A renaissance family of visionaries who made a difference

Saugeen Times will be exploring the many innovative pioneers who contributed to the rich heritage of the region of Bruce and Grey Counties in a by-gone era. This is the first of many stories.

It is the story of a family that made a difference … a difference to their community, a difference to music, the arts, manufacturing, the county and beyond.  It is the story of the Krug family.

To look at the Krugs and understand what they accomplished, it’s important to look at their background, so let’s begin at the beginning.

Peter Krug was little more than a very young man when he left his home and family in Germany at the age of 16 and migrated to North America to escape an arranged marriage and military service.

One can only imagine the adventure it must have been for a young man in 1852 crossing the ocean and arriving in New York.  He did not stay long in the U.S. however, but traveled north to Canada where he knew that others from his German community had settled in Tavistock, Ontario.  As a young man without a trade in those days, it meant that he had  little opportunity for employment, so Peter traveled to Berlin (today, Kitchener) where he began to learn the trade of a cabinetmaker.

While in Berlin, he met the young Anna Lypert.  When the two married, they moved near Tavistock, where Anna had grown up.  Then, in nearby Balaclava, the couple created a home and Peter opened a small cabinetmaker’s shop.  There he did woodworking that even included making coffins.  While in Balaclava, the couple had six children before moving to Walkerton, Ontario, where Peter began an entirely new business venture – manufacturing flax ‘tow’ for the upholstery trade.  Unfortunately, however, it did not succeed and the business went into receivership forcing the family to look elsewhere.

While formerly in Berlin at the Hibner plant learning his trade of woodworking, Peter had made friends with a colleague who went on to open the successful Hess furniture factory in Listowel and who offered Peter a job.  Moving the family to Listowel, Peter and his oldest son John began work at the factory and were eventually joined by twin sons, Christian and Conrad.

The twins, ambitious to get out on their own however, began to make plans to begin their own manufacturing enterprise.  The two traveled to Stratford and Milverton to look at prospects and, there they met a relative Kasper Grosch, who suggested that they visit a community further north where things were growing rapidly – Chesley, Ontario.

At the time, Grosch was a partner in the Grosch and Rolston felt boots manufacturing on the south side of the Saugee River, an industry that would soon be in decline.

In 1886, when the Krug brothers visited and saw the Grosh and Rolston factory powered by a waterwheel and dam at the site, they saw the potential of the area and offered to buy one-half of the water power, one waterwheel and a building on the north side of the river opposite the Grosh and Rolston factory and also made arrangements to buy lumber and timbers from a Scone sawmill.

The twins convinced their entire family, brother John and wife Anna Heiserman of Ohio, their sister Annie and her husband Henry Ankenmann to join them in the venture and, in May 1886, they all arrived in Chesley, with their parents and younger brothers joining them that same year.

What the family would accomplish over the next decades would be nothing short of amazing.

The senior brothers became very active in the community and Conrad became the first Mayor of Chesley.  Each of the brothers married and had children, most of whom would become involved in the family business.

Christian’s sons Howard and Bruce both went on to become university graduates. Howard, in 1926, graduated first in class in Forestry from the University of Toronto and Bruce went on to graduate in biology from the University of Western Ontario.

When John Krug died, Howard took over the forestry management of the business which included the purchasing of timber and, when his own father Christian died, Howard became CEO in 1941.  Bruce, who had gone to British Columbia to work for the International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission, was convinced to return to Chesley to take leading role in the family business and returned in 1944.

In the 1920s, Conrad’s son Wellington and sister Annie’s son Christian, were also established in business, The Chesley Chair Co., by the parent company Krug Bros.

There is no doubt that this was a family-owned-and-operated business at every level from its inception until it closed in 1987.

Given the background of the Krugs, it is now easy to see why they were visionaries and innovators.  As an ambitious German family with intense work ethics, the brothers and their offspring created a dynasty of manufacturing furnishings of such high quality that pieces would eventually be found throughout the world.

From reading through all the material about the Krugs, it is clear that these men looked for new and innovative ways to continually expand both their business and their lifestyles.

Each of the original six children of Peter went on to build stately homes but were also driven to expand and upgrade their Krug Bros. factory.  They built a three-storey building and acquired the latest in equipment that would enable them to create furniture from hardwoods such as cherry, birch and maple, along with oak and walnut that they imported from New York state.  They built a heating plant and dry kiln to treat the wood and added a second building joining the two buildings with an upper ‘bridge’.

