The history of some of Central Alberta’s creameries

The dairy industry of western Canada had its humble beginnings in the farm kitchens of homesteaders.

HOWARD FREDEEN

The dairy industry of western Canada had its humble beginnings in the farm kitchens of homesteaders.

Milk would be set out overnight in wide-mouthed containers, the cream skimmed off in the morning and stored in a suitably cool location to minimize souring pending collection of a quantity sufficient to justify churning.

This operation involved beating or agitating the cream until the fat globules had coalesced into butter. After kneading to incorporate salt and expel any remaining buttermilk the salted product might be ‘printed’ (using a wooden butter press to shape a rectangular ‘loaf’ of specific dimensions) or placed in a glazed crock pending home use or delivery to a town merchant who accepted barter in lieu of cash.

For farmers this was the era of a cashless society and the product of the churn was traded at local stores for staples like salt and sugar.

General stores were careful to evaluate the quality of all butter they accepted in barter. Of particular concern was rancid butter or butter from cream tainted by the food consumed by the cow. French weed, also known by the descriptive name of stinkweed, and wormseed mustard produced particularly villainous flavours.

Both were potential hazards in early summer when cattle had their first opportunity to exchange their winter rations of dry hay for lush green pastures. Jack Lundie recalled helping his father evaluate the butter brought in for barter at Urquhart’s General Store in Lacombe. The process involved coring the product to the bottom of the container to provide a sample of each layer deposited therein. The odour or taste of each layer determined product value. He became quite skilled in classifying off-flavours.

Several local creameries were initiated by the territorial government prior to 1905. Once they took root they took over the manufacturing process and the primary farm product became cream delivered directly to the creamery.

Many floundered but one that survived was the creamery located in Lacombe. It had travelled a rocky road with several ownership changes until taken over in 1919 by the Morkebord Creamery Co. of Markerville, Alberta.

After 1935 it operated under the name ‘Independent Creamery’ with Wes Jackson, and later his son Bill, at the helm. This creamery, located directly across Barnett Ave. (Hwy. 12) closed its doors when Bill Jackson retired in 2007.

The Jackson Creamery has local historic significance but it was the Alix Creamery founded in 1916 that would prove to have enduring historic relevance for the entire province.

Alix at that time was in the Municipal District of Lamerton and it was in this fledgling community that the dairy industry of the entire province truly took root and prospered.

At its center was the Meadow Creamery Co. Ltd. co-founded in 1916 by three Danish immigrants. One of the founders, Niels Larson, a butter maker, took the helm as manager. His chief competitor for the cream was the Burns Company of Calgary.

Larson was an ardent advocate of cooperation and when the UFA began to promote the concept of producer pools he urged the cream shippers to get on board. His message to producers was: “If you don’t hang together you’ll hang separately.”

And hang together they did, forming dairy pools throughout Central Alberta – and beyond – and shipping their cream to the Meadow Creamery in Alix.

In 1924, Alberta exported 4,000,000 lbs. of butter and the pools in this region organized as The Central Alberta Dairy Producers’ Association (CADPA).

Under this banner they negotiated control of the Meadow Creamery, engaged Niels Larson as manager and printed their first butter. Clive was the postal address of its first president with Clive and Mirror the home villages of two of its six directors.

By 1928 the Pool, with 1,500 members, was the largest in the province. One year later the CADPA purchased the Alix plant and renamed it The Central Alberta Dairy Pool (CADP), the name by which it would be known for the next eight decades.

Through all the years of its existence, the butter making a ‘butter printing’) operation for the entire CADP network had been conducted at the location of its birth – the Meadow Creamery in Alix. It had earned the title of ‘Old Faithful, the Mother Plant.’ It was the major industry of Central Alberta. And it was rural!

But on Feb. 16, 1976 the Mother Plant was destroyed by fire, a blaze fueled by 480,000 lbs. of butter then in storage awaiting shipment. Butter making was transferred to the Red Deer Condensery plant built in 1936. Conversion of that plant to butter manufacturing was completed within a week and the condensery operation was transferred to the evaporated milk plant in Wetaskiwin, newly acquired from the Carnation Company,

The CDAP vanished from view in 1992 when it amalgamated with two other cooperatives, the Northern Alberta Dairy Pool Ltd. and the Fraser Valley Milk Producer’s Co-operative, to become Agrifoods International Co-operative Association Ltd.

Its trade name was Dairyworld Foods and its dairy products were merchandized under the name Dairyland. In 2001, Agrifoods International sold its dairy processing and its dairy product brand Dairyland to the Quebec-based firm Saputo.