Inducted: November 18, 2014
Gordon C. Leitch was born on February 25th, 1890, in Ridgetown, Ontario, to parents Daniel and Mary (Campbell) Leitch. He had four sisters, Jean, Hazel, Ethel and Bertha.
Gordon married Hilda Bawden of Ridgetown, on April 24th, 1918, and they had five children. One died at 9 months. The remaining are: John “Jack” D. who married Margaret Cartright, then after her death, married Catherine Bradshaw; Jane who married James Bayley; Margaret who married Bill Barraclough; and Ann who married Rev. Duncan Abraham. There are 14 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and 15 great great grandchildren.
Gordon grew up and went to school in Ridgetown, and attended Ridgetown Collegiate Institute from 1913 – 1916 when he left school. Gordon always knew that there was something bigger than Ridgetown, and he headed out West where he met a friend. They headed to Calgary and then north in the fall. As the weather cooled, Gordon wanted to leave but his friend had settled down.
Gordon went to Winnipeg and entered the grain business working for the Manitoba Wheat Pool and became an expert salesman.
After 12 years with the Manitoba Wheat Pool, he moved to Toronto to become manager of the Toronto branch of the Canadian Wheat Pool. In that capacity he became aware of what he felt were needless transportation costs in the supply of grain from Western Canada to the numerous flour and feed mills in Ontario.
In 1928, along with investors, he bought property and built an elevator on the Toronto waterfront. The Toronto Elevators became a great success. The main reason for establishing Toronto Elevators was to facilitate the movement of western grain to eastern Canada.
Gordon Leitch then quit his job with the Canadian Wheat Pool, and became general manager of Toronto Elevators.
In order to supply his elevator with product, he started a shipping business and the Northland Steamship Company (NSC) was started in 1931, with one ship, the Sarnian.
In 1932, with financial help from the Norris Grain Company of Chicago (James Norris), he started the Upper Lakes (UL) & St. Lawrence Transportation Company Limited (SLTC) with two ships. Leitch and Norris were partners in the shipping company, and Leitch was president. The shipping business grew and by 1936, they had a fleet of 26 ships, plus the Sarnian which belonged to the NSC.
By 1937, they had amassed one of the largest shipping fleets on the Great Lakes.
In 1936, Gordon Leitch built the Three Rivers Elevator on the St. Lawrence River at Three Rivers.
In 1940, all the ships including the Sarnian, were merged into UL & SLTC. The shipping company which was formed to aid the original firm, Toronto Elevators, had now outgrown it.
During World War II, the Canadian Government requisitioned ships on the Great Lakes for ocean service, and UL & SLTC supplied 10 ships for war service. Only four ships returned.
While Leitch managed the affairs of the shipping company, he did not forget his original venture, Toronto Elevators, which was now well established as a storage facility and a feeder plant for the mills and feed processors in eastern Ontario. His small feed processing plant grew into Master Feeds. The war had produced a climate for oil, and Leitch purchased an oil extractor which grew into a respectfully sized vegetable oil operation.
After the war, Gordon Leitch's son, Jack was discharged from the Canadian Navy, and joined the Leitch companies.
At the end of World War II, the UL & SLTC owned 29 ships, all purchased second hand. The first new ships built by the company were named the James Norris (1951), after the chairman of the board, and the Gordon C. Leitch (1952), after the president.
James Norris died in 1952, and Gordon Leitch became chairman of the board, and his son Jack became president.
In 1952, Gordon Leitch purchased St. Clair Grain & Feeds Ltd. (SCGF), from Harold E. Webster which had branches in Chatham, Dresden, Glenwood, Merlin, Tilbury and Wallaceburg. Gordon Leitch already owned the Ridgetown Elevator. SCGF became part of Toronto Elevators.
In 1954, the company expanded its facilities by purchasing the grain elevator in Goderich from Purity Flour Mills. This was a convenient location to store western grain until needed for domestic consumption. The Goderich Elevator was expanded and modernized.
In 1956 the UL & SLTC purchased the Port Weller Dry Docks in St. Catherines, and got into the ship building business. The shipping company’s name was changed to Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd. (ULSL).
The major arm of the company was shipping and it had two offshoots, the shipping division, which included Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd., and the grain division, which consisted of various elevators and flour mills, complementary to the shipping company.
A ship purchased in the early 1960’s was renamed “Ridgetown”, after the hometown of Gordon Leitch.
In 1961, the Leitch grain related companies were incorporated into Maple Leaf Mills Ltd.
In 1972, Upper Lakes had 22 ships and was the second largest shipping company on the Great Lakes. Its main business remained the transportation of grain, as well as ore and coal on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
In July, 1974, the Leitch and Norris partnership was dissolved after over 40 years. This gave the Norris Grain Company complete ownership of Maple Leaf Mills Ltd., and gave Leitch Transport Ltd. (Leitch family holding company) complete ownership of Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd., and its subsidiaries, which included the Port Weller Dry Docks, and the Three Rivers Grain Terminal.
In 1983, Upper Lakes had the largest fleet of ocean-going self-unloader ships in the world.
In the late 1980’s, Maple Leaf Mills Ltd. was sold to Cargill Limited.
In 2011, Jack Leitch sold Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd., which had been in the Leitch family for nearly 80 years, to the Algoma Central Corporation.
Gordon C. Leitch died on June 2nd, 1954 at the age of 64 years. His wife, Hilda died in 1976.
Besides his business pursuits, Gordon was regarded as one of Canada’s outstanding businessmen and philanthropists. His gifts were large and many for crippled children’s camps, sea cadets, hospitals and education. He was also very generous with his time, giving much of it to the Toronto Western Hospital and the Navy League of Canada. His services to the latter earned him the award of Commander of the British Empire.
A week before his death, not forgetting his roots, he made a major financial contribution to the East Kent Memorial Arena in Ridgetown, which opened in 1954.
Gordon Leitch was inducted posthumously, into the Ridgetown District High School Hall of Excellence in 2001, along with lifelong friends and business partners, Harry Bawden and Senator Peter Campbell.
From barefoot days in Ridgetown to big business in Toronto and beyond!