For a larger view, CLICK on Image

     Visual from the Bruce Krug Collection Courtesy of the Bruce County Museum Archives

To take a look at the progressive nature of the family, we looked at some of the dates and what they achieved through their initiative and flexibility:

  • 1891 – purchased the Rolston property to own all the water power rights
  • 1892 – installed an elevator
  • 1892 – extended the finishing and shipping building on the north side of the river
  • 1894 – expanded with another building 30 ft. x 50 ft. adding a generator for the first electricity along a new dynamo for lighting to eliminate coal-oil lanterns
  • 1894 – rang lines for electricity to all six of the family homes
  • 1896 – purchased a new 48 inch Barber waterwheel to replace an older smaller model
  • 1900 – built a new four-storey building 60 ft. x 40 ft. covered with sheets of metal pressed to look like brick
  • 1900 – purchased the Chesley Rake & Novelty Co., raised the roof of the two-storey building and added a third storey and addition 60 ft. x 40 ft.
  • 1901 – added a 60 ft. addition – moved the office to the new building and installed a new tin ceiling; installed a modern vault for record safety; expanded to mattress making
  • 1902 – Christian Krug receives the patent for a new cabinet drawer suspension and guide system
  • 1908 – added another new building addition 150 f. x 45 ft.
  • 1909 – incorporated the company as The Krug Bros Co. Ltd. with shares & Board of Directors
  • 1910 – moved manufacturing to Main St. in order to use steam and electricity
  • 1910 – ran a switch rail of the Grand Trunk Railway into the building to enable direct loading for shipping
  • 1916 – changed to electricity supplied by Hydro Electric Power Commission (HEPC)
  • 1918 – built a new concrete stack from the boilers; purchased and shipped a boiler from Toronto Elevators Co.
  • 1918 – moved into a new 50 ft. x 30 ft. cement block building
  • 1926 – added another building 40 ft. x 20 ft and installed a sprinkler system
  • 1931 – received a Dominion Charter to be able to sell in all Canadian provinces.

These were only the beginnings of what the Krugs achieved.  When the Great Depression struck, business fell off but they didn’t stop.  By reducing work hours and wages, they kept their employees working, prices were slashed and they changed production over to office desks, manufacturing 37,000 of them, in addition to church furnishings that include pulpits and tables that remain today.

As trends in furniture changed, the Krugs adapted their manufacturing. Moving from vanity dressers to double and triple dressers, from bookcase headboards to Early American maple bedroom suites and on to Duncan Fyfe, the Krug Bros. kept going.

It wasn’t only their business ethic however, that impacted their community and region. Their philanthropy extended to their employees resulting in factory picnics where factory trucks transported employees and their families to Port Elgin to enjoy the beach; they hired talented musicians to work in the factory in order to build a community band ‘The Mechanics Band’ that would become The Chesley Band’ and they created Maple Syrup production when they purchased the Kinghurst Tract of land that included 400 acres of Maple trees.

Like everything else they tackled, when it came to syrup production it was all about the latest in technology.  They installed a newly invented system of gathering sap with tubing and pipelines on the slope of the hills so that sap ran by gravity into a new syrup house where they installed a new Krimm evaporator, vacuum pump and electricity.

Perhaps, among the greatest achievements of the Krug family however, was that they were the first to practice ‘selective cutting’ and forestry management.  Continually, throughout the 1930s, the Krugs purchased huge tracts of land through Bruce and Grey counties where they planted thousands of trees, including experimental species. Not only did they buy lands that could be planted but also purchased lands that were ‘swamps’ recognizing their value to the eco-system.

Eventually, Howard and Bruce Krug donated the Kinghurst Tract of 600 acres of old growth forest to the Federation of Ontario Naturalists ensuring that the land would be left in perpetuity as a nature reserve for the people of Ontario.

Both Howard and Bruce Krug were involved in preserving nature.  Howard was a recognized ornithologist and together with Bruce, they banded more than 100,000 birds on the islands of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.  In the 1930s, when Bluebirds were almost extinct, they built nesting boxes and helped establish a chain of 1,000 of the boxes in Bruce and Grey Counties, including Northern Bruce Peninsula, helping to re-establish the Bluebird population.  They were also instrumental in having Chanty Island recognized as a National Bird Sanctuary.

The two brothers became inaugural members of the Bruce Trail Association in 1964 and, were instrumental in building the trail from Dyers Bay to Tobermory, completing it in 1967 for Canada’s Centennial.

In 2003, Bruce Krug received the first Ontario Minister’s Conservationist Award and, upon his death in 2013 at the age of 94, he left many bequests to various organizations that included:  The Bruce County Museum Archives, Bruce Tail Conservancy, Bruce Grey Victorian Order of Nurses, London University Hospital Neurology Dept., Tom Thompson Memorial Art Gallery, the Bluewater Education Foundation for the Outdoor Education Centre, Ontario Nature, churches and many, many more.

     The Bruce County Museum Archives and Reading Room is dedicated to Bruce, Wilfred and Howard Krug                                     where their portraits created by artist Christa Eggers (2004/05) hang today

The Bruce County Museum Archives and Reading Room is dedicated to Howard, Wilfred and Bruce Krug where their portraits created by artist Christa Eggers (2004/05) hang today.

From humble beginnings, this family of visionaries and innovators were always on the cutting edge of progress, always moving forward, never looking back.  With their strong work ethic, this renaissance family built the Krug dynasty of furniture making – the oldest continually operated furniture factory in Ontario wholly owned and operated by the same founding family for more than 100 years.

Researched through public records courtesy of the Bruce County Museum Archives