So on my way from the brand spanking new waterfront campus of George Brown college to Toronto Island Ferry dock, my planned day was self-sabotaged when as I passed by the enormous lakeside landmark that is “The Redpath Sugar Factory”, I glanced back and spotted a 70’s style blue sign “Redpath Museum”.
It was a gorgeous near-winters day; bramlea- apple crisp with a searing Lake Ontario wind and slanting dappled shards of a low angled sun piercing the mass of lakefront highrise condos. That’s the prose part over with!!
For a nano second I struggled with the luxury of choice…….
The factory is off my beaten track and there is no time like the present I reasoned so in I went…….
Waiting in the tiny workaday reception space, the Security guard calls the Museum “curator” – Richard Feltoe -who is just finishing off a college student tour/session.
He is busy; just on his way to take a photo of the CEO before going off to have his performance review.
I can’t come back to tag along on his 1pm tour and he can’t let me wander the exhibition alone. I tell him I’ll come back another day but he very graciously agrees to let me in to have a peek in the museum and gather blog info.
Although a smallish exhibition I start writing at the first exhibit. 10 minutes later I am still in the same spot scribbling away so Richard with enormous skill and diplomacy suggests I might be here all day if I was going to attempt to write stuff down. I told him I needed to capture a sense of what the museum was about at which point he leapt into “part” and gave me some extracts from his school tours complete with role playing/stories and anecdotes.
This museum has so much value on a variety of levels; whether you want to know about the history of sugar; industrialization of Upper Canada; business processes or pioneering history (John Redpath was without doubt an early industrial pioneer), it’s all here, captured in nice bite-sized segments amid the burgundy colored wall maze.
Potted Refinery history – and this is just the bare bones – rags to riches stories: social climbing; a man that became a fundamental cornerstone of Montreal’s industrialization, complicated inter-relationships – you’ll have to go visit to find out the twists and turns that are responsible for the current manifestation of Redpath Sugar.
John Redpath originally started in 1854 with just one factory in Montreal but towards the end of the 19th century ships had grown in size and the canal system and docks at the factory were no longer adequate. For 60 years sugar freighters docked well outside the canal and the sugar had to be decanted into shuttle coasters – each cargo needed 2 shuttles to unload which of course impacted cost.
Unable to compete with the giant low-cost producers in the United States, for the three years between 1876 and 1878 the company ceased operations. Following the tariff protections implemented under the National Policy by the government of Sir John A. Macdonald; the company reopened in 1879.
In 1930, the company merged with Canada Sugar Refining Company Limited of Chatham, Ontario.
In 1959, Redpath Industries Ltd. was acquired by the British company Tate & Lyle plc.
In the late 1950’s a second – and now only -Redpath Sugar Refinery was built on the Toronto waterfront to coincide with the completion of the Saint Lawrence Seaway.
In the 17th century the wealthy and ostentatious showed off their enormous wealth through the use of sugar sculptures and decor called “Subtleties” – which were anything but “subtle” they screamed ” look how rich I am – I can afford to waste a precious commodity like sugar.
By the mid 18 century the cost of importing sugar and the subsequent production and refining processes had become so much less costly that sugar became a staple of the very poor, in that sugared tea or water was the only beverage they could afford to drink (coffee, tea and chocolate were beyond reach)
The process of refining remained same for 600 yrs until industrial revolution revolutionized the process.
Sugar used to be produced as “cones” from which lumps of sugar had to be chiseled off using special tools (hence the term sugar lumps)
Ground down lumps put in small shakers (casters) was always lumpy; only the very fine grains would pass through the punched holes of the lid – hence very fine sugar being called “Castor sugar”
Really this museum would be interesting in itself but with the effervescent enthusiastic and delightful Richard Feltoe, it becomes not just a visit but an experience. Make sure you phone in advance and book one of his group tours – even better tag on the end of a kids’ tour and watch history come alive before your eyes.
No surprise then to learn that Richard is a member of a living history group that goes around all the historic forts re- enacting battles from the 1812 war.
Sort of figures really!
Look out for Richard’s series of historic books on Upper Canada battles
Over and Out