CLAYBANK BRICK PLANT
Howard was born to parents, Laura and Bill Duncan of Rouleau, Sask. in 1937. He attended school at Utopia and Rudolf and in 1949 the family moved to the Hearne district where Howard continued his education. Howard’s first job was as a farm labourer, but his real love was working with equipment. At the age of 15, Howard got a job with Ferguson’s Construction, operating a Caterpillar.
In December of 1955, Howard married Heather Cameron of Briercrest and they moved to Claybank in 1956 after Howard started work at the Brick Plant in February of that year.
As a new man at the Brick Plant, Howard started where all the new men started, shovelling coal and breaking bricks. The starting wage was $.95 an hour. Howard was lucky, because after three days his experience with running caterpillars paid off, he was asked to operate the TD6 and TD9 Cats at the Plant. After 30 days, Howard’s salary increased to $1.00 per hour.
In his spare time Howard set up a small garage in his yard at Claybank and did mechanical work there for his customers. The garage floor was quite an oddity – it was made of bricks, which Howard said were reasonably priced.
Howard’s mechanical jobs often took longer than they should, but his customers never seemed to mind, they felt right at home in his little garage at Claybank. Many a night the lights were on into the wee small hours of the morning.
In 1966, Howard decided to try his hand at farming, he left the Brick Plant and moved his family 2 miles south of Bayard and then in 1974 they moved to the Alfred Schick farm.
Ten years later in 1976, a job opened up at the Brick Plant and Howard was more than happy to go back, his Cat was waiting for him. In 1979 when one of the on-site residences at the Brick Plant became vacant Howard and Heather move their family in. This made getting to work a lot easier and he would often be called in to work overtime. Albert Reed was fussy about who ran the Cat, but he knew Howard was good at his job.
By 1983, things were slowing down at the Plant, so Howard started firing the kilns, operating the pay loader and any other job as required.
Meanwhile, Heather was busy! They had five children – David – 1956, Diane – 1958, Jim – 1962, Scott – 1964 and Laura – 1974.
One Fall, Howard and another employee purchased chickens from a local farmer. The weather was cold and the group wanted a warm place to scald and pluck those chickens. Howard was always thinking! What better place than the boiler room! After all it was warm, there was lots of hot water and the work could be done after hours. They managed to get the job half finished, when who should walk in but the boss, Dick Welch. His only comment was “now, I’ve seen everything!” and he walked out.
Howard worked at the Plant until it closed in 1989 – 23 years in total. He was the Fireman that shut down the last kiln. Howard said “the work was hard, but hard work never hurt anyone. If I had to do it all over again, the only thing I would change, would have been quitting in between and trying farming. I would have stayed at the Plant.”
After the Plant closed Howard and Heather bought a house in Hearne, where they still live today.
Howard took over a garage in Briercrest from his brother in law, Ross Cameron in 1990. He took it over for six months, but is still there today. His business is well known, not only in Briercrest but in the surrounding region. Howard and Heather are always at the shop and would be happy to offer you a cup of coffee, stop in sometime for a visit!
Jim was born in Moose Jaw, to Howard and Heather Duncan and lived in the hamlet of Claybank until he was seven years old. He took one year of schooling at the Claybank School then the family moved and he and his siblings were enrolled at Artesian School in Spring Valley. When Jim finished school he moved to Regina, got a job and tried city life. Alas, he missed his old hometown, so he returned and began working at the Brick Plant in August of 1977. He was there until it closed in 1989.
Jim began his career at the Plant working at the Brick Press with a starting wage of $5.30 an hour. It wasn’t long before he was moved to the transfer track. The “transfer man” job, which was a bit of a promotion, involved taking cart loads of pressed brick from the brick press area rolling them on to waiting dollies, which ran on a system of narrow gauge railway track throughout the Plant, and delivering them to the drying tunnels. The bricks were dried in these tunnels for about a week, using recycled heat, before the “setters” rolled them out and into the kilns for stacking in preparation for firing.
The transfer track job was more physically demanding but allowed more free time to visit and joke around with other employees!! Jim was one of a group of avid “Rummy players” which included Eric Neiswandt, Walter Harlos, Dick Clarke and Elmer Ziola. Every noon hour, they would get out the cards for a game or if the weather was nice and the mood struck them they sometimes would have a round of horseshoes with Claire Bowlby.
Jim married Gail Lowden in 1985 and they now live in Briercrest. They have five beautiful daughters and a grandson. Jim works at Kalium and also farms locally. He said he enjoyed his years at the Claybank Brick Plant – he has lots of stories about his “Plant days”but he won’t let us print them!!
He helps out the Historical Society, on their annual Heritage Day, by again turning out brick on the old AB Press, this machine pressed the first brick at Claybank in the early 1900’s and pressed the last in 1989. But with ex-employees like Jim around to help we are still able to turn out pressed brick at the annual Heritage Day event.
