Claybank Brick Plant

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Claybank Brick Plant

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The origins of the Claybank Brick Plant go back to 1886 when Tom McWilliams, a local homesteader, began mining "refractory" or heat resistant clay. This type of clay is well suited for manufacturing firebricks, which in turn are used in fireplaces, and to insulate boilers, furnaces and any area where extensive heat is generated. In 1904 Mr. McWilliams entered into a formal agreement with the Moose Jaw Fire Brick and Pottery Company. This company acquired Mr. McWilliam's original homestead plus other nearby clay deposits. However, the lack of access to primary markets hindered any serious development of the property.

With construction of a Canadian Northern Railway line through the district in 1910, this problem was eliminated and plans were put in place for the construction of a new plant. In 1912, the Moose Jaw Fire Brick and Pottery Company reorganized, bought out Tom McWilliams' shares and became Saskatchewan Clay Products. The brick plant was completed in 1914 but due to World War I, and an economic recession, was forced to close until 1916. Once the plant was reactivated the company underwent reorganization and became Dominion Fire Brick and Clay Products Ltd. The new company expanded its product line adding facebrick and specialized firebrick. These innovations helped the company survive the immediate post-war years. During the 1920's the company began producing high grade refractory tiles. These specialized tiles could be used for flue and furnace linings, steam engine linings and locomotive arch blocks. The development of the specialized product line helped the company survive the Depression. By 1938 the Claybank brick plant was the busiest in the province. During World War II the brick plant at Claybank continued to produce standard and specialized refractory products. Facebrick production also continued. In the years immediately following World War II the Claybank brick plant continued to prosper.By 1950 it was the largest clay products plant in the province.

In 1954 the Claybank brick plant was purchased by Redcliffe Pressed Brick. The new company, Dominion Fire Brick and Clay Products (1954) Limited, was Alberta based and, for the rest of its operating history, ownership of the Claybank plant would continue to be from outside the province. In 1955 a share transfer gave controlling interest in the plant to A.P. Green Fire Brick Company of Mexico, Missouri. The company, one of North America's leading producers of refractory products, modernized the plant's operations. Among the many changes was the conversion of six of the ten kilns to natural gas. However, despite these and other improvments the plant began experiencing economic hardships in the mid-1950's. One of the primary causes of this was the decline in the market for locomotive brick which, as the railroads converted to diesel locomotives, became obsolete. Although the company tried to compensate for this lost market by agressively selling other forms of firebrick they were only partially successful. In addition, the plant discontinued its production of facebrick. Although the conversion of the kilns to natural gas offered several advantages, it proved a liability to the production of facebrick since the coal fired kilns had given the brick its colour.

In 1962 A.P. Green secured complete control of the Claybank brick plant but the company continued to operate under the name Dominion Fire Brick and Clay Products (1954) Limited until December 31, 1970. After 1971 the plant continued to operate but as a subsidiary of A.P. Green Refractories (Canada) Ltd. This full integration into an international corporation limited the plant's prospects and appears to have accelerated the plant's final economic decline. Dwindling markets for refractory products, changing technologies, the plant's outmoded equipment and corporate downsizing all contributed to the closure of the 75 year old plant in 1989. Following the closure of the plant in June 1989 the Province of Saskatchewan indicated its intention to designate the plant as a provincial heritage site. In 1992 A.P. Green donated the site, including the brick plant, machinery and equipment to the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation. In 1996 the plant was declared a national historic site. In 1998 the Claybank Brick Plant was officially designated as Provincial Heritage Property.


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