A history of Robin, Jones and Whitman

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Robin, Jones and Whitman


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Robin, Jones and Whitman, a business with extensive interests throughout the Gaspe peninsular on the Canadian eastern seaboard, was founded in 1765 by three brothers from Jersey: Charles, John and Philip Robin

History 1

From the website Memoryns.ca

Robin, Jones and Whitman Ltd, originally known as The Robin, Pipon Company, was established in 1765 at Arichat, Nova Scotia by John Robin of Jersey, England. With his brother Charles, John obtained the grant for the southwest half of Cheticamp Island, then secured the rest of the island shortly after establishing a second trading post there in 1767, known as La Pointe.

It was here that the truck system of credit came into use in Cape Breton, as the Robins gave some fishermen goods on credit, which would be paid off the next year in fish.

Manpower was one of the major issues that the Robins encountered as they worked to establish their trading posts, and so they made steps to increase the permanent population of the area. By 1774 the business was being handled by two separate companies; the Robin, Pipon Company was operating out of Gaspe while Robin and Company was operating out of Cape Breton. The three Robin brothers, John, Charles, and Philip, each had equal shares in the two firms and they were very prosperous.

War losses

The American War of Independence in 1776, however, almost bankrupted the company. The Gut of Canso was raided by the notorious American naval officer, John Paul Jones, and the Robins had a great deal of capital invested in their ships which were not armed and thus easily captured by Jones. The loss of the ships' cargoes was equally unfortunate, especially because, due to the fact that attacks happened on land and not sea, only one third of the loss was covered by insurance.

Jones had not touched any of the Robin buildings or shallops at Arichat, however, and the company resumed its operations again in 1777, sending out new ships with the guaranteed protection of the Royal Navy. The Robins had suffered great loss, but were able to maintain their establishments in North America due to their investment in one of the most successful privateering ships of the war, the Sprightly, which captured a prize worth £35,000.

Renaming

In the 1780s Robin and Company was renamed the Philip Robin Company (PRC) with Philip, John, Charles and an outside investor, John Fiott, each holding one-quarter shares in the company. The day to day operations of the company were put in the hands of an agent on Cape Breton Island.

During the 1870s the small fishing and trading establishments at Arichat and Cheticamp merged with the Charles Robin Company in Gaspé. By 1877 they reported having 15 posts in three provinces exporting a combined 90,000 to 100,000 quintals of fish every year. In addition, the company owned 14 sea-going vessels, and directly employed over 200 men. At that time, Charles Robin Company was directed by Raulin Robin (Naples) who owned 63% of the company.

In January 1886 the Jersey Banking Company failed and the Robin family was forced into liquidation. As a result, the Robins ceased honouring their credit obligations in Gaspé, causing great distress among the fishing population dependent upon them. The crisis was resolved when three Jerseymen agreed to take over the firm and meet all of its debts and obligations. In March 1886 the Robin family terminated its involvement with the company, founded over 120 years earlier.

Charles Robin Collas store and house at Grande Riviere

Elias Collas

The company, then under the management of Elias Collas, became limited as Charles Robin Collas and Company. The new proprietors carried on the business as before. In 1910, however, Collas and his partners sold out of Nova Scotian interests and the firm underwent another name change, becoming Robin, Jones, and Whitman Ltd. with headquarters in Halifax. In 1984 the Robin Company still existed but no longer dealt in fish, operating instead as a chain of general stores with headquarters at Paspebiac, Quebec. The company closed its doors for the last time in 2006 due to financial strains.

History 2

In 1766 Charles Robin, of the Jersey islands, visited the Gaspé Peninsula to assess the commercial potential. The following year, he moved to Paspébiac on behalf of Robin, Pipon and Company. This family business was founded in 1765, uniting Charles, John and Philip Robin, who also operated a facility in Arichat, on the island of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

In the Baie-des-Chaleurs, Charles Robin built relationships with the Acadians and the Micmacs. He traded in various products such as salt, salmon, furs and whale blubber. But it would be cod fish industry that was to make the company's fortune.

