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Company History



Canada’s oldest ship agency

Robert Reford was born in Ireland in 1831, and came to Canada with his family in 1845, settling in Toronto. As a young man, he had a successful wholesale grocery business and by the early 1860s, he and his partner John Dillon had purchased an importing business from William Ross. In 1866, with Ross as an investor, Reford moved to Montreal to establish a general steamship agency, the Robert Reford Company.

The mid-19th century was a time of great growth in Montreal, and trade between North America and the United Kingdom and Europe increased dramatically in these years. In the Company’s first decades, it represented a number of steamship lines which operated out of London and Newcastle, Glasgow, Antwerp and several Mediterranean ports.


Growth and expansion

In 1882, Reford expanded his business interests and created the Mount Royal Milling and Manufacturing Company (later Mount Royal Rice Mills Limited). In the 1890s, the Company purchased the sailing vessel Thermopylae to transport rice from China to its mill in Victoria, British Columbia.

By the time the Company approached its 50th anniversary—with Robert Reford still at the helm—it had secured an agreement to represent the Cunard Line in Montreal as general agents for Canada. Several years later, the Cunard Steamship Co. bought a minority interest in the Robert Reford Company, an association that lasted until 1945.

During the First World War, the Robert Reford Company handled almost 95 troop ships at various Canadian ports, boarding 139,000 soldiers over the course of the war. By the 1920s, immigration to Canada was steadily increasing and as general agents for Cunard and other lines, much of the Company’s business was focused on passenger traffic. During the Second World War, the company helped organize convoys leaving Halifax for Europe.


Expertise and leadership

In 1945, the Company redefined its business interests to operate exclusively as general steamship agents, representing companies from Europe, South America, Asia and Australia. The post-war period in Canada was a time of modernization of port facilities, and the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 allowed deep water shipping access to the Great Lakes and interior of North America. As well, the introduction of containerization in 1956 revolutionized the movement of cargo on ships, truck and rail. Since 2004, the Company has acted exclusively as vessel and port agents, serving ship owners and charterers.

The Company was a founding member of the Shipping Federation of Canada in 1903, and has held a position on its executive board since that time, playing a leading role in the development of the marine transportation industry in Canada. The Company is very involved with industry associations such as the Laurentian Pilotage Authority and the Maritime Employers Association (MEA).

The Company is the oldest Canadian steamship agency, and since its founding in 1866 five successive generations of the Reford family have been involved in its management.

Robert Reford is a wholly owned Canadian company with offices in Montreal, Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Western Canada.