Nicholas Bawlf


By George Siamandas

One of Winnipeg's millionaire merchants of grain, Nicholas Bawlf, was born on July 17, 1849. in Smiths Falls Ontario the son of Nicholas Bawlf and Catharine Kirby. He was educated at Smiths falls and became a moulder for an agricultural implements dealer called Cossitt Bros.

In 1877 Bawlf married Catharine Madden and they came west to Winnipeg to find their fortunes. He established a flour and feed business on Princess St and later a business dealing with rawhides. But it was in the grain business that Bawlf made his mark and his money. In the 1880s he was an early advocate for the establishment of a market or exchange. But it was not 1886 when the railway came through and a doubling of wheat being marketed through Winnipeg that others saw the logic of an exchange. In Nov 1887 Bawlf was the pilot of the group of 11- leading grain men that established the Winnipeg Grain Exchange.

After operating for several years from the basement of city hall, The Grain Exchange took up Bawlf on his offer to take free space in his Princess St building the Bawlf Block (still standing) and later developed its own grain exchange building just north along Princess (also still standing).


His motto had been "Be sure you are right then go ahead." In the 1890s he expanded his grain business by building elevators in at least 11 towns. But even then he recognized the importance of consolidation and in joined with four other companies to form the Northern Elevator Association. With partners he built a new company called the Northern Elevator Co which by 1900 ran 100 country elevators.

In 1909, his eldest son William joined him in the formation of a new company called N Bawlf Grain Co. From an early age Bawlf was able to read the writing on the wall. He was one of the first to see the benefits of shipping to the Pacific.


Bawlf was described as a tall handsome man with piercing eyes and a full beard. Bawlf and his wife had 6 sons and two daughters. Bawlf and his family were active members of St Mary's Catholic Church and he was a staunch advocate for Catholics including the urging of more Catholic senators. They lived in a palatial home at 11 Kennedy St right across from govt house.

Armed with a sharp mind and keen wit Bawlf was a very prominent business figure. No one had sold more grain in the dominion. He was very popular with directorships to more than half a dozen companies including Monarch Life, great west Permanent, Bank of Toronto, Standard trust, Royal Canadian Securities, and Winnipeg's Board of trade. He also did two stints as president of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange.

After visiting the Exchange and dinner with his family Bawlf died on Boxing Day 1914 after a heart attack. He was remembered as one of those that laid the foundation of the grain trade in Winnipeg.

At one time three generations of Bawlfs were in grain. Son Eddie did not fare as well losing everything in the grain crisis of 1931. A life long bachelor who lived on the second floor of the Fort Garry Hotel, he was a gambler and eccentric. He died in 1952.  

(Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. XIV, 39-40  - article by Allan Levine)


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