Blyth Salt Wells
Blyth salt was a prize winner
Salt is such a visible part of Goderich’s industry today that many people don’t realize Blyth once had its own salt industry. In fact Blyth’s salt was a prize-winner.
The same salt deposit that feeds Goderich’s salt mine and evaporator plant, also reaches far inland and Blyth as well as Clinton, Seaforth and Wingham had salt operations in the 1800s. Blyth’s salt wells and evaporator were situated on eight acres in the east end on the Dinsley Street property now occupied by the G. L. Hubbard rutabaga plant.
In February of 1875 a meeting was held at Shane’s Hotel, according to The Clinton New Era, to organize a company to sink a salt well. A company was formed and stock sold but the well wasn’t drilled at that time.
In January 1879 The Huron Expositor reported a meeting was held at the Temperance Hall to consider whether to give a $3,000 bonus for Gray, Young and Sparling of Seaforth to start a salt works in Blyth. It was unanimously agreed to submit a bylaw to sell debentures to raise the money. Three acres of the farm of James Logan, just east of the London, Huron and Bruce railway station were purchased for a cost of $100 per acre. Later the parcel was expanded to eight acres after a second well was sunk.
William Gray later described striking a 90-foot bed of salt at a depth of 1,190 feet.
The New Era of July 10, 1879 exalted that “The salt bed has proved the richest yet struck in Canada, being 90 feet pure salt. The deposit is free of extraneous matter, the overlying limestone, which is the only objectionable feature in Canadian salt, being altogether absent at this well.”
Hot water was pumped down the wells to dissolve the rock salt which was pumped back to the surface and evaporated in large pans, somewhat like maple syrup is made. Gray said there were two evaporator pans at the Blyth plant. The inexpensive firewood available because local farmers were still clearling land made the process affordable. In one winter alone local farmers drew 6,000 cords of wood to the salt works.
About 20 men worked at the plant regularly, increasing to 30 when both salt blocks were in full operation. Workers received about 90 cents a day with the foreman getting $1.10.
In 1888 The New Era reported the output of the plant averaged about five carloads of barrels of salt per day.
Because the salt was shipped in barrels, Gray, Young and Sparling also built a saw mill and stave factory in 1881 and generally employed around five coopers to make barrels.
In August 1891 The Huron Expositor reported salt from the Blyth salt works had received the gold medal at the recent Jamaica Exhibition as superior in fineness and quality.
Quality wasn’t always enough to help the company succeed. The primitive equipment often broke down and the high demand for labour sometimes meant there weren’t enough workers available to operate the two salt blocks at full capacity. Farmers in the summer of 1882 were, according to The New Era, offering $2 to $2.50 a day for good hands.
In 1890 the company couldn’t get enough railway cars to fill their orders. When they ran out of space to store salt they had to close down the plant.
With every town and village having a salt works, over production soon depressed prices while at the same time the end to land clearing meant there wasn’t a surplus of cheap wood for the evaporators.
At some time in the 1890s the operation halted. In 1903 The Expositor reported that high winds had blown down the remains of the salt derrick. In 1912, the Blyth Flax Company bought the land on which the salt works had sat and tore down the remaining buildings, using the lumber to build the new flax processing plant.