Manitoba Business: Sprague Lumber Company

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The Sprague Lumber Company (SLC) was established at Winnipeg in 1882 by Daniel Emes Sprague with a lumber mill located near corner of Grace Street and Point Douglas Avenue. Over the years, this site would grow to some 13 acres. Its Red River frontage provided excellent access to the the flow of timber that were felled at sites upstream along the Red River and its tributaries, and then floated downsteam (later hauled by steamships or towed barges) into the city. The mill and factory yard was also well-placed with railway access via the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), first by the Louise Bridge and, after 1902, by the CPR Main Line Bridge. One of the steamboats that saw freighter service with the company was the Alice Sprague.

As business grew, it was incorporated formally by Letters Patent (LP) under the Manitoba Joint Stock Companies Act (MJSCA) on 28 February 1903. The limited partnership comprised of Sprague, his wife Alice Wilhelmina Hawkins Sprague, and son Harold Champion Hawkins Sprague (1880-1942), along with Daniel Boyce Sprague, John Stanley Hough, and John Dingwall Sinclair. D. E. Sprague served as Manager with Harold as Assistant Manager. The SLC was given official approval one month later, on 28 April. The firm held a capital stock of $750,000. In addition to at a primary offices at 47 Higgins Avenue and a nearby factory on Point Douglas Avenue, SLC expanded to include downtown office space in the Lindsay Building and branch yards by the corner of Pembina Street at Corydon Avenue as well as Portage Avenue at St. James Street.

In late 1909, the legal process of founding a new corporate entity, of the same name, was initiated to take over and carry on the business of the SLC from the primary owner (and President) D. E. Sprague. This new SLC was incorporated, again via LP under the MJSCA, on 30 December 1909. The limited partnership signatories were all the same as before but with D. E. Sprague in a greatly reduced role. During the period from 1909 to 1914, Sprague remained in control of the original SLC and this alternate succession plan was never fully acted. This second incarnation remained a legal and paper (but otherwise unorganized) entity until its LP were cancelled on 31 December 1914, by which time it had been superceded by a new arrangement.

On 22 May 1914, the earlier-envisioned transition was finally executed under the SLC with H. C. H. Sprague, J. D. Sinclair, and D. B. Sprague, along with barristers Harry Haslett Dunwoody and Albert Charles Ferguson. This incorporation held a capital stock of two million dollars.

As with many other enterprises, the SLC suffered economic losses during the First World War. The combined demands of a wartime economy, lack of growth in the housing and construction markets, and labour requirements of the front lines brought the company to insolvency. In February 1916, it was ordered into liquidation under the Winding Up Act by the Court of King’s Bench in Winnipeg. The process was overseen by the Montreal Trust Company and, with matters completed, the SLC’s charter was revoked by Order-in-Council on 19 August 1919.

The former SLC lumber mill and yard on Point Douglas Avenue was acquired by Oldfield Kirby & Gardner, which leased to the Winnipeg Upholstering and Manufacturing Company (WUMC). The primary building on the premises was a three-storey factory measuring 80 feet by 120 feet. In addition to WUMC equipment and stock within the structure, there was $15,000 of SLC tooling and lumber stock.

On the evening of 30 August 1923, the site was hit by a fire requiring firefighters from Fire Hall No. 1, Fire Hall No. 2, Fire Hall No. 3, Fire Hall No. 7, Fire Hall No. 8, and Fire Hall No. 11 to combat the blaze. It drew a massive crowd with an estimated 50,000 spectators flocking to the area and necessitating a large police presence to keep them at safe distance and to maintain access for firefighting crews. From the time the alarm was raised, the inferno took two hours and 15 hoses to be extinguished. Some outbuildings at far ends of the yard were spared, as were the Grace Street residences, though at least one of the houses suffered water and smoke damage. All that remained of the Sprague Lumber Company main complex was wrecked steel framing, ash, and $100,000 in damages.

Sprague Lumber Company letterhead showing a stylized view of their Point Douglas yard [looking south]

Sprague Lumber Company letterhead showing a stylized view of their Point Douglas yard [looking south] (no date)
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Court of Queen’s Bench Winding Up Act pockets (ATG 0015), GR0195, #126/15 - Sprague Lumber Company.





Daniel Emes Sprague (1848-1924)





Harold Champion Hawkins Sprague (1880-1942)





John Dingwall Sinclair (1874-1947)





Daniel Boyce Sprague (1876-1928)


“[Lumbering Industries - D. E. Sprague],” Manitoba Daily Free Press, 30 December 1882, page 4.

“City Council,” Manitoba Daily Free Press, 17 April 1883, page 5.

“City lumbermen to incorporate,” Manitoba Free Press, 5 January 1903, page 7.

“Appointments for the week [Notice],” Winnipeg Tribune, 9 May 1903, page 10.

“Sprague Lumber $2,000,000 firm,” Manitoba Free Press, 13 June 1914, page 9.

“New companies,” Manitoba Free Press, 13 June 1914, page 11.

“Coldwell will be witness at today’s session,” Manitoba Free Press, 17 June 1915, page 4.

“Sprague Lumber,” Manitoba Free Press, 16 February 1916, page 24.

“Court prevents foreclosure on lumber company,” Winnipeg Tribune, 29 January 1917, page 5.

“For sale at bargain price,” Manitoba Free Press, 15 February 1919, page 2.

“Old Sprague Lumber mill burned down,” Manitoba Free Press, 31 August 1923, page 7.

“Thousands see spectacular $100,000 blaze,” Winnipeg Tribune, 31 August 1923, page 1.

“lumberman of pioneer days dies suddenly,” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 July 1924, page 6.

“Col. J.D. Sinclair, lumberman, dies at Edmonton,” Winnipeg Tribune, 3 June 1947, page 13.

Court of Queen’s Bench Winding Up Act pockets (ATG 0015), #126/15 - Sprague Lumber Company, GR0195, Archives of Manitoba.

Companies Office corporation documents (CCA 0059), 168 - Sprague Lumber Company limited, GR6427, Archives of Manitoba.

Companies Office corporation documents (CCA 0059), 61S - Sprague Lumber Company Limited, GR6427, Archives of Manitoba.

Companies Office corporation documents (CCA 0059), 373 - Sprague Lumber Company Limited, GR6427, Archives of Manitoba.

Orders-in-Council (EC 0003B), Order-in-Council #22936 & #31990, GR1530, Archives of Manitoba.

Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.

This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.

Page revised: 3 December 2020