Reford, Robert Wilson (1831–1913), businessman and philanthropist in Canada, was born 3 August 1831 in Moylena, near Muckamore, Co. Antrim, youngest son among three sons and a daughter of Joseph Reford, who was in the linen business, and Grizel (or Grace) Reford (née Wilson). His family had lived in the area since at latest 1706; but his father died aged forty in 1834, and his mother moved her family to Belfast, where Robert attended the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. The whole family emigrated to Canada in 1845 and settled in Toronto, where he completed his education and was employed by a businessman who was so impressed with the youth's ability that he increased the promised salary tenfold in the first two years. On completing his apprenticeship, he was taken on as a full partner in a wholesale and retail grocery business. Shortly afterwards (1852/3), with £200 he had saved and £200 from his mother, he went into business on his own account, setting up two wholesale firms, and subsequently taking partners. In 1863 he bought a company that had steamships on the Great Lakes, and pioneered direct trading links between Canada and South Africa; one of his ships was first to make the voyage. In 1866, following a restructuring of his business interests, Reford moved to Montreal. He partly owned several steamship lines, which were responsible for opening markets in Europe and elsewhere for Canadian goods, in particular for live cattle exports. In later years the firm operated mainly as shipping and booking agents, with branch offices throughout eastern Canada. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the company was owned by Reford's descendants.
Reford had many other business interests, notably in flour milling and lumber, and for years his company virtually controlled the milling and sale of rice in Canada. He was a director of the Bank of Toronto, and made considerable profits from property development in Montreal. He held several public offices and was particularly prominent as chairman of a royal commission on transportation (1904–5). This reported from locations throughout Canada, and advocated the development of transatlantic routes via Halifax and Galway, the shortest feasible crossing, in hopes that trade, even with India and the East, would thereby be facilitated, and that the bonds of empire would be strengthened, particularly in Ireland. A small town in Saskatchewan was given the name of Reford in honour of his service, but government did not in general adopt his proposals.
Many Canadian institutions, especially in Montreal, benefited from Reford's generosity. He gave $150,000 to McGill University, of which he was a governor; the chair of anatomy was named in his honour. He gave $35,800 to the General Hospital and $10,000 each to the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and to an episcopalian diocesan seminary, and he supported many other philanthropic enterprises. As well as his generosity, Reford was noted for an ‘amazing capacity for work’ (Henry J. Morgan (1912), not paginated), and for an abrupt manner. He died at Montreal on 13 March 1913. He married first (6 November 1862), in Toronto, Margaret, daughter of Andrew Taylor McCord (1805–81), philanthropist and public servant from Ulster; she died after a year of marriage, and he married secondly (12 September 1866), in Tredinnock, Stirlingshire, Scotland, Katherine S. Drummond, daughter of Andrew Drummond, whom he had met on one of his eighty trips to Britain and Ireland. They had three sons and three daughters. Reford's son married a daughter of Robert Meighen, a prominent Canadian businessman born in Dungiven, Co. Londonderry.