Thomas McAvity & Company was established on May 19, 1834, in Saint John, New Brunswick. On that day, founder Thomas McAvity decided that he had sufficient experience to go into business for himself. Later in 1838, T. McAvity & Sons purchased the James Hendricks Co. and changed the name to J. and T. McAvity, then to T. McAvity & Sons, then, finally, to T. McAvity & Sons Ltd.
The founder, Thomas McAvity, was born in 1810 in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland. He was brought across the Atlantic by his parents as a small boy, started the McAvity empire when he was only twenty-five years old and carried on actively until the time of his death in 1887. Thomas McAvity was a man who had a reputation of being straightforward in business, a sincere friend and a truly worthy citizen. He enjoyed the distinction of holding the office of mayor of Saint John from 1859 to 1863.
Thomas McAvity had six sons, all of whom played an active role in the building of the McAvity empire. After Thomas' death in 1877, his son Thomas II directed the company with the assistance of his brothers, and when the company was incorporated in 1907, he became President, remaining in the position until 1910. Then, son George McAvity occupied the office from 1910 until his death in 1933. The company was said to have made tremendous strides under his direction. Son John A. McAvity, Vice President of the firm for many years, originated and supervised the plumbing supply department. Under his direction, this line grew to be the most important part of the company's business. The McAvity line of plumbing brass goods was soon known all over Canada as a quality line. He was actively involved with the operation of the business until 1932.
The third generation of the McAvity family took over the operations in 1933. G. Clifford McAvity, son of the late president George McAvity, took over as President after his father’s death in 1933 and held that position until the company was sold in 1960.
In the early days, the firm was not a manufacturing concern but a wholesale and dry goods house. The company handled such materials as cotton, woolen cloth, candles and nails, all of which were of English manufacture and imported directly from the old country to Saint John via sailing ships. There was very little manufacturing at that time in Canada and the United States. The business of the country, outside of handling its natural products, was trading in imported goods. However, over the course of time, the men who built ships recognized New Brunswick, with its vast natural resources, as just what they needed to build ships. Saint John grew to be known in every corner of the world for its speedy freight carriers. A good amount of brass and bronze work went into the making of a wooden ship. With this demand, the McAvity brass foundry was established on Water Street in 1863, employing 20 men. The Great Saint John Fire wiped out the foundry, but the McAvitys rebuilt.
The first line of goods that was made in the foundry consisted of bells, rudder braces and various other brass articles and parts for ships. The age of steam was progressing rapidly, and to accommodate it, the first bronze valve was added to their line of products in 1879. From then, the company grew and expanded as conditions demanded adding new lines, plants and modern equipment, and new branches were established to facilitate product distribution. There were eight different locations in Saint John until they moved to the Rothesay Avenue building in 1918; the new 13-acre building amalgamated seven locations. The brass and iron foundries, machine shops and warehouses were now under one roof, but the plumbing department still existed in a separate building on Water Street.
In the early 1900s, T. McAvity & Sons was truly an innovative company. The products that turned out of the shops served many of the trade industries and utilities of Canada. Some of the products were gate valves, acid-resistant bronze and chrome-nickel steel valves and fittings for pulp mills, locomotive bronze work, inspirator valves, pops and whistles for the railways, bath and basin faucets, showers, traps and over 1,001 other articles used in the plumbing trade. The first McAvity fire hydrants were made in 1903 and were soon installed in municipalities all across Canada. The fire hydrant was the most familiar product of the day.
The Great War brought good times and bad for the McAvity family, company and staff. As well as devoting practically their entire manufacturing organization to the making of munitions, no fewer than five members of the McAvity family were on active duty in France, and 159 members of the McAvity staff were recruited to combatant units overseas, of which 26 did not return. The "Fighting 26th" New Brunswick Battalion was recruited and taken to France by the late Lieutenant-Colonel James L. McAvity. Many of the firms employees were enlisted in this unit.
T. McAvity and Sons grew to be one of the nation's leading foundry and valve casting companies. The company was unique in Canada for its self-contained, self-sufficient operation. From the in-house engineering to the foundries, machine shops and chemical labs, all work was performed from start to finish within the 13-acre complex. They manufactured more types and sizes of municipal waterworks equipment than any other company in Canada. The product lines expanded to include over 900 varieties of water main valves, corporation bronze valves and air and electrically controlled valves. The McAvity empire grew to include branch offices and warehouses in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver, and there were salesmen in strategic locations all across Canada. In 1955, the manufacturing plant of T. McAvity & Sons (Western) Ltd. was established in Medicine Hat, Alberta, to cover the western market. This plant manufactured fire hydrants, valves and waterworks specialties. The McAvity empire employed as many as 600–700 people.
T. McAvity & Sons Ltd. was sold to Crane Canada Ltd. in 1960. This brought an end to 126 years of business by the McAvity family. Crane incorporated some of the McAvity product lines into theirs and discontinued others. The McAvity division of Crane Canada moved from the 13-acre, 72,000 glass pane, Saint John landmark to the former Bricklin Auto manufacturing plant in Saint John in 1980. In 1990, the McAvity division was sold to Clow Canada.
The McAvity name remains well known today, with products still in service that were first installed in the early 1900s. McAvity's long-standing reputation makes McAvity fire hydrants and valves the choice of many municipalities today. The McAvity name is instilled in the minds of the people of Saint John. McAvity & Sons Company played a large role in the city's development from the early 1800s and will always be an important part of Saint John's history.