Cheese factories Hastings County

Cheese making in Hastings County

In 1849, the wheat production fell drastically because of the wheat midge and exhausted soils. Farmers were already diversifying. The Bay of Quinte area was emerging as a leading cheese producer by 1850, partly because of the migration of Americans from nearby upstate New York  and other immigrants. However, cheese was made on individual farms and varied a great deal.  Honourable Robert Reed, a local politician, farmer, tanner and distiller thought developing the cheese industry in Hasting County could improve the rural economy. He offered a bonus of $100 to anyone setting up a cheese factory on the American plan in the County of Hastings.

He went to New York State with Ketchum Graham MPP, a local farmer from Sidney Township, to find out about setting up the cheese factory. They decided to establish a model factory 'Front of Sidney'. They chose a suitable building, purchased the necessary equipment and engaged a cheese maker from New York State. They provided one half of the number of cows necessary. They put in a long water pipe made from hollowed bored out cedar logs to supply water. The factory was organized on the "American" system with a number of farmers united in a syndicate who chose a board of directors and appointed one of their members to act as a manager. The manager provided the building and equipment and hired a cheese maker in return for a commission of usually two cents a pound on all the cheese produced. The rest of the proceeds were then divided among the patrons in proportion to their supply of milk. 

Hastings farmers saw the benefits of cooperation and cheese factories sprang up in all directions. Farmers had to work together to provide enough milk.  Before there were milking machines, one person could only milk around eight cows an hour. For a factory to operate commercially, it needed milk from 120 cows. Factories couldn't be too far from the farms as they had to transport milk to the factory each day.

Federal and Provincial involvement

From 1870 onward, the federal and the provincial governments were very involved with improving the standards of cheese making. The cheese industry received special help, careful supervision and direction of the provincial and dominion governments. There had to be improvements before Canada could earn a reputation for high quality  cheese. The federal government helped with the introduction of refrigeration on ships so that cheese could be exported to the UK. By 1877, there was a weekly refrigerated train from Stratford to the port of Montreal. The provincial and federal government set up certification and licensing systems for cheese makers.

New Breeds of cattle

New pedigree breeds of cattle were introduced. These included Jersey and Guernsey originally from the Channel Islands, Holstein from the Netherlands, Ayrshire from Scotland and Shorthorn or Durham from the north of England. The Canadienne cow came out of the cattle brought from Normandy to Quebec the 17th century. 

Better feed for cows

Cows need to be fed well if they are going to produce good quality milk.  If cows eat too many turnips, the milk can have  a bad flavour. They need hay and grain in the winter and grass in the summer. Farmers started better pasture. The grass cannot get out of the soil that which is not there that cow cannot get out on the grass that which is not there and the cheese maker cannot get out of the milk that which is not in it. The first thing that can be done to improve the quality of the milk is to improve the quality of the land. Only then can we expect further dairying success in this country.

Role of Women

Improvements in the dairy farm were very important to keep milk clean. Laura Rose was someone who promoted both farmhouse cheese and butter making and the factory process. She took one of the first dairy courses at the new Ontario College of Agriculture, which started in 1893. Dairy courses started in 1892 with the instructors travelling round the country. Laura Rose went on to become a dairy instructor running courses for women. The women were expected  to go back to the farm rather than work in a cheese factory. She wrote a text book on cheese and butter making which was very widely used.

Annie Elevier was a local cheese maker, who had a job as the cheese maker in a factory. Annie sent her cheese to the World Fair in Chicago in 1893 and was awarded a certificate for earning a mark of 97.5. 

After they were  married, Annie taught her husband John West how to make cheese and then she taught her sons how to make butter. The West family started the Stirling Creamery. 



World’s Columbian Exposition

The Dominion of Canada bore all the expenses of transporting, placing, caring for and disposing of butter and cheese. The committee decided to invite expert judges and assist the cheese makers to make selections from exhibits to be sent from Ingersoll and Montreal. There were 539 exhibits of cheese and 167 exhibits of butter. The 259 awards that were given out enhanced the reputation of Canadian cheese in the British market. This was all about branding cheese as Canadian.

Competitions of cheese still exist such as the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto each November. The other big competition is the British Empire Cheese Show which is in its 90th year held each year in  Belleville.