Rare Victorian - Don’t Forget Canadian Cabinetmakers

Don’t Forget Canadian Cabinetmakers

Jacques Hay Sideboard e1269550217495 Dont Forget Canadian Cabinetmakers

Book Review: “Jacques & Hay 19th Century Toronto Furniture Makers” by Ruth Cathcart

Jacques & Hay is a name that pops up frequently in the Victorian-era furniture world within Canada.  It reminds me of how the Jelliff, Belter, and Herter names always pop up here in the U.S.  When attributing furniture we find here in America, the tendency is often to assume the piece was also made here – almost without a second thought.  Occasionally, European origin comes to mind as a possibility, but most of the time people will default to American cabinetmakers for attribution because that is what we know.

It’s curious, though, that pieces by Jacques & Hay are not more commonly visible in the U.S.  Their factory and showrooms would have been 100 miles from Buffalo, NY and at one time they were the largest furniture manufacturer in the whole of Canada.  Aside from their more mainstream lines of furniture, they made furniture for prominent citizens,  hotels and other commercial buildings.   In 1860 they  were commissioned to make furniture for the use of the Prince of Wales during his visit to North America.  Bedroom sets were made specifically for him in each of the Canadian cities he was to visit: Montreal (curled Maple), Ottawa (Oak), Niagara Falls (Cherry), and Toronto (Walnut).

There were two major fires in their factories that had them starting over from scratch: 1854 and 1856, but each time they bounced back stronger than before.

Ruth’s book is an exhaustive study of the various incarnations of this company over it’s 35 year career.  With many more photos than those shown below, the book demonstrates how this manufacturer made furniture through all the styles changes of the Victorian era, including Gothic Revival, Rococo Revival, Eastlake, Renaissance Revival and Modern Gothic.

One especially notable piece made by them was for the Queen’s Hotel in Toronto: “The Great Sideboard“.  If you follow the link you will see a sideboard of gargantuan proportions.  It won Jacques & Hay the Place of honor for furniture at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1860.

Jacques Hay Aesthetic Chair1 e1269549966133 Dont Forget Canadian Cabinetmakers
Jacques Hay Hall Tree Renaissance1 e1269550017972 Dont Forget Canadian Cabinetmakers

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  • Catherine Milsom - March 26, 2011

    Hello! I was looking for something else and stumbled upon this article. My mother was Elizabeth Ann Hay. The Hay of Jaques & Hay (to the best of my memory) was her grandfather. I have heaps of information about this. For the moment, all of this information is in a storage unit in Florida!

    • Odette - July 5, 2011

      [Hello Catherine: Just a few clicks before this “rarevictorian.com” website, I came across someone who is gathering information concerning Jacques and Hay furniture. Here it is – it was dated June 17 2008 on a website called “heritagetoronto.org”. ]
      ” In addition, to being the largest Victorian furniture manufacturer in Canada–some historians, say North America–Jacques and Hay also created the wood interiors for St. James Cathedral, University College, and the core of Osgoode Hall. Their six-acre factory factory was located where Union Station is now.
      As I am in the process of preparing a PhD thesis on the consumption of mechanically-produced furniture in the Canadian nineteenth-century, with a strong focus on Jacques and Hay,I would be most grateful if individuals, having why they suspect are articles of Jacques and Hay, might be in touch. I should caution that as the cabinetry was almost never signed, and as Jacques and Hay trained so many apprentices who went on to produce similar furniture, precise identification is usually impossible.
      Despite these difficulties, I would like to preserve this small, but important part of Canadian patrimony and early Toronto culture. For more background, and to see the photo of the Jacques and Hay chair, I donated to Rideau Hall to join the collection of Jacques and Hay furniture already there, you may wish to consult the Heritage Ottawa website for its newsletter for spring 2006, vol. 33, no. 2.
      Denise Jacques denisejacquesaitken@yahoo.com

    • Denise Jacques - February 12, 2012

      Dear Ms. Milsom,

      I stumbled on this thread while looking for something else. I have completed my PhD dissertation on Jacques & Hay, but am preparing a book for the University of Toronto Press. Do you still have “heaps of information” in the storage unit in Florida. Any new material would make a better book. My dissertation in available on line. Just use my name and furniture and that should do it.

