This is not a rag to riches tale but rather one of a young man born into a privileged family that had ties to important businessman in the American Sugar Industry. In fact, Rogers Senior was head of a sugar refinery in Philadelphia and in 1869 Samuel and his brother-in-law Senator Henry Sanford bought a sugar plantation in Louisiana. Samuel next bought a refinery in New Orleans. So sugar was in Benjamin's blood.
B.T. attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. before taking a course in sugar chemistry at Standard Refinery Company in Boston. When his father died in 1883 Benjamin joined the Havemeyers and Elder refinery in Brooklyn (New York City), which happened to be the most modern of its time. However Rogers was interested in starting his own company and 1889 he saw his chance.
There was a lot of support for Rogers and his refinery. Including the president of the CPR, Cornelius Van Horne and other CPR directors. As well as supporters here in Vancouver. On 15 March 1890, by a vote of 174 to 8, electors approved a bylaw that granted B.C. Sugar money for a site, a tax exemption on land and improvements for 15 years, free water for 10 years, and a municipal loan. On 27 March the company was incorporated.
On this bench it reads: 'Hast thou two loaves of bread then sell one to buy flowers. For though the bread will nourish thy body the flowers will strengthen thy soul'. It is a Chinese proverb. One of the people who lives on the grounds had me press my ear to the stone at one end while he said something at the other end. I heard it perfectly!
Rogers faced a technical challenge when the refinery got under way since none of his employees had ever worked in a refinery. But B.T. proved himself to be as adept at managing the refinery as he had been in creating it. With the help from an engineer from Havemeyers, the first melt of raw sugar was put through on 16 Jan. 1891.
It was not easy going for B.T. Rogers since the 1890s depression had started early in Vancouver and Rogers faced fierce competition in Manitoba from Montreal interests. As well merchants in Victoria began selling Chinese sugar at below cost prices to try to steal business.
But Rogers hung on and persevered. By 1916 the company's assets had increased from $250,000 to $7.5 million and the refinery's daily capacity of refined sugar went from 30,000 a day to 900,000 pounds a day. Part of the company's success was due to chemist Roger Boyd's creation - Rogers' Golden Syrup - a highly successful by product using the syrupy by-product of refining. (Good stuff! I used to love it.)
Rogers was a smart man financially. He channelled his bonuses, salary and dividends into company stock whenever possible. He also didn't speculate in land and resources although he did put money into mining companies in the late 1890s in the Cariboo, becoming president of two of them. When he died in 1918 Rogers's estate was worth over a million dollars - quite a sum in those days.
Benjamin Tingley Rogers was quite the man - reportedly he was brash, outspoken and extremely self- confident. He believed that he had the right to manage his business the way he felt was right without reference to any union. He ran the refinery in both a dictorial and paternal manner. He sponsored the B.C. Sugar Literary and Social Club, which held annual socials for employees. (He reminds me of the landowners and the peasants in Europe. The Lord of the Manor would inspire loyalty and hard work by treating the workers kindly.)
Although Rogers was a Conservative and his business and family life interested him, civic affairs did not. He also was not active politically. According to an obituary, he stated that “he refused to give money to public bodies because they usually squander and waste any money placed in their hands.” A sentiment that many would agree with.
Benjamin married Mary Isabella Angus, a niece of CPR director R. B. Angus, on June 1, 1892. Together they had four sons and three daughters. B.T. died of a cerebral haemorrhage on June 18, 1918 and was succeeded by his son Blythe Dupuy. Many expressed admiration at Rogers' achievements but apparently few people expressed real warmth for the man.
Benjamin Tingley Rogers came to this budding city and helped to not only increase its value with a sugar refinery but also left us a legend to marvel at and two spectacular mansions that inspire us. At least they inspire me. And for showing us what can be done, we owe him.
I would like to thank Alex, B.T's great grandson for inspiring me to go outside my comfort zone and travel to the Shannon Estate. The enjoyment I derived from just stepping on the grounds, from seeing everything, from writing these last four entries and from doing research were well worth the hour bus ride. Thanks too Alex for the information you supplied.
I hope you find the beauty around you.
Karen Magill, The Shannon, Vancouver, B.T. Rogers, CPR, Rogers' Golden Syrup, History, depression