Brick making in Blyth
Blyth's brick and tile yards
Every now and then, says David Sparling, a piece of Blyth’s history surfaces in the pond on the Sparling Propane property south of the village.
Two ponds, Sparling’s and one near the Station House Bed and Breakfast at the east end of Dinsley Street are the only reminders of what was once a thriving industry in Blyth.
Both ponds are as a result of excavations to mine the clay which was used in the creation of brick and drainage tile.
The pond on the farm of Dr. Ken Jackson, off Dinsley St. in the east end of the village was the first of the businesses to go into operation, being opened by William Moutray in April of 1887. The clay excavated from the pond there provided the kind of “yellow” brick that has become so identified with houses in this part of Ontario.
The business was reported to be a booming success with carloads of yellow brick being shipped from the nearby London, Huron and Bruce railway station. According to Blyth: A Village Portrait, many of the yellow brick houses in Goderich were built with brick from Blyth.
The Blyth correspondent to The Clinton News-Record on May 11, 1892 reported: “Mr. W. Moutray, proprietor of our brickyard has a large staff of men this season. He finds such a ready sale of his make of brick that it is almost an impossibility for him to supply the demand.”
In 1896 John Wilford and Adam Wettlaufer purchased the brickyard and one of their first major contracts was to supply the brick for the new Blyth public school.
Wettlaufer appears to have run the brickyard himself for the last few years before his death in 1908. The brickyard was rented by James Heffron for a year but apparently the business was unsuccessful and the yard closed for good in 1909.
Brick and tilemaking was a seasonal business but in the winter the ponds provided both a skating rink for local entertainment and a source of ice for summer use to cool food.
The area south of Blyth looked much different than today back in 1896 when Jim Logan decided that the clay on his farm could be used to manufacturing clay and brick. What is now County Rd. 4 did not exist, with the highway following what is now Cemetery Line, west of the village. Only a narrow trail west of what is now the Grand View Restaurant, reached the excavation point for the brickyard.
Logan went into partnership with Charles Fraser to create Logan and Fraser Tile and Brick.
In the days when muscles, both of men and horses, provided power, tile making was a laborious task. First the clay was dug out with scrapers on a drag line pulled by horses.
Viola Fraser, daughter of Charles Fraser, when interviewed by Mrs. Wm. Morritt years later, recalled that the men had to go into the pond wearing a harness that could be used to pull them out if they became mired in the quicksand that was a constant hazard of working at the yard.
After the clay was excavated it was put in a hopper to be ground. Next it was moulded into tile in long strips and cut to the desired length using wire. The “green”, unbaked tile was them stored in open sheds to dry before putting in the kilns.
Viola Fraser recalled it took an experienced person to fire the kiln using tamarack wood. If the process wasn’t done just right, the tiles had to be scrapped.
The kiln operation could be hazardous. In 1901 a kiln fire spread to the nearby shed and most of the buildings were lost. Undaunted, Logan and Fraser worked to rebuild the operation over the next winter.
The tile yard made three-, five- and six-inch diameter tile which was sold to farmers. James Logan’s brother William hauled the tile and worked with Eddie Rouse, who had an ditching machine, to install it.
The operation flourished for several years, employing 10 men in the summer. By 1913 business declined enough that the business closed.