      Yours sincerely,

      Denise Jacques

  • roger fuller - January 1, 2013

    I have a Jacques and hay Bedroom set (large headboard bed and dresser with marbel pieces on the 3 tops) looking bottom drawer
    Any idea of the value
    I could send photo

  • Denise Jacques - February 4, 2013

    Hello Denise, I believe I have a 3 piece bedroom set that was made by “Jacques” and I am assuming it was made before 1835 when he joined partnership with Robert Hays. Inside the drawers on both dressers there is a crest with the name “Jacques” also “we aim for perfection” and below that “Kitchener, Ontario”. The bed has a wrap around foot board with upward sculptured top and the same as the head board. All three pieces have a flat shaped buffalo head on the front. One dresser has a tilt mirror and two locking top drawers. The other is a high boy type with two front opening doors which open into a place to hang clothes on the left hand side and the other side is an open top shelf and below is a row of small drawers. This set is all in dark wood.
    I have pictures of it. Wondering what it is worth too? My name is Debbie and phone number is 1-250-267-3349. I live in British Columbia, Canada.

  • K. Jane Lever - August 22, 2014

    I have what I believe to be a lovely Jacques & Hay walnut dining table with 5 leaves. It’s been said by the family that had it before me that this was indeed built at the time of the Prince of Wales upcoming visit to Canada in 1860s. This family lived in Toronto/Cobourg/Port Hope area and had as member of Parliament at that time their forebear Samuel James Nesbitt, a man of some social standing and finances. This makes me think he would have had the wherewithal to afford such a piece. I would very much like to know how I would be able to authenticate the provenance of this fine item I own and love. Any suggestions please. Thank you, Mrs. K. Jane Lever

  • Toni - December 28, 2014

    I have a three piece set from my parents who “rescued it in the 70s” – A love seat and two matching chairs. The original fabric is in good condition but some of the mesh straps underneath neat to be reattached which pushes up the stuffing. I have these in Milton, NS but we lived outside Toronto when these were acquired. I will be selling these once I understand their valued price.
    I could send pictures if someone was interested.

  • Janice Dick - January 20, 2015

    I have a dresser with the Jacques label in the drawer. It is in good condition. The original knobs are off and are mixed in a bag with others and is impossible for me to identify.

    I will sell this dresser if there are any interested buyers but need to know the value of this two drawer side by side and two larger drawers on top of each other.

    Thank you

  • Joanne Prince - July 24, 2015

    I have a collection of three Jacques & Hay chairs inherited from my husband’s aunt who collected them in Toronto. They are in very good shape but believe the gold velvet upholstery was a redo at some time.

  • Michele - August 7, 2015

    I have a dresser with mirror. There is a sticker on the inside of the top drawer with: “We aim for perfection” and Jacques Furniture…also an archer on the sticker. I can’t seem to find anything about this. do you have any info on this?
    thank you for your time.
    I can send pictures as well if you want to see it.

    • Carina DePellegrin - March 22, 2019

      Hi Michele,

      I have a similar piece. Di you end up getting any information on it?


  • Leslie Bury - November 11, 2016

    To Catherine Milsom,
    My name is Leslie Bury and I am also a descendant of Elizabeth Hay via the Armour family of Toronto. I believe I have a photograph of your mother (very beautiful). The Armour family has developed an extensive ‘family tree’ you of which you may be interested.

    To Odette and Denise Jacques,
    I do have some historical papers, but my sisters Stephanie and Kate Richards (Australia) have much more as they gathered our mother’s genealogical history (her hobby) if such is of interest to anyone.


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