Cod

From the 1770s, the comany already shipped thousands of quintals of dried cod to Europe. Percé constituted the main establishment with over 400 committed fisherman during the summer.

During the War of Independence (1775-1783), American privateers attacked the company's facilities. They seized cargoes, commandeered vessels, and burned everything they could not take back with them. Taken prisoner, Charles Robin managed to escape and eventually fled to Jersey, where he stayed until the end of the conflict.

Charles Robin and Company (1783-1886)

After the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Charles Robin returned to the Gaspé Peninsula to found a new company, Charles Robin and Company. The company expanded and stood out from its competitors. At the turn of the 18th century, it managed to take advantage of increase of prices in Europe, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. After 1815 his business also extended to the US, West Indies and South American markets.

In the mid 19th century, Charles Robin and Company was the largest Eastern Canadian fishing company. Its vessels carried the Gaspé Cured dried cod, renowned for its high quality, mainly in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Brazil. From the ports of Cadiz, Lisbon, Naples or Rio de Janeiro, captains shipped products that were then sold in the company's stores: salt, molasses, rum, wine, coffee, spices, tobacco, etc.

On Paspébiac's bank its facilities constituted a business complex of 30 buildings: docks, shops, warehouses, workshops, homes (cookrooms), forges, shipyard, farm, etc.

Some of the oldest establishments were added thereafter. Those of Grande-Rivière (1833), Caraquet (1839), Newport Point (1854) Pabos (1867), L'Anse-à-Beaufils (1870), Rivière-au-Renard (1869), Cape Cove (1876), Anse-au-Griffon (ca 1880) and, on the North Shore, Magpie and Natashquan (1870).

Credit system

Fishermen sold their cod to fishing companies but generally did not receive cash for their catch. Instead, they were given credit at the company's store, where they obtained fishing equipment, clothing, food, drinks, tools and other items of domestic use. Fishermen often found themselves more or less in debt, which ensured their commitment to the company. This system, akin to that used under French rule, was used by all fisheries companies in Gaspé. It was also in use elsewhere in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and other economic sectors.

Crises and restructuring (1886-1910)

In the second half of the 19th century financial crises affected the company. The most important occurred in 1886, following the Jersey Banking Company's bankruptcy. At that time, Charles Robin and Company and its rival, Le Boutillier Brothers, were also driven into bankruptcy. Unable to obtain their supplies, the people of Paspébiac broke into the warehouses and took food and flour with them. The event started a period marked by the restructuring, merging or disappearance of Jersey companies.

In March 1886 the company founded by Charles Robin passed into the hands of another Jersey company, formed by Gervaise Le Gros, Edward de La Perrelle and Elias Collas. After a first reorganisation, it finally adopted the name of Charles Robin, Collas and Company in 1891.

With this merger, the company acquired the Gaspé, Malbay, Pointe Saint-Pierre and Sheldrake establishments. On the North Shore, in the late 19th century, it was also represented in Moisie, Dock, Ridge Point and Rivière-Saint-Jean.

Robin, Jones and Whitman (1910-2006)

In 1910 the company was the subject of a new merger, this time with Canadian companies A G Jones and A H Whitman. Having become Robin, Jones and Whitman, its headquarters left Jersey to be set up in Halifax. New positions were created during this period, especially in Barachois, Bonaventure and Sainte-Thérèse-de-Gaspé. In the early 20th century it owned 30 institutions in three Canadian provinces: Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

The period was marked by the upheavals of the global economy during the two world wars and the crisis of the 1930s. In addition, the Robin, Jones and Whitman company seemed to have difficulty adapting to technological changes in the fisheries sector.

Meanwhile, there emerged the fishermen's cooperatives, grouped in the Federation of Quebec United Fishermen, which benefited from government support, especially for the modernisation of fishing vessels. In 1964 a fire destroyed most of the Robin company's buildings in Paspébiac, and the company abandoned fishing to focus on their store network, a sector marked by the arrival of the big chains. In 1998, they announced the closure of their Chandler store. In 2004 it was placed under the protection of the law on arrangements with creditors. The six existing stores in Gaspésie and Nova Scotia thus closed their business.

