and they formed a partnership operating in the Market Square area. By 1881, they had expanded in the wholesaling business and handled John Deere, J. I. Case, and McCormick farm equipment.

The partnership between Westbrook and Fairchild lasted until 1888 at which time Fairchild formed a wholesale business of his own handling equipment from John Deere, Deering, the Gananoque Carriage Company, the Moline wagon Company, and the Lundy and Fairchild Company. It is not known what connection there was between Fairchild and the Lundy and Fairchild Company which manufactured the F&A “Band Cutter and Feeder” which, probably, was a machine to cut up a sheaf of grain into livestock feed and may even have been hand-powered. Fairchild had a showroom in the Grain Exchange Building on Princess Street in Winnipeg.

Agriculture in Manitoba from 1895 to 1914 benefited from the wheat boom in this period and Fairchild prospered. However, he passed away in 1898 at the age of 49. The Fairchild Company was then sold to H. W. Hutchinson who continued on with the business under the Fairchild name. In 1904, the Fairchild Company obtained a vacant lot on Princess Street south of the Grain Exchange building. Plans were drawn up for a multi-story warehouse and showroom. Construction was completed by 1907 on this 63,000 square foot building.

The Fairchild Building was one of the first warehouses to feature a steel frame and presented an attractive appearance as the curtain wall facing Princess featured a red brick trimmed with stone and terra-cotta detail work. The showroom faced out on to Princess and featured very large windows to display the goods that Fairchild wholesaled. The rear wall of the building was almost all windows which allowed natural lighting of the warehouse, workshop, and shipping areas. A CPR spur ran between Princess and Adelaide streets to provide rail access to the rear of the building.

Upon completion of the Fairchild Building, the company was sold to the John Deere Company. Apparently Hutchinson had been in negotiations with the John Deere for four years regarding the possible sale of Fairchild. The John Deere Company formed a subsidiary, John Deere of Canada, and hired Hutchinson to operate it.

By this time, attitudes at John Deere were changing about the wholesaler network the company was using in North America. From 1870 onwards, John Deere had set up a number of “Branch Houses” across the Western US. These branch houses were not owned by John Deere; instead, the branch houses generally were owned by partnerships between various individuals in the John Deere Company such as Charles Deere and Stephen Velie and locals in the area in which the branch house operated. This was not a fixed rule, however, as the San Francisco branch house was owned outright by a local family.

The John Deere branch houses operated as wholesaler jobbers; that is, the branch house took possession of the machinery it wholesaled and paid the John Deere company for it. And the branch houses wholesaled other manufacturers machinery. In 1908, one branch house was wholesaling Deering equipment at a time when the John Deere Company was very concerned about IHC of which Deering was a part. The formation of IHC at the turn of the century had resulted in a revolution in the farm machinery business as IHC offered a complete line of farm equipment, was adept in marketing, offered financing to farmers, had strong financial backing, and was very aggressive.

By 1907 people were beginning to realize that wholesalers presented problems when wholesaling technologically complex products which were costly, required demonstration, servicing and ongoing followup. A company-owned distribution network was better at these tasks. By 1907, farm machinery was becoming more technologically complex. John Deere slowly began to wrap up the various partnerships, folding the branch houses into the John Deere Company. Deere also began to buy up many of the companies that wholesaled their equipment through the various branch houses which resulted in the Dain, Van Brunt, Moline Wagon, Bain Wagon and others being folded into the John Deere Company. Dain is notable as it operated a Canadian branch plant at Welland, Ontario which John Deere of Canada operated for a number of years.

The Fairchild Company appears to have been part this drive to bring the wholesaler network into the John Deere company. As well as the Winnipeg operation, Fairchild had facilities in Regina, Calgary, and Edmonton making Fairchild very attractive, particularly in light of the wheat boom and ongoing expansion of prairie agriculture. John Deere conducted business out of the Fairchild Building until 1953 when it moved to facilities more suitable to the larger farm equipment being built by then. The Fairchild building  was purchased  by a garment manufacturer which used it to make clothing. It also rented out space to other companies.

In 2004, a developer purchased the Fairchild Building, converted it to residential lofts and today the building is known as the Fairchild Lofts. Terra cotta plaques featuring the Fairchild Company logo, an ornately intertwined FC, still adorn the front of the building.

Page revised: 8 December 2022