By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
Joseph Barsalou was a business man, auctioneer and politician who began his apprenticeship in business at the age of 15. In 1847 he was employed by Young and Benning, commission merchants and auctioneers, for whom he kept the books and sometimes served as crier at auctions. He became James Benning’s partner in 1853 and the business took the name of Benning and Barsalou. In 1863, with Peter Murphy and Alfred Farley, Barsalou bought the British American Manufacturing Company, a rubber goods factory, which in 1866 became the Canadian Rubber Company of
Montreal, with Barsalou as its first president. The company expanded rapidly in 1867 when a group of financiers headed by Andrew and Hugh Allan invested large sums of money.
In the early 1860s Barsalou went into partnership with the Dessaulles family of Saint-Hyacinthe to manage a flour-mill and a woolen factory. In 1864 the government gave him the toll rights for a 680 feet long, 15 feet wide bridge he had built spanning the Rivière Yamaska, which made it easier for the partners to obtain their raw materials.
Montreal always remained the central focus of Barsalou’s interests, and around 1875, Joseph and his sons founded a soap factory. In 1888 they commissioned architect Victor Roy to build a block of six stores and dwellings at the corner of Sainte-Catherine and Durham St. The Barsalous used a new process which eliminated nauseating odours and considerably shortened production, especially at the stages when the raw materials were mixed and ground, then cooled and cut into one-pound pieces by hydraulic presses. In this way they turned out 6,000 pounds of soap in an hour and a half instead of the week required to make it by hand. The factory produced a million pounds of soap during its first year of operation, and was marketing bar soap for ordinary use and soap flakes for laundry under the brand names Steam Refined, Domestic, and White Olive. However,
over the years they changed the names to Marseille, Universel, Cambridge, Oxford, and Imperial. The Barsalou soap-works adopted a horse’s head as its emblem, and the Imperial brand, or Tête de Cheval, became their most popular brand, and is most likely still in the minds of Quebecers.
In 1888 Barsalou officially handed over management of the soap factory to his sons Hector and Érasme. Barsalou’s other enterprises were not as successful. The Dominion Glass Company, founded after 1885, showed a modest rate of growth. Barsalou’s venture into the slaughterhouse business was not much more successful. The Montreal Abattoir Company, incorporated in 1880, never really got off the ground. On the other hand, the Royal Canadian Insurance Company, incorporated in 1873, represented a better investment for Barsalou. He was a founder, shareholder, and in 1876 director of this enterprise. Barsalou also took an interest in municipal politics. In 1873 he ran for alderman in Saint-Louis ward. He lost the election by only 62 votes. In the early 1880s he opposed a plan to annex Hochelaga to Montreal. When it was carried out three years later, he persuaded the government to create the municipality of Maisonneuve, which took in the eastern part of Hochelaga. Barsalou then became a booster of his town, and as mayor of Maisonneuve from 1884 to 1889 and from 1890 to 1892, he laid the foundations on which the town was to develop.
Sources: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Heritage Canada