Heritage from a Can! The Legacy of Wellington Boulter
Canning in Prince Edward County
Canning factories were crucial to the late 19th and early 20th century economy in Prince Edward County, Ontario. Wellington Boulter opened the first canning factory here in 1882 and eventually 75 operated in the County until the last one closed in 1996.
In 1902 the County produced 1/3 of Canada’s canned fruits and vegetables. In 1941 County tomatoes represented 43% of the national total! The industry slowly declined after the 1950s with the introduction of conglomerate owners and sophisticated farm equipment, which reduced the local workforce in what was once known as “The Garden County.”
A label from one of the many canning factories packing tomatoes and other produce in Prince Edward County during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An industry that was essentially sparked by Wellington Boulter’s ingenuity and vision.
Wellington Boulter was born in the late 1830s to George Boulter and Sarah Pack, in Demorestville, Ontario. In his childhood, he helped his parents and his 20 siblings on the family farm.
At 17, he moved to Warkworth to work for one year, and joined the Warkworth Loyal Orange Lodge. When he moved back to help his parents, he transferred to the Demorestville L.O.L, and served a variety of important roles in the Orange community, including Grand Lodge Officer of Ontario East.
Boulter was successful in insurance before canning. Becoming vice-president of the Prince Edward County Mutual Insurance Company, the General agent of the Mutual Life Association of Canada for Central Ontario, and valuator and agent for two of the wealthiest loan companies in Canada.
He had an interest in agriculture, and was secretary of the Sophiasburgh Agricultural society, and later the Prince Edward Agricultural Society, paving the way to his role in the canning industry.
An image of Boulter from one of his earlier canning labels.
An Introduction to Canning
George Dunning was the entrepreneur who introduced Boulter to the canning industry. After having visited the Philadelphia Food Exposition in the late 1870s and being impressed by the quality of the new canned goods, Dunning returned to Prince Edward County to find a business partner. The partner he found was Wellington Boulter, and after a few years of negotiation, they opened their first factory in 1882.
The original factory burned down three years later but within 10 days they were packing again in a temporary location, and within the season they had rebuilt and packed 25,000 cases of corn.
Dunning ran into financial troubles and in 1885, his properties were seized. Wellington bought all the properties, including the property of the factory for $30 at auction, and continued without his partner under Bay of Quinte Canning Factories. He ran this successfully with the help of his sons.
Correspondence on company letterhead from Wellington Boulter to the Township of Sophiasburgh
Wellington worked with his sons very closely over the following years and they were successful in their endeavours. They sent their first shipment of canned goods to B.C. in 1888 from the Picton train station, and opened a factory in Toronto in the 1890s. His sons managed the various plants throughout their existence, even after they were sold.
Wellington renamed the business W. Boulter and Sons. They established the “Lion Brand”, which became known worldwide. In 1895, they packed and sent the first solid train of all Canadian products from one firm shipped by C.P.R. out west. They introduced canned goods to Europe, Australia, South Africa, and China. The brand won a number of medals around the world, including the Columbian Medal at the Chicago World’s Fair, 1893, a Gold medal in Paris, 1900, the Glasgow medal, 1901, and the Pan American medal, 1901. All of these were listed on their labels to demonstrate their success.
Receipt from W. Boulter & Sons.
One of many varieties of the “Lion Brand” label; note the decal listing various achievements of the brand.
Early ephemera from the Toronto factory.
A New Era
In 1903, a number of canners met at the Waldorf Hotel in Hamilton and decided to form the Canadian Canners Consolidated Companies limited (later the Canadian Canners Limited, and Dominion Canners Limited), of which Wellington Boulter, age 65, was the first director, serving as such until 1906. In exchange for shares in the new company, Boulter sold his factories, though they remained managed by the family for many years. The factories were designated branch 15 of the CCL.
A number of changes occurred in the canning industry while the CCL was running. Around 1915, modern sanitary cans began to be introduced, replacing the old soldered hole-in-cap cans. Advancements in machinery and process, as well as increased demand for canned goods due to the Second World War led to 1941 being the most productive year in County canning. 1.5 million cases of tomatoes alone were shipped from the County that year. However, the success did not last and in 1956, plant 15 was sold to the California Packing Corporation, and was closed after processing that year’s crop.
The Dominion Canners Ltd of Hamilton seal, featured prominently on this Lion Brand label. Interestingly it lists the other fruits and vegetables available in this can size from Lion Brand as well.
Outside of canning, Wellington Boulter had a very strong presence in the community. In Picton, he served a number of years as a member of town council, and two terms as Mayor. He was chairman of the high school board and was Justice of the Peace for a time. He spent 40 years as a Sunday School Superintendent, and managed the Loyal True Blue and Orange Orphanage in Picton. He established the first Loyal Orange Lodge in Picton, the Boulter L.O.L. No. 488, which had at its peak 140 memberships. He and his sons organized a local boy’s hockey team called “The Little Man of Metal”. He travelled around the western world and always took note of international affairs.
In his later years, he wintered in Beverly Hills, where he died at age 90 in 1927. His body was brought back to the County, and is now buried beside his wife Nancy Helen Boulter, and their sons and daughters, in Glenwood Cemetery.
Boulter is the elder gentlemen seated in this photograph with some of his factory workers.
More than 2000 digital images related to the canning industry history of Prince Edward County will be available to researchers and visitors this season. This work was completed through a Museums and Technology Fund Grant in 2013.
The support of the Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, is acknowledged.