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Harris H. Fudger, n.d.

Harris H. Fudger, n.d.

In 1897 The Robert Simpson Company Limited was flourishing. The store at Queen and Yonge had been rebuilt after the fire of 1895 and the Company was celebrating its 25th anniversary. It was at this time however that Robert Simpson, founder and active participant in this retail establishment, died suddenly. Since there was no Robert Simpson Jr., and the female members of the family were not interested in the responsibility of running a business of this sort, his passing created an ownership vacuum that was not filled until 1898. At this time, a trio of Toronto businessmen, H.H. Fudger, J. W. Flavelle, and A.E. Ames, pooled their money, took out loans, and purchased the business for the sum of $135,000. A new era was about to begin.

While each of these three was a successful young businessman making his mark on Toronto society, one in particular, Harris H. Fudger, was destined to make his mark on Simpsons as well. It was he who took over active management of the Company and assumed the title of President. He remained in that position until 1929, and was Chairman of the Board from 1929 until his death in 1930. Aged 47 when he assumed the role of president, Fudger was already the owner of a successful wholesale fancy goods business. Fearing the impact that his association with a retail establishment would have on his wholesale trade, he changed the name of his business to The Fancy Goods Company of Canada and became a silent partner.

Early Simpsons store Toronto, at Richmond and Yonge, ca. 1908

Early Simpsons store Toronto, at Richmond and Yonge, ca. 1908

What did Fudger accomplish in his new career? Under his leadership, Simpsons continued its pattern of rapid growth. The store - today's Hudson's Bay, Queen Street - underwent no less than 5 expansions to accommodate increased business during the period 1899 - 1928, dates exactly matching Fudger's time at the helm. These renovations took the store from a six-storey building at the corner of Queen and Yonge to the footprint it still has today, namely the entire block from Queen St. on the north to Richmond St. on the south and from Yonge St. on the east to Bay St. on the west.

Simpsons retail business also expanded geographically during this period. In 1905, The John Murphy store in Montreal was purchased and continued to operate under its original name until 1929 when it became The Robert Simpson Montreal Limited. In 1916 mail order buildings were constructed in Regina and Toronto, replacing the existing building on Front St. in Toronto, and three years later the Halifax building was added to the roster.

Some important changes were also taking place in terms of company policy at this time. Fudger's son Richard, or Dick as he was more commonly known, sent his father a report in 1916 outlining the progressive employment practices at The Broadway Store, a growing business in Los Angeles owned by a former Canadian. Within a year of receiving this report, Fudger had set up a foundation and purchased a large mansion on Sherbourne St. in Toronto. Sherbourne House Club was to be a home away from home for those young women, mostly from rural areas, whose work helped to advance the fortunes of the Company. Also, in the months immediately following World War I, Fudger instituted several employee benefit organizations and the Employee's Savings and Profit Sharing Plan, which would become a model for other institutions, was launched in 1919.

Simpsons store, expanded down Yonge St. and along Richmond, ca. 1923

Simpsons store, expanded down Yonge St. and along Richmond, ca. 1923

Despite all of these advances, it has been suggested that perhaps the greatest contribution that H.H. Fudger made to the development of Simpsons was to bring Charles L. Burton into the organization. A shrewd judge of character, Fudger had hired Burton at the tender age of 14 to work in his fancy goods company. In 1912, Burton joined Fudger at Simpsons and he succeeded him as president of Simpsons in 1929. He remained with the company in active or honorary positions until 1969. But his is another story.

What kind of man was H. H. Fudger, to have achieved so much? He has been described as liberal in his politics, radical in religion, and conservative in business. In his work life he was exacting and tireless. C.L. Burton wrote the following about him in his autobiography A Sense of Urgency:

He expected everyone to work for him until the work was done. But he worked no one harder than he worked himself...You could never say to him, by way of excuse, "I had too much to do," for he would reply, "You should have brought it to me, I would have done it...." For his business, he maintained a strict and unremitting attention, demanding of all he employed a full account of each hour and each dollar. He detested waste.

He was also a very private man. He avoided the public eye and shunned all forms of public office, unusual at a time when so many prominent businessmen were throwing their energies into various wartime positions (including J. W. Flavelle who received a baronetcy for his efforts on the Imperial Munitions Board). Behind the scenes however he was generous and as he grew older, his philanthropy increased. Many organizations in the city benefited from this generosity including the Art Gallery of Toronto, to which he donated the Fudger Wing in memory of his son Dick, who had been an artist.

Simpsons store, 1928 expansion

Simpsons store, 1928 expansion

H. H. Fudger was active in business during an exciting and often perilous time in Toronto's economic history. That Simpsons survived and prospered had much to do with his stewardship. When he died in 1930, then president C.L. Burton immediately ordered all company operations halted until after the funeral the following week, a sign of the deep regard that those who knew him best had for him.

Fudger was a prominent member of Sherbourne Methodist Church in Toronto. He served as the treasurer for many years, was on the Board of Trustees and in his early years, served in the Sunday school. A window there was donated by Mrs. Hannah Fudger, wife of H.H. Fudger, in memory of her husband and their 4 children: Ernest George, Eleanor Wickens, F. Ruth, and Richard Barry. It was installed on the south wall of the church in September 1931.