Robert Miller/Burn Brae

Photo: Thistle Ha’ collection.
Saddle and Sirloin Club history:
100th Anniversary of the Saddle and Sirloin Club, Kentucky State Fair Board, Louisville, 2003.
Revised on March 19, 2011 by Jim: Added George Harding’s name to photo caption.

A gallery of oil portraits, paying homage to livestock industry leaders throughout Europe and the Americas, was established in 1903 in the Saddle and Sirloin Club, near the Union Stock Yards in Chicago. Selected by a committee of their peers, new members had their portraits added to the Club gallery each year.

The photo shows portraits of four Canadian members of the Saddle and Sirloin Club. Handwritten on the back of this photo: “Photograph of portraits in oil of departed friends as they appear on the walls of the Saddle and Sirloin Club. Accept with the compliments of Frank W. Harding, May 8, 1917.” Harding was the brother-in-law of Robert Miller/Burn Brae; both were members of the Club.


The portraits in the photo are of: John Miller/Thistle Ha’ (top left), William Miller/Atha & Storm Lake (top right), Richard Gibson/Belvoir farm in Mount Brydges, Ontario (bottom left), George Harding [Frank W. Harding’s father]/Anoka farm in Waukesha, Wisconsin (bottom centre), and James I. Davidson/Sittyton Grove farm in Balsam (Pickering), Ontario (bottom right).

Of the nearly 350 members in the Saddle and Sirloin Club, eleven are Canadians. Remarkably, the farm homes of seven Canadian members were clustered in Pickering (three Millers, Davidson) and its two adjacent townships, Whitby (Hon. John Dryden and his son Will/Maple Shade farm) and Markham (T.A. Russell/Brae Lodge farm).

The portraits in the photo no longer exist. Frank Harding Jr, also a member of the club, witnessed the 1934 Chicago Stock Yards fire, which destoyed the original Saddle and Sirloin club, including its gallery of portraits. Club artist Robert Grafton was immediately commissioned to repaint the portraits. He worked at a prodigious pace, replacing 104 portraits, including those in the photo, in 18 months.

The only families with three members are the Millers and Hardings, who became related when Robert Miller/Burn Brae married Frank W. Harding’s sister, Josephine. The Millers also became related to the Drydens when Robert’s niece Margaret (Maggie) married Will Dryden.

By the mid 1970’s, the Chicago Stock Yard facilities were closed, and the building containing the Saddle and Sirloin Club in Chicago faced demolition. Frank Harding Jr found a new home for the portrait collection, which was moved in 1977 to the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville.

Robert Miller’s portrait (pictured) hangs in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame Gallery located at the Royal Agriculture Winter Fair in Toronto.

Robert Miller At age 20, Robert became the eldest of John Miller’s sons living at Thistle Ha’. Over the next two decades, he became the leader of the John Miller & Sons livestock business, firmly establishing the reputation of Thistle Ha’ as a great centre of purebred livestock activity. Starting in 1881 on behalf of Thistle Ha’ and later for his Burn Brae farm at Ringwood, Ontario (Stouffville), Robert Miller made over two dozen trips to Britain and north-western Europe, importing livestock for improvement of breeding herds in Canada. During his travels, he developed an extensive sales network, and gained markets for Ontario breeders in the United States and Mexico. By visiting all the top livestock farms, he saw world breeding trends, and developed an ability of nearly always selecting the best livestock for his customers. Because of this reputation, he was widely sought after as a judge at livestock shows.