Preserving and Promoting local history for the former Rideau Township
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By 1936 Kemptville College also offered the Eastern Dairy School, largely due to being located between Kingston/Montreal and Ottawa/Prescott, on train routes. Reasbeck said that by 1940, the campus has a nice new building and laboratory to support training in cheese and butter making. That training typically lasted 3 months with enrollment of about 60 students, at the program's height.

 cheese platter

The subject of the evening. Didn’t it look good and taste good.  

Reasbeck explained that small cheese factories faded away in the post-war era due to tougher standards for equipment and the rise of industrial-style cheese factories, such as those established by Kraft or Black Diamond. In response to those changes, Kemptville College's focus shifted toward more dairy research and less practical training for small scale cheese production. Kemptville staff most responsible for the cheese making and dairy program during Reasbeck's tenure included Owen Irvine, Martin Beech and Ken Burnett. Although the heyday of the small cheese factory was largely over by Reasbeck's time, cheese production still came her way. Reasbeck was head of the Food Science and Technology program and at some point dairy processing was moved to her department. She had to find and supervise appropriate staff for those functions. At one point a goat cheese factory burned down. With no better place to handle the displaced goat milk, it was sent to the college. (1200 liters per week!)  

With the help of a retired cheese maker and a new, state-of-the-art pasteurizer, Reasbeck recounted learning to make every imaginable variety of goat milk cheese – which was not especially in vogue then! Although her department was not authorized to sell any of it, a practical solution was found. That goat cheese went to the Shepherds of Good Hope program in Ottawa.

At this point those in the audience associated with cheese factories in some way or another were invited to stand and share any comments. We heard from: Jason Anderson who lives in a cheese factory on a very pretty section of creek along First Line Road; Dorothy Laplante who lives in the cheese factory in Kars across the creek from the Kars General Store; Marilyn Murphy the owner of the cheese maker's house across the road from the store beside the creek; Stephen Burtt who lives in North Gower, and grew up across the creek from the cheese factory; Ian Stackhouse who lives in the Goodstown cheese factory at Harbison and Malakoff Roads and Ulrich and Christiane Bollinger who built and ran a modern cheese factory on Pollock Road in North Gower from 1993-2003. Bollinger says everything needed to be operational is still there, “mothballed”, should there be interest in reviving production later.

The evening concluded with more book sales and visiting while partaking of cheese and wine, . From a press run of 200 copies, 39 books were sold that night. As always, the books are sold at cost for a self-supporting cycle that funds current and future local history publications.

 The wine and cheese tables.

 

Coral Lindsay, as she so often does, provided an excellent display of pictures, artifacts, posters, and the model of the cheese factory.  Her displays add both interest and breadth to the presentations and attract a good crowd both before and after those presentations.  

It was a splendid evening exploring the things that made Rideau Township what it was and is. Besides all due credit to author Iona Joy and editor Ron Wilson, additional thanks are extended to Program Director Ruth Wright, Publication Director Jane Anderson and Ellen Adamsons for coordinating a very successful evening.

  One of the display walls by Coral Lindsay

Coral’s display of pictures, artifacts and documents.     

It's a good thing the October book launch was held at North Gower's spacious Alfred Taylor Recreation Centre, because well over 70 people turned out for the event. Many had direct ties to cheese factories in the region, either through family history or because they live or lived in re-purposed factories.

The evening included a talk by Cheese Factories of Rideau Township author Iona Joy, the chance to buy signed copies, and an extensive display of photos and cheese-related items courtesy of Coral Lindsay. All rounded off by wine and – you guessed it – cheese!

 Iona signing her books

Iona Joy signing copies of her book.  

Publications Chair Jane Anderson remarked that producing a book is a bit like having a baby: great expectations and struggles that culminate in much post-delivery happiness. Anderson introduced Joy as a woman of many talents: an accountant and mother who later studied to be a historian and archivist.

Joy began her remarks with fulsome thanks for the many, many people who contributed to the first and second edition of her book. Once again, special acknowledgement was extended to book editor, Ron Wilson, for combining the second edition's main text with beautifully laid-out photos, side-bars and related material. The cover art was done by Richard Cronin.

Joy said it was Betty Bartlett who first suggested the project, back in 1987. Those involved in that initial discussion could only think of four or five existing regional cheese factories, off hand. By the time 12 had been identified the project was off and running. As material accumulated, it became too much for a mere pamphlet. The first edition of a full book was published in 1990. After it sold out Joy was urged to consider a second edition, which could include even more content. It's all a good story, part and parcel of what built this area's stable prosperity.  

 RTHS Members examing a model of a cheese factory

RTHS members examining a model of a typical cheese factory provided by Coral Lindsay.  

Of course family farms had long made cheese to eat or sell on a casual basis. But in the mid 1860s a number of things happened that changed those informal arrangements. In 1866 the U.S. abrogated a trade reciprocity agreement.  (The event that also hastened Canadian Confederacy in 1867, but that's a different discussion.)

Losing that free-trade agreement stifled cross-border sales of many agricultural products, and created a need for new markets and supplies. Canada actually imported cheese at this point, not yet making enough to meet domestic demand. Since there was plenty of good dairy land in Ontario and Quebec, why not develop cheese production at home and develop that as a profitable export?

As this was before electricity and easy refrigeration, cheese production would also turn large quantities of a highly perishable food (fresh milk) into a concentrated product with a higher value – more easily stored and transported. Small cheese factories had already been proven successful in New York State. Such factories were relatively simple and inexpensive to build. To top it off, there was room for lots of them as each one had to be close to a cluster of local farms for quick delivery of fresh milk in sufficient quantity.   

It made good sense and readily caught on, with vigorous government support to provide training and improve quality. The new industry was also helped by the concurrent emergence of faster, cheaper shipping to overseas markets. In numbers, Joy says in 1863 Canada produced 63 million pounds of cheese. At the peak year of 1904, cheese exports had climbed to 234 million pounds, 95% of which went to Great Britain. For part of this period cheese alternated with fish as Canada's 2nd or 3rd main export – after timber products.

Joy's talk continued with slides and a brief history of individual cheese factories in this region. All of that is fully detailed in her book, which can still be purchased at the Rideau Township branch of the city archives (during regular Tuesday hours) and at a few other locations around the area.

At the conclusion of Joy's remarks Linda Reasbeck shared cheese-related aspects of her 30-year career at Kemptville Agricultural College. Established with federal funding in 1916, Kemptville College's mission was to provide a readily accessible education in agriculture and domestic science at minimal expense to students.

RTHS October Book Launch:
“Cheese Factories of Rideau Township” (2nd edition)

Article and Pictures by Lucy Martin