Cheese making

The Dutch Clock

People have been making cheese commercially in Hastings County for almost 150 years. Cheese makers still make cheddar using the traditional methods at Maple Dale, Ivanhoe, Empire and Black River cheese factories. The men working here are at Maple Dale Cheese at Plainfield.

This is the story of the Dutch Clock used to sell cheese. The Dutch Clock is now at the museum. During the second World War, some cheese factories in Belleville were requisitioned by the Canadian government. They then shipped cheese to Britain, as part of Canada's war contribution. 

After the war, the export of cheese to the UK continued. The Cheese Producers Association and the Province of Ontario wanted to modernize the cheese industry. In 1956, Charlie Heath  from Stirling and Everett Biggs; deputy minister of agriculture for Ontario, went to a flower auction in Aalsmeer, Holland. This auction dates back to seventeenth century and is now the largest flower auction in the world.  Flowers continue to be sold there using the reverse Dutch auction system. In this type of auction the base price is set and the clock runs backwards. Bidding is stressful. The buyers press a button to make a bid. Press too soon and you pay too much, press too late you and loose to another bidder.

Charlie Heath and Everett Biggs came back to Ontario with the large green and white Dutch Clock that is now at the museum. It cost $1,200 to buy and $3,000 to install. The first auction was in Kingston on July 12, 1956. In 1959, the clock was moved to Belleville and was used by the Milk Marketing Board which took over from the Cheese Producers Association, to auction cheese.

Gwen Hall ran the Dutch Clock from 1960 to 1991, when both she and the clock retired. Gwen visited the museum to share some of her memories.

"Iā€™m Gwen Hall. I worked for the Milk Marketing board for 37 years and ran the Dutch clock for 31. First off, the cheese was graded at the different grading stations around the country. Then they sent the grading to us in Belleville and we compiled a catalogue that listed all the factories that they were graded at. They were sold separately then if a factory had an under grade that was sold at the end of the sale.

"You would start the clock with the hand and bring it up. It would give the dollar and the cent. It could get 90 to 70 cents- whatever- then you would run it down 90 cents, 80 cents; the 10th of cents in between so when the clock came down, the first buyer would stop it. Then I would bring it back up and run it again and the next buyer could bid. When the bidding stopped, the article was sold at that price. The under grade was sold at the end of the sale for 10 cents less in that ball park.

"But it was pretty well the same buyers each week from Brookville, Cornwall, Sanderson for Oxford Station, Belleville, Stratford, Toronto.

"We did have one buyer from Toronto who we always got a kick out of; Mr. Chisholm and he almost always bought under grade cheese and when it was time for him to buy the block he wanted he would start to whistle, so all of the men would know when he started to whistle he was going to bid on a block of cheese and they would overbid him and it got to be a real joke."