A respectful family business

Joseph Fleury’s legacy began in Aurora in the 1850s when he, and partner Thomas Pearson, established a Blacksmith shop at the corner of Wellington and Temperance Streets. While that partnership did not last, the foundations were laid for an industry that would ultimately change the local landscape. In 1859, Joseph established a new foundry on the same site with his brother Alex that would later become known as the Aurora Agricultural Works. Joseph’s aim was to manufacture cast beam plows which were better suited to conditions in North America. Alex Fleury remained an integral part of this business until 1868 when he left to establish his own foundry in Markham.

Like other successful pioneer owners of foundries in Ontario, Joseph had exceptional personal qualities: he combined inventiveness with good business sense, dogged determination and resilience. In 1862, an agent of R.G. Dun & Company of New York, paid a visit to Aurora and assessed the credit worthiness of five of its businessmen. In his judgment, Joseph was, “Honest and industrious (and) works hard at the trade. Has small means but intends doing business in a (professional) small way and thinks will pay his debts” (R.G. Dun & Company, Credit Reports Collection, Harvard Business School). The following year, after noting that Joseph owned the foundry and a house worth $1,200, as well as 100 acres in Simcoe County, the agent sized him up as “Sharp and active, attends well to business, prospects good, means small but gaining” (R.G. Dun & Company, Credit Reports Collection, Harvard Business School).
As Joseph’s foundry began flourishing, so too did his family and public life. After marrying Ann Hughes in 1859, their first child, Herbert, was born in 1860, followed by Clara in 1861, and William in 1865. Joseph’s public career began in 1865 when he was elected chairman of the Board of School Trustees for the Village of Aurora. Then, from 1866 to 1870, in the early years of the new Dominion of Canada, Joseph was elected to the Aurora Village Council.
As a testament to his extraordinary energy level, throughout his professional life Joseph would face the demands of running a successful business, raising a growing family, managing a political career and playing the role of an influential community leader in Aurora, and wider afield, in York County.

“ You can make more money pouring iron than hammering it on an anvil.”

JOSEPH FLEURY

“I came to Aurora a green country boy, and I am proud to say a working mechanic. After a few years, I concluded to start a foundry, and I have thought since it was the wildest conclusion that I could have arrived at. However, I built a shop and started to work, with two men and myself, an old horse power, a pair of fans and a grindstone; that was all the machinery I had. Now I find from that small beginning in 1860, that the number of men on our pay sheet today is 71, and that we have manufactured during this year, exclusive of what has been sold at the factory, nearly $82,000 worth of goods”

JOSEPH FLEURY, AURORA BANNER, DECEMBER 26 , 1873
Foundry employees, c. late 1800s, Aurora Museum & Archives (81.65.94)
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EMPLOYER AND EMPLOYEE at the Aurora Agricultural Works was a good one. In December 1873, the employees of the Works expressed gratitude to Joseph that they were “blessed with plenty” at a time when “the late financial crisis” had left thousands of their fellow workmen out of employment. For his part, Joseph spoke about his “respect and esteem” for the men at the Works who had worked “in daily interview” with him, some for as long as eight or nine years: “They are men who have stuck to me through cloudy as well as fair weather, through adversity as well as prosperity; men whose advice and willing hands have assisted me in times of difficulty, and who have been willing to work fourteen or fifteen hours daily to enable me to fulfill my engagements” (Aurora Banner, December 26, 1873).
This feeling between employer and employees was likely fostered by the interdependence of people and their common interest to see the Works, and with it, the Town of Aurora succeed. Joseph was proud that the Works employed so many in Aurora, including some of its highly respected citizens, and also provided apprenticeships to sons of the Village who then grew to occupy responsible positions at the Works

“ There is such a good feeling between
Mr. Fleury and his employees.”

UNANIMOUS RESOLUTION PASSED BY THE EMPLOYEES OF THE AURORA AGRICULTURAL WORKS, AURORA BANNER, DECEMBER 26, 1873
X