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Medalta Potteries

Medicine Hat

Other Names:
Medalta 7, 12, 13
Medalta Stoneware Ltd.
Medicine Hat Stoneware/Pottery Ltd.
Medalta Potteries Plant (EaOp-48)

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
Medalta Potteries is an industrial complex dating from 1912 located on an 89.65 hectare lot in south east Medicine Hat. It consists of four circular brick beehive kilns and five rectangular brick and wood warehouses with gable roofs.

Heritage Value
The Medalta Potteries site derives it heritage value from its association with the emergence of Medicine Hat between 1912 and 1960 as a Canadian centre for clay products and pottery based on the availability of cheap fuel in the form of natural gas and local deposits of suitable clay. The first pottery operation was established in 1912 by the Medicine Hat Pottery Company. Its demise in 1914 provided an opportunity for Medicine Hat entrepreneurs Charles Pratt, Ulysses Sherman Grant, and William Creer to acquire its assets and build what would become the dominant company in the industry. They acquired its assets in the name of Medalta Stoneware Company in December 1915 and began the manufacture of a line of household items such as crooks, jugs and churns. The name of the company was changed to Medalta Potteries in 1924. From 1922 to the 1950s the Company continued to expand its dominant position in the industry through innovative products and manufacturing efficiencies. Between 1928 and 1950 Medalta accounted on average for 67percent of Canadian pottery production. One example of its innovative approach to the development of new product lines was the introduction of artwares in 1927. This product line involved the use of colorful glazes on cut flower vases, bulb bowls and other decorative items to appeal to changing popular tastes. Medalta Potteries survived until 1958 when it went into bankruptcy. Attempts to keep the facility in operation continued through to 1966 when it was closed for the last time.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 190)


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Medalta Potteries site include the following:

Kilns 1, 2, 3 and 4:
- form, scale and massing;
- brick masonry detailing of walls, roof and chimneys;
- heavy iron banding on kilns and chimneys;
- loading openings;
- metal chimney caps and hardware;
- gas and coal burning ports;
- venting ports on domes;
- corrugated metal shed structure attached to Kiln 4.

Buildings 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13
- form, scale, relationship and massing of Buildings 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13;
- masonry walls and bond detailing on Buildings 10, 11, 12 and 13;
- windows and door openings and surround detailing;
- window construction and fenestration detailing;
- door construction and detailing;
- roof detailing and finishes (cedar shingle corrugated metal asphalt rolled roofing);
- interior wood and steel truss systems with their open ceiling design;
- industrial machinery and associated fittings, such as belts & pulleys, electrical and steam lines, boiler and stake, mixing vats, clay bins, plunger and hoppers, as found in Buildings 9, 10 and 11;
- floor plan layouts with associated partitions and work areas.

Site Features
- building footprint and remains of Building 7;
- tracks along south elevation of Buildings 10, 11, 12 and 13
- shard piles east of Buildings 9, 10, and 11;
- orientation of buildings on site.




Location



Street Address: 713 Medalta Ave SE
Community: Medicine Hat
Boundaries: The footprints of Buildings 7, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 and Beehive Kilns A, B, C and D on Plan 4824 EO, Block B.
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 9

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
5
12
29
15 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
S4824 EO
B
N/A


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
50.032271 -110.649606 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1996/01/12

Historical Information

Built: 1912 To 1950
Significant Date(s) 1912 To 1960
Theme(s) Developing Economies : Extraction and Production
Historic Function(s): Industry : Crafts Production Facility
Current Function(s):
Architect:
Builder:
Context: HERITAGE SIGNIFICANCE

In the 1920's Medalta was the major producer of stoneware in Canada, particularly Western Canada. In the 1940's the company cornered the market in manufacturing of semi-porcelain hotel ware. Contracts included C.P.R., C.N.P., R.C.A.F., Hotel Vancouver and restaurants throughout Western Canada. Medalta is certainly one of the oldest ceramic plants still standing, perhaps the oldest in the Western provinces. Limited machinery of museum interest remains in the 1912 structure. This includes dry pan for grogging, ball mill, sager blunger and original blunger. Four "beehive" kilns are extant; these may be rare. Little industry equipment is intact on the site.

(Site Information Summary)

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HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE:

Started production in 1913. Major producer of stoneware in Canada, particularly Western Canada. In 1940, Medalta began manufacturing semi-porcelain hotel ware. Cornered the market in this product. Contracts included C.P.R., C.N.P., R.C.A.F., Hotel Vancouver and restaurants throughout Western Canada. Medalta is one of the oldest ceramics plant still standing, perhaps the oldest in Western Provinces. Ceased operations in late 1960's. Some machinery and processes developed at Medalta reputed to be innovative and had significant effect on ceramics technology.


