82 Years of the Community Dairy of Kapuskasing
Curator – Ron Morel Memorial Museum
I’ve been asked to write a story about a venerable Kapuskasing institution, the Community Dairy of Kapuskasing, because they recently closed their doors for good.
I reached out to John Anderson, long-time Dairy employee (1948 to 1996 – 48 years!), and to the Kapsters for their stories and memories about the Dairy.
John Anderson said that the Dairy was started and owned by a group of men working at the Spruce Falls Power & Paper Co., and other places in town.
Apparently, there used to be an abundance of milk during the summer and a shortage during winter; cows produce more during summer months. Milk was therefore less expensive during the summer, costlier in winter. If someone could afford it, they would buy milk “tickets” (vouchers) for the year and enjoy better prices on milk year-round.
This consortium wanted to make sure everyone could afford milk, no matter what time of year. That’s how the Community Dairy of Kapuskasing started; the company was founded on February 3, 1935.
Any farmer who wanted to sell milk to the Dairy had to purchase preferred stock and become a shareholder; there may have been half a dozen farmers who joined in. My understanding of this preferred stock option meant that farmers sold their milk to the Dairy, earned revenue, and got yearly interest on their stock. Bonus!
But farmer-shareholders had to bring their milk in to the Dairy by 10:00 a.m. for processing; if they were late, they had to bring their milk back home. Because of a lack of proper refrigeration, milk couldn’t be held for long, so milk was processed and delivered daily, including Christmas Day!
The Dairy’s first location and processing plant was at 13 O’Brien Avenue; in 1944, they needed more space so they built a plant on Riverside Drive. In this new facility, they had three pasteurizing vats, sized 120, 100, and 80-gallon capacities; all three were in use each day. Although built to process 1500 quarts daily, the Dairy was processing nearly 6000 quarts daily!
These vats were similar in construction to thermos bottles: the milk is in the centre, there’s an outside jacket in which steam is circulated to heat the milk to 143ºF, keeping it at that temperature for half an hour, and then cool water was circulated to chill the milk, killing any bacteria in it.
All dairies had to have a licensed milk pasteurizer on staff: Stewart Urquhart and Arthur Courchesne were licensed. Furthering his career with the Dairy, John went to Dairy School in 1957, paid for by the Dairy, to earn his license. During this three-month course, John learned to make cheese, butter and market milk. He could have learned to make ice cream, but that would have meant an extra month of schooling and the Dairy wanted him back at work! We all suffer for that decision: no Community Dairy ice cream! But he did learn to make cottage cheese, and that was a big seller for a long while.
I asked John about milk quality, then versus now, and surprisingly, he said that milk was of poorer quality back then! The reason was because the heating and cooling process took such a long time.
People who knew milk delivery in glass bottles always share the story about the cream rising to the top, and sneaky cats who licked it off, but that’s part of the reason why John says the milk quality was poorer. Apparently, you had to shake the milk bottle to keep the milk consistency consistent; if you didn’t, the first pour would be cream while the last drops would be thinner than skim! Imagine the difficulty of following a recipe when the milk was too fat/not fat enough.
Once the Dairy bought a milk homogenizing machine in the 1950s, milk quality improved. This machine broke up the fat globules so they couldn’t float to the top, they’d stay suspended within the milk. Poor kitties couldn’t lick the cream from the top of the milk bottles anymore!
In the late 1960s-early 1970s, the Dairy bought a High Temp/Short Time machine (known as the HTST) which allowed, as the name implies, for milk to be processed at a high temperature, in a short amount of time; milk processed today would be on the shelves the same or the next day. They were also able to control the fat content, making 3.25%, 2% and skim milk for changing consumer tastes.
I was fascinated to learn about milk production, but people like to hear the romantic stories of milk delivery, so, in the early days, a horse-pulled wagon delivered Community Dairy products around town on a daily basis, but within the limits of Gough’s Creek and the bridge by the mill.
Michael Wade tells this story of kids playing a trick on the horse-pulled Dairy wagon: “we’d click our cheeks and say "git" behind the horse; the horse thought it was the dairy man telling him to move on, so he did! Then we’d hear the dairy man yell "Whoa" and threaten us for playing tricks on his horse!”
The Dairy got their first milk-delivery truck in 1949, so the route eventually included Val Albert and Brunetville. There was even a time when the milkman would bring your milk into the house and put it in your fridge if you weren’t home! Talk about service! And trust!
John Anderson mentioned that getting the contracts to supply milk products to the American Air Base at Lowther and to the Hydro dams of Little Long, Harmon and Kipling, helped ensure the success of the Community Dairy.
But in the late 1990s, changes in distribution meant that producers in southern Ontario could sell milk across the province: according to John, this was the beginning of the end for the Community Dairy. They reduced staff, cut down/eliminated door-to-door delivery, but it wasn’t enough. On November 24th, 2017, The Community Dairy of Kapuskasing was no more.