The man at the helm of this third generation family run business would like to share the history of A. R. Menzies & Sons Ltd. The founder’s grandson and namesake, Allan Menzies, followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and recaps the last ten decades. This is a story of hands-on experience and knowledge passed down through three generations.
A .R. Menzies & Sons Ltd. was founded in 1920 by Allan R. Menzies after suffering a lumbering accident in which his leg was amputated. This time was just prior to the First World War and in the days before antibiotics. The wound became infected and gangrene set in. He was sent to Boston by rail, was amputated at the hip and subsequently fit with an artificial leg. This provided the catalyst for him to learn the art of prosthetics and orthotics and start his private practice in Fredericton.
The business was initially located where the present police station is on Queen Street. One year later, the business moved to the corner of Rookwood Avenue and Woodstock Road, where it continues to operate today.
The operation was very different in the ’30s. My grandmother would often board patients at the family homestead due to difficulties in travelling long distances plus the length of time it took to produce a prosthesis. The house was, and still is, adjacent to the clinic. The garage, adjacent to the house, was where the artificial limbs were manufactured and the family cow was kept.
Grandmother would often comment that we could have six people at the supper table and only five or six legs under it.
During the depression years, it wasn’t uncommon to accept payment in barrels of potatoes, apples or peaches. A patient from Maine even crossed the border with a 12-gauge pump shotgun under the hood of his car in exchange for a new limb. It is still my dad’s favourite gun!
Prostheses were made with materials such as willow wood and leather, and took many man-hours to fabricate.
In 1943 my grandfather, Allan R. Menzies, passed away and his sons, Norris and Laurie, took over the business. My father, Laurie, studied prosthetics and orthotics in Chicago, but says he learned more from his father than anything he learned in school. I would say ditto. I learned more from my dad than anything I learned in prosthetics school.
Now let’s jump to 1958. These were exciting times as my dad and uncle bought and moved two ex-army huts from across the street and onto a pre-poured foundation on family land adjacent to the homestead and garage. We are still there today and now encompass approximately 7500 sq. feet.
The company also started to branch out into the field of home health care and wheelchair sales and service.
Research and steady progress were accelerated due to the requirements demanded by the younger generation, created mostly by veterans and the Vietnam War.
During this decade, my mother joined the team as our registered nurse. My personal involvement in the company in the early ’60s was cleaning the garbage cans and sweeping the floor.
Our services continue to expand into the fields of mastectomy prostheses, ostomy and urinary supplies.
My uncle Norris left the business in 1970 and only months later was killed in a private aircraft accident. I joined the company in 1971. At that time there were no accredited schools in Canada, so I accumulated my training by attending the Rehabilitation Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago and several professional seminars in the US and Canada. In 1979, I achieved my Canadian Certification in Prosthetics.
Terry Fox was a highlight of this time. Both my father and I spent over 30 hours working on this amazing man’s prostheses. Nearly four decades later, schools are still sharing the story of this inspiring amputee and his attempt to run across our country.
We had approximately twenty plus staff at that time and were doing outreach clinics throughout the province.
After more than five decades, my dad officially retired in 1995.
In 1996, Menzies was proud recipients of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce Small Business Award.
My wife, Debi, passed away in 1998 at the age of 46 from breast cancer.
My only child, Heather, joins the Menzies team. Over the last two decades Heather has held many different administrative roles in the business. This exposure and experience has enabled her to easily move into the position of office manager.
My wife Bridget joined the team in 2006 and her strong managerial skills were able to bring some fresh ideas and views on advancing the business.
We are seeing the culmination of several years of research with so called “smart legs” being fit. Above knee amputees with on board computer assisted knee units are routinely being fit. My father would shake his head when I explained that this system sends up to 70 signals per second to the knee and foot allowing for grade differentials in terrain as well as speed changes. The system even senses various types of surfaces such as sand, grass, or pavement and adjusts the prosthesis accordingly. This is a long way from when my grandfather carved sockets out of willow wood and wrapped the outside of the wood in rawhide to keep it from checking.
The manufactured components have changed through the decades: however the results of the prosthetists or orthotists careful analysis of the patient’s situation, accurate measurements, fitting and painstaking craftsmanship have not changed.
We experienced the effects of national home health care facilities that were able to purchase products at a much more competitive cost. In 2010 we sold this division to Apollo Medical. This would allow us the time and energy to refocus our efforts on prosthetics and orthotics, which were the basis on which the company was founded.
Dad, passed away tragically on May 7th 2016 at the age of 90. Up until the day before his passing, he reported to the office daily to read the Daily Gleaner and check his emails. We shared an office for 40 plus years!
A.R. Menzies & Sons Ltd. is CELEBRATING its 100th Anniversary in 2020!!! I find it almost impossible to comprehend that we’ve reached this mile stone in our company history.
In other news, we’ve also sold the Pedorthic division to David Roth: a 13 year employee of the company. David has incorporated his company under the name Menzies Pedorthic Services Inc. and will be remaining at our clinic location. We feel the transition for our existing clients of the foot orthotic division will be seamless. The best to David and his wife Angela as they move into the next phase of their working careers as small business owners.
It’s with a bit of nostalgia that we now have come full circle, going from a 7 divisions in the late 90’s with 20 staff, back to our original roots in Prosthetics and Orthotics which my Grand Father founded 100 years ago.
Longest Serving Patient, Bella Burns
“Bella Burns is our longest serving patient coming to us since 1932 at the age of 6. She recently recounted a story to me that; my grandfather had noticed her hopping into church in Newcastle and reached out to her family to assist with a prosthetic limb. He made her a prosthesis at no cost (remember that this was during the Great Depression). This act of kindness transformed her life. She now has received prostheses from three generations of Menzies and is still going strong today at the young age of 94.”-Allan Menzies
“Bella would always give my father, Allan, some change, like a few quarters, to pass along to me when I was younger and I thought that was so sweet. As I got older and now have a daughter of own, Bella continued her tradition and now passes me some change to give to my daughter Ava. One time she even brought Ava a red knitted hat that she said she had bought at church sale. Bella always has such a kind heart.”-Heather Menzies