Ron Anderson said the sights and smells of the Villa Nova Milk Factory are still vivid in his memory more than 75 years after he walked past it each day on his way to school.
The Brantford historian, who grew up on a family farm on the edge of Villa Nova, wants to capture and preserve the story of the once bustling factory, started as a cheese factory by W.R. Shearer in 1872.
Anderson is working with the Waterford Heritage and Agricultural Museum to gather information from the public about the milk factory for a future exhibit at the museum and an historical interpretive plaque at the factory site.
Turned into a creamery by W.W. Smith in 1912, the Villa Nova Milk Factory was sold to Borden’s Milk Inc. and, finally, to Ward Rice in 1932.
A mile north of the village, the factory was the centre of activity each morning as area farmers arrived with cans of fresh milk, said Anderson. In those days, he said, most rural residents were general farmers with a menagerie of chickens, pigs and a few dairy cattle they milked by hand.
After the milk cans were emptied, the contents were weighed and tested for butter fat content. The cans were sanitized on a steam-powered carousel and returned to the farmer.
“This parade would continue until all of the locals had made their delivery and then the large trucks would arrive, having picked up their loads from the milk routes, an area down to Lake Erie, east to Haldimand County and north into the south end of Brant County,” said Anderson.
“Many hundred patrons looked to the Villa Nova Creamery to market their milk.”
When Rice died in 1944, several farmers formed a co-operative and purchased the creamery.
Also manufactured at the factory was skim milk powder, which was sent to customers, such as Christies Bread and Dad’s Cookies in Toronto, as well as overseas. Later, the product was marketed as instant skim milk powder and sent to Carnations and Nestles.
During the war years, casein, a precursor of modern-day plastic, was made from milk protein and used to make buttons and the production of aircraft.
The enterprise flourished and each year improvements to the plant were made, eventually replacing the late-Victorian brick structure with a modern brick-faced cement block building in 1962 when the factory was able to process more than 50 million pounds of raw milk.
The creation by the Ontario government of the milk marketing board in the late 1960s forced the co-operative to become a company and led to its eventual demise. The shares were bought and the marketing rights sold to a large conglomerate near Kitchener.
“The Villa Nova Factory became history after a century of pride and service and, as some thought, a victim of corporate greed,” said Anderson.
Today, he said, there is little left of the once-thriving operation.
“A few remaining clues would be the spring house still visible at Kitchen’s Corners, just a half mile north of the site, a storage shed that escaped destruction and a well out in the field.”
James Christison, curator of the Waterford museum, said he hopes people will share stories, photos, copies of shares, meeting minutes, old ledgers and other artifacts related to the factory.
He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 519-426-5870.