hirty-two years before confederation, John Gibbard, a Canadian-born craftsman of English ancestry, came to a village then known only as The Napanee to establish himself as a cabinetmaker.
It wasn't long before he leased a mill on a canal that still runs through the Gibbard plant property, and began manufacturing sash, doors, coffins, and furniture on a modest scale. Gradually, the craftsmanship of the small Gibbard Cabinet Shop became known throughout the province, and the business grew.
In 1864 the factory burned to the ground, but by 1868 was rebuilt on a more extensive scale. By the time Canada became a Nation, John Gibbard's son, William T., had entered the business as a partner, and by 1871 the company decided to turn its energies totally to furniture.
Once again, however, in 1874, fire struck the plant - but before 1875 it was rebuilt again, better adapted in every way to meet the demands of a rapidly growing business.
Each passing year, since 1835, has helped develop and strengthen the Gibbard tradition. It gained national prominence as a manufacturer in the 1920's when 'Gibbard Solid Walnut' became a household phrase for quality furniture and craftsmanship.
For four successive generations, the Gibbard Company remained in the control of the Gibbard family. George succeeded William, then Ernest took over. In 1940, control passed to another family which also cared about fine furniture and craftsmanship. Jack McPherson, who had been sales manager of the company during the 1920's, purchased Gibbard and began an extensive rebuilding and re-equipping program.
His untimely death in 1944 meant he never lived to see his reforms completed, but the presidents that followed, his wife Janet, then David S. Roffey, and finally his son and current president, Bruce McPherson, completed the program, renovating and modernizing the Gibbard operation with some of the finest, most modern woodworking equipment available. The company also completely reorganized its approach to marketing, including design and dealerships.
Equipment is important to remain competitive, but Bruce feels that Gibbard's emphasis on quality and 'good people' is even more important. "We have a pride in our people, and our people have a pride in their product," he says.
"With us, quality is an everyday thing. One has to believe in it. Every employee helps maintain it. We put quality materials and craftsmanship into our furniture, and we have quality dealers who market it. We look on what we've got as a legacy from the past, and we hope to hand it down as a heritage for the future."
During the 2nd World War Gibbard's effort turned to war work. Ships wheels were made by the hundreds. Grenade, shell, ammunition and fuse boxes were made by the hundreds of thousands. After the war Gibbard's focus returned to making furniture and modernizing production methods and machinery
The happy combination of tradition and skill, together with modern manufacturing facilities, produces furniture that carries the fame of Gibbard of Napanee everywhere. The firm's work has been recognized many times by Ontario Trillium Awards for design and manufacturing excellence, and by the fact that its furniture graces many of Canada's embassies and consulates abroad.
Gibbard's production today is eighty percent solid mahogany and solid cherry, distributed through a select group of independent dealers. The company's commitment to quality is so stringent that any planned increase in production is dependent on its ability to maintain the quality of its work.
Today, Bruce's sons are in the business, ready to carry on. Bruce Sr. has always been active in community and industry affairs, and has served two terms as president of the Canadian Council of Furniture Manufacturers. Many other 'Gibbard people' have also served their community and industry well.
"Times may change, but quality does not," says Bruce. Today, Gibbard of Napanee remains synonymous with fine furniture, as it has for 170 years.