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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Feature Article

THE CANADA PACKERS CHIMNEY STACK

Written By: Lawrence Herzog
Published By: Real Estate Weekly
Article © Copyright Lawrence Herzog
2005-02-10

The Canada Packers Chimney Stack

The brick chimney stack just off Fort Road north of the Yellowhead Trail towers more than 30 metres (100-feet) above a barren field, a sentinel reminder of what was once one of the countrys most sophisticated packing plant buildings. The Canada Packers plant rose up in 1936, right from the depths of the Great Depression, and provided much needed employment for hundreds of citizens desperate for a job.

When the plant came down piece by piece in 1995, it brought to an end a nearly 60-year story that was part of the prosperity and development of Edmonton. The stack, considered the largest brick chimney in western Canada, was saved from the wrecking ball by Edmonton architect Gene Dub, who owned the property at the time.

The plant, situated between the Canadian National Railway tracks and Fort Road, joined a cluster of packing plants in the immediate vicinity, including those run by Swift Canadian and Burns Meats. The plants gave the area its informal name Packingtown. The sheer size of the facility made a huge impact on the city and its workforce.

Eric R. Arthur, head of architecture at the University of Toronto, and another architect named A.P.C. Adamson, designed the plant under the direction of Canada Packers. Facilities in the United States, Great Britain and Denmark were studied and equipment manufacturers provided their input to ensure that the design was state-of-the-art.

Construction on the $1 million plant in what was then called North Edmonton began March 16th, 1936, with a sod turning ceremony attended by Mayor Joseph Clarke. The city was so overjoyed by its construction that it granted Canada Packers a five-year fixed assessment based on the cost of the facility.

The contract for construction went to Bird Construction and, in the summer of 1936, the project employed nearly 400 tradesmen in three dozen trades. For many of the tradesmen, it was their first real paying job in several years.

European influences were evident in the exterior, which made extensive use of the International Modernist style, which the New Zealand-born Arthur championed to more than a generation of his students. Architectural journals of the day described the design as a balanced asymmetry, composed of abstract cubes constructed with a reinforced concrete frame clad with bricks.

Unlike European industrial designs that most frequently used horizontal layouts connected with moving belts or trucks, Arthur and Adamson followed the American practice of moving production vertically with minimal horizontal motion. Carcasses moved from the killing floor to the third floor and then back down as finished product. Gravity chutes and short horizontal moving chains reduced handling and speeded processing of perishable product.

The facility included a power plant and a refrigeration plant, which a capacity to produce 50 tons of ice a day. The chimney stack was fed from three Babcock & Wilcox natural gas fired boilers that generated steam for sterilizing and scalding, as well as heat. Electricity came from the Edmonton Power grid.

Even the Spanish Civil War didnt stop a shipment of Spanish cork from getting through; 13 carloads of it arrived in time to insulate the coolers and freezers. Each cooler was clad with a four-inch thick layer of rock on the walls and ceiling while the freezers received six inch layers.

In addition to the main abattoir and packing operations, the plant contained a chemical laboratory for safety and quality testing, facilities for pickling and smoking meat, hide curing cellars, edible and inedible fat rendering and a vegetable oil refining plant. It may well have been western Canada"s first vegetable oil refinery where cottonseed, peanut, palm, coconut, sesame and corn oils were delivered in 60,000 pound rail tank cars and refined for sale.

The finished building was massive. It contained 1.1 million bricks, 600,000 board feet of lumber, 220,000 sections of tile, 14,000 tons of concrete, 22,000 feet of pipe and 50 miles of electrical wire in 12 miles of conduit.

Arthur and Adamsons industrial design was so notable that in 1936 it was awarded a gold medal of merit from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) and the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA).

The plant commenced production in September and was officially opened November 4th, 1936 by Premier William Aberhart and Mayor Joseph Clarke, among other dignitaries. Initially it employed more than 300 workers. During its peak production years, which were to come from the 1950s through the early 1970s, more than 1,000 men and women worked at the plant every day.

Now just the chimney stack remains and, thanks to the efforts of Gene Dub and Deanna Fuhlendorf, executive director of the Fort Road Business Association, it has been added to the A list of the citys Register of Historic Resources. That means that any move to demolish or alter the structure must first be approved by city council.

Fuhlendorf wants to establish an interpretive centre around the stack that would tell the story of the plant and the Edmonton Public Stockyards. She is now in the process of forming a historical foundation that will spearhead the initiative.

If you'd like to offer your thoughts, please drop me an email at lawrenceherzog@hotmail.com. For information on reprints of previously published articles, check out my website at www.lawrenceherzog.com


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