In last week’s posting of items from the Community Waterfront Heritage’s Centre’s collection, nothing was shown that represented Industry, one of the three areas of focus of the Centre.
This photograph is part of the archival collection. These two women are shown with a machine that made a product in an Owen Sound factory. This product could be found in stores outside of Canada. What were they making and what was the company name? Did you or did anyone in your family work at this industry?
This black and white photo depicts two women at the toothpick machine, Keenan’s, Owen Sound. The women are identified as Darlene Brown and Jo Forbes. Mrs. Forbes was awarded a gold pin for 50 years service.
This shows one of the toothpick boxes that is in the collection.
Keenan Woodenware Co. Ltd. / Keenan Bros. Ltd. / Keenan Industries Ltd. were names the Company was known by. It was an important industry in Owen Sound for one hundred years (1896-1996) and was located on the east side of the harbour.
The August 1, 1929 issue of The Financial Post featured Owen Sound industries. “Keenan Industries Varied Products Wide Distribution” provided information about the company. Keenan Industries was the sole manufacturer of toothpicks in Canada.
The parent company was Keenan Brothers Ltd., all privately held in the family circle. … Everything manufactured is produced cheaper through the close alliance of tugs, barges, sawmills and factories and one set of owners who are content with one profit from the allied industries. 
The company’s large ad on the front page of the second section “From Stump to Finished Article” highlighted the diversification of the company.
Grey Roots Archives provides some history of Keenan Woodenware Co. Ltd. / Keenan Bros. Ltd. / Keenan Industries Ltd. and shows some related items in their collection.
Three brothers, John, Robert and William Harrison, established mills in Owen Sound. Robert had a grist (flour) mill; William ran a carding (woollen) mill and John had a saw mill.
John’s first saw mill was located along the Sydenham River near the other two mills but after it was flooded out, he relocated it to a location on the Pottawatomi River. John Harrison died in 7 February 1902 but the business continued under the name John Harrison and Sons. An advertisement in Owen Sound on the Georgian Bay Canada (1911) said the company manufactured: pine, hardwood and hemlock timbers, lumber, sash doors, flooring, siding, etc.” This booklet also includes ten photographs of the different stages of the lumber industry.
In an article in the Daily Sun Times of 8 January 1938, E. J. Harrison, President of the company was interviewed. John Harrison and Sons was a year round business. The company had a winter camp at Fitzwilliam Island.
Business had improved in 1937. A housing shortage resulted in the need for lumber due to the renovation of many of the big houses being renovated and made into apartments. The company also provided lumber for the building of Strathcona School, new private residences and the docks on the west side of the harbour near the elevator.
The Company had a tug, the Harrison and a barge for towing and transporting raw material down from the north shore of Lake Huron.
Although this thriving business no longer exists, the family name lives on in the community.
Be sure to visit the 2017 featured exhibit to learn about other Owen Sound industries that played an important part in the life of the people of Owen Sound and area.
The special exhibit “Made In Owen Sound” will be in the galleries of the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre from May 20th to October 8th from 10 to 4 daily.
The Beginnings of Industry
Early industries in the village of Sydenham tended to reflect settlers’ needs. The first industry may have been shipping, with the arrival of W.C. Boyd in 1841 aboard his schooner Fly. After setting up a store at 8th Street and 3rd Avenue East, he immediately began importing flour, sugar, butter and other staples.
By the mid 1840s, lumber and furs were the primary exports from the region, but it wasn’t long before tanneries, brickyards and mills began popping up in and around the bustling village. In 1858, George Corbet started the Grey Foundry. That same year, a Scottish immigrant, William Kennedy – who came to Owen Sound to install machinery at the Harrison Mill – liked what he saw and opened a planing mill, sash and wood door factory. By 1864, he had discontinued woodworking altogether, focusing instead on steel at the Sydenham Foundry (which later became Kennedy and Sons).
An 1866 guide to local industry listed 20 businesses:
Harrison’s Flour Mill
Harrison’s Saw Mill
Harrison’s Carding and Fulling Mill
Chatwin’s Cabinet Factory
Riddell and Secord Brewery
Rossiter’s Fanning Mill
Lenfesty’s Pearlash Factory
Owen Sound Iron Works
Sloane’s Melodeon Factory
Frost Potash Works
Spencer’s Cabinet Factory
Dowsley Carriage Works
Miller’s Carriage Factory
Arrival of Train Service
The arrival of the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway in 1873 did much to increase the scope of local industries: for the first time the lucrative markets to the south were accessible. Ten years later, the CPR took possession of the rail line and determined Owen Sound would be the terminus for its Great Lakes fleet. That’s when things really took off and products manufactured in Owen Sound began shipping world wide.
The above text is from panel two.
Check out the artefacts highlighting industry in Owen Sound.