Niagara-on-the-Lake Canning History
If you have an active interest in our history, you should make sure to attend next year’s Heritage Sale at the Museum on the August holiday weekend. Why? Well, you never know what you will find on offer as shown in a group of early cannery labels from the Union Jack Canning Co., an early cannery in our town.
The donor, local collector Chris Allen, reportedly found them many years ago as a child, in the attic of an old building that had become vacant. (Children do that sort of thing!).
In one part of the attic was a pile of old cannery labels with wonderful pictures of the contents with the quality of colour that one could find when printing was an art and a craft, and the advent of high-speed photocopiers was well into the future. The donor believes that the company went out of business in about 1915. Is that date reasonable?
We consulted a 1913 NOTL Telephone Directory that is one of the Museum’s resources. It showed that the Union Jack Canning Co. was on ‘Plantoff’ [I assume Platoff] and you could reach them by telephoning ‘107’. No Area code or anything else. Life was simple.
But by the 1930 Telephone Directory the company had disappeared and there was Dominion Canners and the Delhi Canning Company that were in town – but only as offices. That reflects the consolidation that was taking place as Dominion Canners absorbed many smaller regional canners to consolidate the manufacturing in a central location.
Chris Allen recalls,
The factory was actually in an old barn on Platoff Street …as young kids myself and two friends helped push cans down the shoots from upstairs in the barn and all the labels were stored up there, they shut down that summer, and I was able to help myself to take them...the barn was used as storage until it was torn down and the first town community centre was built on the site and is still there and owned by Vintage inns.
Chris provided a photo of the building taken over 50 years ago -
Chris further elaborated on the history of canning as he experienced it -
There was a few canning companies that operated out of that building...the labels were just left there from the early years…and never removed, nothing to do with the company that was there when I was a child…
The labels also attest to the range of produce grown in the area. The researcher learns from the illustrations that there were commercial quantities of cherries, pears, and golden wax beans being grown. In addition, the Museum has Union Jack Canning Co. labels for strawberries (in ‘heavy syrup’) and green beans. Notice how these dovetail well into the growing season so that the cannery always has something to pack.
It is highly unlikely that these were printed locally. Even a major regional printer such as the F. H. Leslie Company sent high-quality printing orders to Germany, which was at the apex of quality printing. And of course, the quantities would have to be large to justify the cost and the time to ship the order to Canada. In any sudden corporate takeover and name change, there would be a lot of orphan labels.
As well as being an insight into the Town’s history and the British jingoism of the pre-First War period, these labels are a beautiful addition to any collection of early packaging labels, brilliantly illustrating that art and history can merge.
With many thanks to Chris Allen for his help to fill out this story.