Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The following piece is one of several that appears in the special summer edition of  our INSIGHT Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.


‘Hang by your thumbs’.


It was a nonsensical expression Jim Chaplin would often use when saying farewell, his wife Daisy told the Waterloo Record in 2015 following the Cambridge industrialist’s death at the age of 82 after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.


The phrase, first used in a 1930’s radio comedy show, offers a small glimpse into Chaplin’s personality which took him a long way as not only a successful business leader who ran the family company for 57 years but a major community supporter.


Chaplin was only 32 when he took over the reins of Canadian General-Tower – one of the city’s oldest operating industries - after his father, Gordon, who had been MP for the former Waterloo South riding, passed away.


The company, a leading producer of polymeric coated fabrics and films used in the automotive and industrial sectors, has roots dating back to the 1800s when William Chaplin began manufacturing tools and wooden wheels in Galt. His son, J.D. Chaplin, took over the company – called Victoria Wheel Works – and renamed it Canadian General Rubber Company in 1927.


The company was a major supplier of coated fabrics during the war years, supplying rain wear, but switched to consumer products such as shower curtains and wall coverings, soon after.


Under his watch over many decades, Chaplin saw the company’s sales grow from $3 million annually to $300 million as he expanded its footprint throughout Canada and the United States until it was sold in 2012.


Despite a busy work schedule, he managed to serve on many boards for various organizations including the Equitable Life Insurance Company of Canada, Woodbridge Foam Corporation and Commercial Financial Corporation Ltd.


While his professional affiliations were also important to Chaplin, he relished in serving his community and was a member of Galt City Council from 1963 to 1969, acting as Deputy Mayor for a year. Also, he served as Chair of the United Way Campaign from 1968 to 1970 as well as the Industrial Development Committee of the City of Galt Planning Board.


However, it was his role as the President of the Cambridge YMC from 1964 to 1974 that left a lasting impact on the newly-amalgamated Cambridge. The organization was in crisis at that time and the help he gave set it on a path to success for the future.


It was Chaplin and his brother, Gord, who provided the lead gift that allowed the YMCA to relocate from Queen’s Square in Galt to its current facility on Hespeler Road in 1996.


“He really believed the Y was an important part of the community,” John Haddock, who retired as chief executive of the YMCAs of Cambridge & Kitchener-Waterloo in 1996, stated to the Waterloo Record in 2015. “He was a leader in the community for over 50 years.”


Not surprisingly, Chaplin received the Fellowship of Honour, the YMCA Canada’s highest award as well as several other prestigious honours including a Mel Osborne Fellowship from the Kiwanis Club of Cambridge for Outstanding Service to the Community in 1996.


When he wasn’t doing good work in the community, or running the family business, Jim could be found enjoying the outdoors at his cottage near Bracebridge, or skiing in Vail, Colorado, where he and his wife, Daisy, made many lifelong friends.


“He loved endeavours,” Haddock also stated in that same Waterloo Record article. “He encouraged you to take a risk and he supported you in it.”

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