Robin company ledgers
A 1907 Robin daybook

Company records

The Robin companies are renowned for their meticulous record keeping, and it is the survival of so many of their records, now held by the Beaton Institute at the Cape Breton University in Nova Scoatia which enables historians to trace the companies' history.

  • 142 day books that were created by Philip Robin and Co and successors in their Cape Breton offices. The books feature listings of transactions between the company and its clients and, less frequently, other businesses. Transaction listings most commonly include the name of the individual who made a purchase, a list of the items that they purchased and their cost, and the individual's company account number. Day books were frequently used by bookkeepers during this time period to record all company transactions. At the end of each day, the information that was collected in the day book would then be recorded in the appropriate ledgers.
  • 35 letterbooks created by Charles Robin-Collas and Co and successors. The books contain copies of letters that were kept in order to maintain a record of business correspondence and transactions, as well as some invoices and order forms. The majority of the correspondence contained within the letterbooks is from the company's office in Cheticamp (Eastern Harbour), but some items were also penned in Arichat. The correspondence contains orders from suppliers, banking requests, and inter-organisational letters that accompanied reports to members of company management. In some instances, the letterbooks contain staff listings, statements of accounts, listings of goods that were purchased by clients, and inventory listings for the store in Cheticamp (Eastern Harbour).
  • 4 telegram books that were created by Charles Robin-Collas and Co, containing copies of telegrams that were sent to individuals, other businesses, and other company offices. While early records feature a limited number of telegrams that were sent in regards to shipments or urgent business, the telegram books created in later years show that the company used telegram services to place orders, receive quotes for goods, and conduct banking.
  • 136 ledger books created by Philip Robin and Co and successors between 1824 and 1959. The ledger book provides summaries of the credits and debits to the account of each person who frequently made purchases or sold goods to the company. The books were updated at the end of each day to include the most recent transactions and payments.
  • 6 time books which were used in the Cheticamp office of Charles Robin-Collas and Co and successors. The books were used as a method of maintaining record of employees and the hours that they worked on a weekly basis, while also providing indication of whether or not the employee was paid. These books demonstrate that both men and women from the community were employed during this time period
  • 5 mortgage books that were created by Philip Robin and Co and successors. The books were used by the company to keep track of debts that were held by customers and provide the names of each borrower, their total loan, and a record of their payments to the company.
  • 10 fish record books that were created by Philip Robin and Co and successors. Fish record books were used by the company to maintain a record of the amount of fish being exported, while also providing information about the shipping date and the vessel that was used to transport the goods. In addition, the books contain daily summaries of the amount of fish received from fishermen.
  • 4 sales books that were created in Cape Breton offices of Robin, Jones and Whitman. The books provide daily records of sales made with cash and company credit, purchases of fish, and returns. At the end of each month, a recapitulation of sales is made, providing a daily summary of total profit from all of the aforementioned sales and purchases.
  • 6 stock inventory books created by Charles Robin-Collas and Co. in their Cape Breton offices. These books were used to keep track of the stock held in company stores and, in some cases, the cost of each item. They include listings of clothing items, food, spices, building materials, hardware and tools that were provided to customers.
  • 9 sundry persons books created by Philip Robin and Co, and successors, to maintain a record of transactions made with infrequent customers or businesses. While the books within the series differ in their contents, the majority feature a listing of customers who made purchases at the company store, with a listing of the the cost, and sometimes description, of the goods that they purchased. Other books provide information about fish and egg shipments, crew listings for company fishing boats, and a number of quotes received from other businesses for items like flour and lumber.

Le Boutillier Brothers, also founded by Jerseymen, and one of Robin and Company's main competitors, had a warehouse at Paspebiac which is now a museum and major tourist attraction

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