The “Canadian” Kelly Axe & Tool Company

1931 – 1965*
St. Catherines, Ontario

Kelly Axe & Tool Co Stamp. Made in Canada, St. Catherines

Thanks to the folks at Whiskey River Art & Trading for generously contributing the photos of the axe shown in this article. This axe is/was up for auction here on November 25, 2023.

In the early 1900s, American axe makers were starting to flood foreign markets with axes priced to undercut the local industry. As a result, countries like Australia started to raise heavy tariffs on imported axes to help protect their local economy.

In 1930 The American Fork & Hoe Company purchased both the Kelly Axe Manufacturing Company (Charleston, West Virginia) and Welland Vale Manufacturing Company (St. Catherines, Ontario).

This led to the creation of a new subsidiary The Kelly Axe & Tool Company of Canada, LTD. Now, by using the Canadian Welland Vale factory, “Kelly” axes could bypass tariffs imposed by other Commonwealth nations (like Australia) and take a bigger bite into the foreign markets.

Another interesting benefit of the new Canadian company is that they could use the word “Company” in the name, while the Kelly brand was legally called “Kelly Works” in the USA.

Beveled Tassmanian pattern made for the Australian market (1930s or 40s).
Thanks again to Whiskey River Art & Trading for the pictures.

Well-known Kelly brands like “Waratah” (see example) and “Dandenong” (see example) were almost instantly moved to the Canadian factory, as the primary destination for these axes was Australia & New Zealand.

The Kelly brands were treated like another product line out the the Welland Vale factory, as they continued to produce their original Canadian brand axes for export such as Lion Brand and Black Prince.

Kelly persists under True Temper

Between 1949-1950 both the American and Canadian factories of The American Fork & Hoe Company restructured to form True Temper and True Temper Canada. At this time the distinct corporate entity of “Kelly” ceased to exist.

However, axes like the “World Famous Kelly Dandenong” continued to be a product line made by True Temper Canada until a strike in 1965 led to the St. Catherines factory being shut down for good.

Eventually, True Temper formed a partnership with an Australian company (Cyclone Forgings Pty, Ltd.) and the “Cyclone” Dandenong began to be produced in Australia, but it’s unclear exactly when or for how long that partnership existed.

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  1. “Axe Makers of North America” by Allan Klenman (second edition – editor: Larry McPhail), 1990
  2. – Welland Vale Co.
  3. – Kelly Axe Mfg Co.
  4. – American Fork & Hoe Co.
  5. Thomas Fischer Rare Book Library, University of Toronto
  6. Hand Tool Preservation Association of Australia – Newsletter June 1992
  7. Hardwood_Axes – Instagram