Fabian Kirby by Edith Carr
Dad was born in 1922. He worked on the dray with his brother Glen and at the dairy that his parents owned. He was employed at the Dominion Fire Brick and Pottery Company later commonly known as the Claybank Brick Plant from 1945 to 1952.
While employed at the Plant he worked in the Hand Mold shop, there he hand molded bricks using molds weighing from 4 to 80 pounds, filling them with clay and pounding them out on the bumping stand. He fondly remembered working with his two brothers Francis and Glen and others in the Hand Mold shop Bob Wolfe, Joe Nagel, Jim Holden, Gottfried and Walter Harlos. Sometimes rather than molding bricks he worked at mixing mud (clay) and wheeled it with a home-made wheelbarrow to the waiting molders. He married Margaret Russell in 1943 and they had four children, Gloria, Edith, Mike and Greg. After he quit the Plant he worked with the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and then in 1962 my parents moved to Calgary and my father worked at the Maple Leaf Mills. In 1967 he went to work for the grain inspection branch of the Federal Government. He retired to Milk River Alberta in 1987 and passed away in 1993. Our mother, Margaret, is in a nursing home in Gardston, Alberta.
Memories of a Blizzard by Ernie Nowatschka
The Historical Society received a letter from Ernie in 2001 and he included this wonderful story about a most interesting memory of his days at the Brick Plant.
It was one of those winters; we had a very bad blizzard, visibility was down to only about 20 feet and the wind howled for three days and nights. I was at work when the blizzard hit and could not get home nor expect anyone to come and relieve me in that 400 F below zero – life and death weather. Most firemen (the employees that fired and tended the kilns) lived miles from the Plant, on farms or in Avonlea. I was the only one living in Claybank and when I got to the Plant I couldn’t leave, the boiler and one kiln needed attention. I did have company, my dog Tippy, the dog was always with me, a German Shepard Collie mix. The blizzard went on and on and I was worried about my family, my wife had no idea if I was still alive, as we had no phone at our house. After 2= days Tippy and I were brought our first food. John Wostradowski who lived on the Site made the 300 yard trip to the Plant with a basket of food, although it may seem a short distance on a sunny day, during a Canadian blizzard it could mean your life. Tippy, of course got the first sandwich, one bite and it was gone. I was done in – out of energy, but we kept the fires going and after three days I was glad to see people again. Upon my departure in 1967, Mr. Welch conveyed his appreciation that I kept everything in good shape during the blizzard, it could have been costly for the company, with a kiln full of bricks ruined or frozen pipes. Having immigrated to Canada I have to say that compared to European weather that blizzard was the “real McCoy”.
Bunk House Visitor Centre
Opening in 2002!
Throughout the Fall and winter months, Bill Jardine and the restoration crew and several other companies have been working hard to make sure that the main floor of the Bunk House will be open for visitors this Spring.
All the work done will ensure that the investment in the “new” Visitor Centre will not be undone by weather or a future fire and that the facility is accessible to everyone.
The restoration crew replaced rotten beams and flooring, and built an interior perimeter wall to accommodate insulation. On the main floor – where the public will experience their first introduction to interpretation at the site, enjoy some refreshments, and buy souvenirs at the Gift Shop – special Diamond Board was applied to walls and ceilings. This was covered by plaster to restore the authentic “hand troweled” appearance that existed when the building was constructed in 1920. The new plaster has been painted, all wooden molding and doors refinished and reapplied, public washrooms and a new wider stairway to the basement constructed, new lighting and ceiling fans installed, and a kitchen area built.
Many of the furnishings and displays presently housed in the Goodman Cottage will be moved into the Bunk House Visitor Centre in May, as will some new displays and interpretive materials.
Dan Flegel plastering a wall in the future Gift Shop. (Photo credit: Frank Korvemaker, 2001N76-23a)
If all goes according to schedule, the main floor of the Bunk House will be fully open for visitor use on or before Heritage Day – June 30, 2002.
Every donation helps – You Can Help too! [wpedon id=”253″ align=”center”]
Restoration and rehabilitation of the second floor and basement, including the children’s programming area in the Bunk House will continue as funds become available. Your donation towards this work would be greatly appreciated, feel free to contact us.
(L-R): Ken Boan, Gord Jeffery, Dan Flegel and Bill Jardine painting the future Gift Shop area. (Photo credit: Sally Stenko, 2002N2-14)
Our Thanks to:
(in order of occurrence)
Thanks goes out to Terry & Fran Aikens and George Funke for their generous cash donations to the Society.
We would also like to thank the following people for their cash or in-kind donations throughout the year:
John Boan – P.C.A. Gographers –
Margurite Damaski – Madge Crawford – John Thiele – Terri Maier – Jack Grosnick – Wally Nelson – Frank Korvemaker – Andrea Zaremba. Thank you all for your kindness!
Thank you so much Con Dombowsky for the raffle donation of a 3 litre bottle of Crown Royal. The proceeds were used to enhance programming at the Site and the lucky winner was Tony Petruic of Avonlea.
