Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
April 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Dairying in Canada


[This article was published in 1948; for the full citation, see the end of the text.]

Dairying. This is one of the oldest established industries of Canada. As early as 1518, cattle were landed at Sable island, and Cartier brought some with him in 1541, but the first permanent introduction was when Champlain brought, in 1608, two cows into his colony and in 1626 established a dairy farm at St. Joachim, Cap Tourmente. Cattle were introduced into Acadia in 1632; and according to a census of 1671 there were 866 head on the farms of that district in that year. When Acadia was finally ceded to England in 1713, the emigrating Acadians took a large number of cattle with them to Isle St. Jean (Prince Edward Island). The United Empire Loyalists brought cows into Ontario in 1783-5. The Red river colonists obtained a herd from the United States in 1823, and from this source the Hudson's Bay Company distributed cows to the forts along the Saskatchewan river, down the Mackenzie as far as Fort Simpson, and into the northern parts of British Columbia. In 1829 the Eraser valley procured its first dairy animals. The French colonists had a good knowledge of butter and cheese-making, and each farm produced sufficient to supply its own needs. The United Empire Loyalists brought the art to the Eastern Townships and to the lake Ontario district. In 1801 there was a surplus of butter and cheese exported from Kingston. The imports, however, exceeded the exports until the beginning of the industrial stage with the establishing of the first cheese factory in Oxford county, in 1864. The first creamery for butter-making opened at Athelstan, Huntingdon county, in 1873.


Dairying for the most part is centred around the large cities, because of marketing facilities. It plays a small part in the average Canadian farmer's enterprise, but owing to the decline in grain prices and production in the past few years dairying has increased considerably in the Prairie provinces. In Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes a great stimulus was provided by the introduction of cheese and butter factories. Dairy factories are operated for the most part by individuals or partnerships. This is particularly true of Quebec. Ontario rather favours incorporated companies; and for that reason its factories are larger. Co-operative associations predominate in the Maritimes and the Western provinces. Owing to the difficulty of manufacturing cheese in the winter there has been a tendency in Quebec to form combined factories concentrating on butter in winter and both products in summer. This enables the plant to keep open the entire year.


The severe winters with the subsequent housing and the inadequate care given to the cows affect the milk supply and cause the seasonal variation in milk production. The Canadian government since 1890, with the appointment of a dairy commissioner, has endeavoured to foster efficient dairying. In 1906 the Dominion government formed cow-testing associations, in order to ascertain the butter-fat content of milk from individual cows. Dominion experimental farms are maintained for the purpose of experimenting and educating the farmers through bulletins published by them on care and feeding of stock.




The cheese industry is of major importance. Hundreds of factories were built in Ontario between 1864 and 1903. These were small in size and a short distance apart, in order to permit the patron to deliver fresh milk. The output of cheese in this period increased in proportion to the increase in number of factories. In 1903 the cheese export reached its maximum with 233,980,716 pounds. With the increase of urban population and a greater demand for whole milk, the production of butter and cheese has steadily declined, but an export surplus of cheese has been maintained. Ontario is the stronghold of the cheese industry in Canada. There are a few factories in Quebec and the Maritimes, but those which were started in the Prairie provinces failed owing to lack of support. There is no special variety of Canadian cheese. Cheddar predominates, since it is particularly adapted to the factory system and meets the demand of the United Kingdom, which is the. chief outlet. Processed cheese, made from ground cheddar and pasteurized to check fermentation, has been gaining in importance.




While dairy butter and farm-made cheese were predominant, the butter export trade was the more important. With the introduction of factory-made cheese, butter declined owing to the deterioration of the product in shipping. The first creameries established used the Swarz or shallow-pan system for separating the cream. In 1882 the centrifugal separator was imported from Denmark to Quebec, and most creameries adopted its use. It was one of the greatest improvements in dairy apparatus. With the advent of the hand cream-separator in 1890 it was no longer necessary to deliver whole milk to the factory, and thus was inaugurated the gathered-cream plant. This system now prevails all over Canada, except in Quebec. A third impetus to the manufacture of butter was given by the Dominion government in 1895 in the provision of refrigerator cars on the railways and refrigerated chambers in the Atlantic steamships. This insured the good quality of the butter upon arrival in United Kingdom markets, where previously it had suffered from a bad reputation. Butter export increased until in 1903 it reached the maximum of 34,128,944 pounds. Increase in consumption of whole milk caused a decline in butter production, and in 1913 the imports exceeded the exports by 13,000,000 pounds. During the Great War there was a surplus of exports over imports, but since 1925 there has been a considerable decrease in exports and increase in imports.


More than half of the total butter production of Canada occurs in Ontario and Quebec, and the factories in these two provinces are distributed all over the settled areas and are easily accessible to the patrons. The butter industry of the Maritime provinces is relatively unimportant, as only sufficient butter is produced to supply home consumption, and dairy butter predominates. The Prairie provinces have large centralized creameries, manufacture butter of a very high quality, and have a large surplus for export. The creameries in British Columbia are small in size, due to the difficulties of transportation and the scarcity of the milk supply. They are, however, well distributed throughout the dairy districts.


Other Dairy Products.


With the increase of urban population the sale and consumption of fresh milk and cream has steadily increased until it constitutes more than half the total value of dairy products in Canada. The dairy farms for this purpose are situated near the cities and, as in the case of the Fraser Valley farms, concentrate on the fresh milk market. After 1910, until the war period, and between 1920 and 1927, there was a considerable export of fresh milk and cream to the United States from the counties along the St. Lawrence in Ontario and the Eastern Townships of Quebec. This was curtailed by the high tax imposed by the American government to protect its agriculturists.


The first condensery was built at Truro, Nova Scotia, in 1871. The majority of plants are in Ontario, Quebec, and the prairie provinces have no concentrated milk plants, with the exception of one in Saskatchewan. The price paid to the patron by these plants is better than that offered by the butter-and-cheese factories, and they afford him the opportunity of selling to the best market.


See H. H. Dean, Canadian dairying (Toronto, 1903); J. C. Chapais, The past, the present, and the future of the dairy industry in the province of Quebec (Quebec, 1909) ; An historical and descriptive account of the dairying industry of Canada (Ottawa, Dept. of Agriculture, Dairy and Cold Storage Commissioners Branch, bulletin No. 28,1911); Economic analysis of cheese factory operations in Canada (Ottawa, Dept. of Agriculture, 1933) ; and W. A. Wilson, The Canadian dairy industry (Journal of the Can. Bankers' Association, 1924).

Source : W. Stewart Wallace, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 171-173.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College