ARCHITECTURAL SIGNIFICANCE

Complex site: consists of 13 adjacent warehouse structures, 4 beehive kilns, 2 tunnel kilns, 2 small structures and beehive kilns have been removed. Little equipment left but the machinery, which remains museum material (dry pan for grogging, ball machine, sager blunger and original blunger); beehive kilns are quite rare.

(Site Evaluation Form)

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MEDALTA POTTERIES - A Brief History

The Medalta Potteries was built in 1913 by a group of businessmen, primarily from Spokane, who were attracted by the potential for a pottery industry in Medicine Hat afforded by the area's natural gas, clay deposits and location on the railroad. They called themselves The Medicine Hat Pottery Company Limited. This first pottery in Alberta managed to stay in business for only about six months, producing a few lines of stoneware made of clays imported from Washington State. One of the directors of this company discovered on his land nearby in Saskatchewan the first deposit of clay in the area suitable for pottery manufacture. But, the company went out of business before it could take advantage of the local clays.

The assets of the company were purchased by a local group and the buildings were reopened in 1916 under the name Medalta Stoneware Limited. The new company expanded the premises and gradually developed a thriving stoneware business, turning out crockery items, mixing bowls and flowerpots. The latter were made from the red clay dug out of the plant's back yard.

In 1921, Medalta Stoneware shipped the first carload of manufactured goods, other than cereal products, from the West to points east of Lakehead. Promoting their goods as "Canadian Made Stoneware from Canadian Clay, and Financed by Canadian Capital," they took over the entire stoneware market west of Winnipeg and a considerable portion of the eastern market from the American companies, which had dominated the trade up to that time.

In 1924, the Company liquidated and reformed under the name Medalta Potteries Limited. A skilled traditional potter was brought in from the East to supervise the plant and to expand the product lines. The plant nearly doubled in size during the Twenties with the addition of several new structures and three beehive kilns, which were patterned after the three kilns already standing on the premises. The kilns were working to capacity supplying the liquor control boards of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba with all the jugs they required and several major Canadian bottlers with thousands of stone ginger beer bottles a week.

The stoneware market plummeted in 1929 when glass replaced Medalta's products in the bottling industry. The Company barely managed to stay in business and was shut down several months of the year throughout the Depression. However, new management, which took over in 1930, gradually developed several lines of lamp bases, which competed favorably with the American product and sold heavily in Vancouver and Toronto, the centres of the Canadian lamp trade. With the exception of one very small eastern pottery, Medalta was only Canadian lamp base manufacturer during that period.

At the end of the Depression, Medalta hired a ceramic engineer from the University of Saskatchewan to take over supervision of the plant. The man was primarily a chemist and, while experimenting with the Saskatchewan clays, developed the first all-Canadian semi-porcelain clay body, ideal for the production of hotel china. Prior to the discovery, Canadian potteries, which attempted hotel china had to import their clay from the United States at a prohibitive cost. Within months, Medalta had contracts with C.N.R., the C.P.R. and major hotels in the West for their hotel china. Over 300 hands were employed to meet production schedules.

World War Two intervened and for the duration of the War, Medalta and all other large potteries were placed by the Canadian Government into wartime production. Domestic production was kept to a minimum while Medalta supplied the armed services with green dishes, cups and saucers. With most of its skilled employees serving in the Canadian forces, Medalta kept the planet going by hiring German prisoners of war from the Medicine Hat internment camp.

During the Forties, the Company installed two tunnel kilns, worth about a quarter of a million dollars each, for the large-scale production of hotel china. Almost without competition, Medalta shipped hotel china to both railroads and to hotels, restaurants and institutions from coast to coast. As a side venture, the Company built an insulator plant in 1947 just across the tracks from the main plant. Medalta equipped the plant, staffed it and later sold it.

At the height of its hotel china business, in the early Fifties, Medalta was taken over by a Montreal firm. The Eastern management had little feel for the pottery business and decided to convert the plant, at great expense, to the production of earthenware items for movie house giveaways. Television had just captured Canada and movie attendance dropped drastically. The company stayed in business for about a year and went bankrupt in 1954. Since then, a number of local attempts to reopen the pottery were made with little success. Medalta, as such, died in 1954.


Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0183
Designation File: DES 0190
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 29877
Website Link: www.medalta.org
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 190)
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