We are very grateful to the children of the late Angelina Jaschinsky for their donations toward one of their mother’s favourite charities – the Claybank Brick Plant Historical Society. The Society board decided to use the donations to fulfil one of their long term goals – the purchase and repatriation of the 250 acres of wildlife lands adjacent to the Brick Plant, this tract of land contains the historic Clay Pits and will now become an even more integral part of programming at the Site. Thanks to John Adam, Agnes Fall, Hilda Maier, and Evelyn Chaput for their timely gifts.
Many thanks to Chris Gower and PCL Construction Management Inc. for an in-kind donation of concrete work needed for the rehabilitation of the Bunk House into a much needed Visitor Centre, in particular for the work done on the exterior barrier free ramp making the facility accessible to all visitors.
Programming is an important part of the presentation of the Claybank Brick Plant and the Society would like to say a very special thank you to Mrs. Jacqui and Dr. Morris Shumiatcher for the sponsorship commitment of the ‘Prairies Pies’ and the ‘Brick Making and Biscuit Baking’ children’s programs for 2002 and 2003. It is such generosity that makes all the difference in allowing us to offer new and interesting programming in order to make learning ‘fun’ for our youth.
The Society appreciates the in-kind donation of lighting fixtures for the main floor of the Bunk House Visitor Centre from PSW Architecture and Interior Design (Regina).
Return of the Fordson
The original Fordson tractor, used in the 1930’s and 1940’s to haul small coal cars full of clay from the Clay Pits into the Plant, has returned to the Site. Acquired years ago by Alex Howse and carefully restored to look like a farm tractor – quite different from the way it looks in the1940’s video of the Fordson in action. Alex donated the tractor back to the Site, where it will again be “restored”, this time to its 1940’s appearance.
View of the Fordson tractor before being moved into the Plant for display. (Photo credit: Sally Stenko, 2001N27-34)).
This is the second major repatriation of original Plant equipment – in 2000 Harbison-Walker Refractories Canada donated the X-Press back to the Plant. If you have any original Brick Plant artefacts, documents or equipment and would like to donate these or would like to make a donation of any kind, please contact Hilda Maier at (306) 868-4774. A tax receipt for the value of the donation will be issued upon request.
Salvaged Historic Bricks Reduce Restoration Costs
Over 23,000 historic Ruf-Tex bricks manufactured at Claybank in the late 1920’s, were salvaged during demolition of the Nurses’ Residence at the Regina General Hospital. Through the co-operation of the Saskatchewan Property Management Corporation, these important bricks were brought back to the Brick Plant, where they will be used in the summer of 2002 to restore the smoke stacks and exterior walls of the kilns. While brand new, modern bricks could be used, their appearance would conflict with the original historic brick.
Salvaging historic bricks not only helps this and other restoration projects throughout Saskatchewan, it also benefits the environment. Since construction debris accounts for one third of most landfill sites, reusing historic bricks significantly reduces the amount of building material sent to the community dump. If you could make a cash contribute toward the labour and restoration costs of masonry restoration at the Site please contact us.
Heritage Day 2002!!!
The annual Heritage Day event SUNDAY, JUNE 30th this year will include the opening of the Bunk House Visitor Centre and the dedication of the wildlife lands adjacent to the Plant. To supplement some of the most popular activities and demonstration of previous years we will be bringing in a few new attractions. Come out and see what’s new at the old Claybank Brick Plant!! $3 per person or $10 per household at the Gate.
‘Pricing the Priceless’
Last Fall and again this Winter we held antique appraisal fairs modelled after the popular TV series – The Antiques Road show. Participants register to have their family heirlooms and treasures appraised. Our registrants have shown up with some very interesting things, from a ‘cigar store Indian’ to a set of 1950’s martini shakers we were amazed at what people had in their closets or found under stairways in the old homes that they had purchased. One person bought in an 18th century wooden Chinese carving (a dust collector so she thought!) that turned out to be worth over $4000. A friend bought it for her in Hong Kong in the 1950’s for $50. You would be amazed at how sought after and valuable some collectables have become. The public attended and enjoyed learning more about what items were worth. The Pricing the Priceless fund-raiser was a two-day event last October, held in both Briercrest and Moose Jaw and in February of this year we held the Fair at centre court in the Town & Country Mall. Vern Reese was present to evaluate the items and provide a written appraisal. This event is an economical way to get things appraised for insurance purposes and all net funds raised go to programming at the Claybank Brick Plant Site. We would like to thank our sponsors: CHAB Country Radio, Machmer Trucking Spring Valley and Village Lincoln Ford.
Vern Reese explains to the public the details and value of an antique brought for assessment at the Town ‘n Country Mall, Moose Jaw. (Photo credit: Frank Korvemaker, 2002N19-22)
Claybank Brick Plant Historical Society
Claybank, SK, Canada S0H 0W0
Site Office (306) 868-4774
A Canadian National Historic Site
(c) Claybank Brick Plant
Historical Society 2006