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Speight Wagon Company

Speight Wagon Company

The company developed a line of farm wagons, trucks, carts, cutters, sleighs, grocery wagons, horse-drawn streetcars, and even baby carriages. There was a division producing doors, blinds, window sashes, sheeting, and flooring, and another for repairing and repainting old wagons. For a time, the company held the monopoly on the manufacture of coal wagons with non-detachable tires. They were filling orders from as far away as Fort Garry (now Winnipeg), Manitoba, and were hailed for contributing to the settling the West. The name Speight became well known for their high quality wagons.

Both patriarch Thomas Speight and his son James were community minded. Thomas was a school board trustee and James was involved with the village fire brigade, served on the municipal council, was the first reeve (the presiding officer of a village or town council) after incorporation of the Village in 1873, and was Warden of York County in 1875 – the year Thomas Speight died.

James Speight House in the 1870'sIn 1882, the company was incorporated as a joint stock company, Speight Manufacturing Company of Markham Limited.

When the Canadian economy declined in the late 1880s, Speight Manufacturing accumulated debts that resulted in its sale in 1890. Thomas Heys and James Speight’s younger brother, Thomas Henry Speight, bought the assets and reopened as the Speight Wagon Company. By this time, 60 employees were making 200 wagons a month. There was a branch office and a distribution warehouse in Toronto and, after 1900, warehouses on both Jarvis and Ontario Streets. Another branch office opened in Fort William (now Thunder Bay).

As the 20th century unfolded, many wagon and carriage makers underestimated the impact of automobiles and mechanized farm implements. By the end of World War I, horse drawn vehicles had become obsolete. Those few companies with the foresight and capital to switch to automobile production would soon dominate the transportation industry.

James Speight row housesIn 1910, the business was bought by the Port Arthur Wagon Company but soon went into liquidation. The Markham factory was closed and used to store fire equipment until it was sold in 1917. What remained was demolished in 1976 to make way for a roadway and the apartments at 20 Main Street North.