Blyth Co-operative Cheese Factory
Blyth Co-operative Cheese Factory was an example of can-do spirit
There’s a new housing development in Blyth’s east end around Anne Street and Drummond Street East that fills the land that was once the site of one of the village’s more important industries.
Sitting near Dinsley Street is a cement pad on which once stood the Blyth Co-operative Cheese Factory. That factory, which opened on July 1, 1945, was the product of the kind of community spirit evident in the countryside at the time.
Simon Hallahan, one of the legendary figures of the community in the last half of the 20th century, was hosting a Farm Forum meeting of his neighbours a winter’s night in 1945 when some of the farmers began complaining about not having a local market for their milk. Walter McGill had an idea for a local cheese plant, Hallahan recalled back in 1989 as he celebrated his 90th birthday.
Hallahan was delegated to look into the situation and travelled to Toronto where the deputy-minister of agriculture advised him to go back and set up a committee, find out the interest in the community and survey the number of dairy cows in the area, then come back and meet with the minister of agriculture.
A group was soon formed with Hallahan as chairman. Other directors were McGill, George Powell, George Watt, Cliff Dow, Robert Henry and Lewis Whitfield. The minister of agriculture gave his support and the group purchased, for $1,500, the old planing mill which sat next to the abandoned “Butter and Egg” railway line.
Bob Henry was able to lure Carmen Hodgins away from the cheese factory at Donegal and he became the head of the operation, helping the committee order the $6,500 worth of equipment needed to run the plant. Coming along with Hodgins was Walter Buttell and another man who was to become a legendary part of Blyth for the next 40 years, Jimmy Lawrie (widely known for his talents as an entertainer).
The Blyth Standard reported that George Powell was the first to deliver milk to the new plant.
In November 1951, however, tragedy struck and the plant was destroyed by fire and in January, a meeting of shareholders agreed the plant should be rebuilt. They could salvage the boiler, refrigerator, whey tanks and the well from the old building.
A new modern factory opened on May 7, 1952 and The Standard reported it was one of the best equipped cheese and butter factories in Ontario.
“In the plant are two 12,000 lb. capacity cheese vats. A feature of these vats is the new Kusel travelling agitators. Also included in the cheese manufacturing equipment is a twin hydraulic cheese press, electric tester and automatic can washer, a 15,000 lb. capacity whey separator together with other other miscellaneous equipment.”
Though it might have been a new plant, the difficulties in the milk industry at the time spilled over to the Blyth co-op as competitors could offer 10-15 cents more per hundredweight than the local factory. The directors began to look at ways to protect the investment of their members.
In 1957 Blyth Farmers’ Co-operative became one of six branches of the new United Dairy and Poultry Co-operative which today is the huge dairy co-op Gay Lea Foods. Martin Baan handed over the Blyth deed to the new UDPC.
Soon the Blyth plant was closed and its equipment and operations moved to Guelph.
The old cheese factory sat empty for years, then briefly housed a furniture-making operation and finally was a storage area for an antique car collection before it burned to the ground.
The Farmers’ Co-operative was just the latest attempt to run a cheese factory in Blyth. The Huron Expositor reported in April 1876 that a P. Straith had removed the boiler, vats and other appliances from the former Clinton cheese factory and had moved them to Blyth to start a new factory. Within a week he had met with local patrons to set a price of 1.75 cents per pound for the milk delivered to the plant with the farmers also getting the whey for feeding to their livestock. Among the familiar names of the period signing on as officers were: J. Richmond, George McGowan, Andrew Sloan and a Mr. Dunbar.
The Clinton New Era reported in April, 1876 that: “The factory, which is nearly 100 feet in length, is in the course of erection on the corner of Mr. Andrew Sloan's farm, immediately north of Blyth on the Wingham gravel road.”
It’s unknown how long Straith operated this factory but by 1887 it was reported that a Mr. Watson had rented the Blyth factory as well as ones in Dungannon, and Auburn (then called Manchester).
By 1895 a new factory was required. The News-Record of Clinton reported on March 20 that: “The directors of the Blyth Cheese & Butter Company met on Saturday of last week and awarded the contract for building a new factory to Messrs. Cowan and McGill of Blyth. The amount of the successful tender was $914.”
The date of the demise of this cheese factory is unknown.