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Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre​

33 Victoria Street North (in the town of Saugeen Shores)
Southampton, ON Canada N0H 2L0

Toll Free: 1-866-318-8889 | Phone: 519-797-2080 | Fax 519-797-2191

museum@brucecounty.on.ca

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Dominion Plywoods Ltd.

Home | Stories & Artefacts | Dominion Plywoods Ltd.

If you wish to use or purchase any of these images, please contact archives@brucecounty.on.ca

Over the years, the companies working from the former Dominion Plywoods Limited property in Southampton, Ontario, have demonstrated innovation and leadership in the plywood industry, struggling and working through challenging economic times, providing employment for residents of the Southampton area, and supporting the Second World War effort.

 

The Dominion Plywoods Ltd. factory in Southampton, Ontario was used in the wood processing business since 1906 when Solomon Knechtel first purchased lots 27, 28, and 29 East Albert St. (Highway 21, between Spence and Adelaide Streets) as iron and woodworking factories.  The business was known, by 1907, as Knechtel Bros. Ltd.  In the early years, the business exchanged hands and operated, with the support of the Town of Southampton through a debenture agreement, under various names including Toronto Veneer Company Limited (1919), Panels Limited (1921), and then Southampton Plywood Works Limited (1922) who began manufacturing wood panels.  Of interest, the factory manufactured the doors for the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.

Dominion Plywoods building
Dominion Plywoods, ca. 1960, by John (“Jack”) Richard Obright, BCM&CC A2013.035.013-002

The company filed for bankruptcy in 1933 and, after some legal exchange, the Town of Southampton obtained full title on the property and machinery, which it soon transferred to the new company known as Southampton Plywoods Limited, subject to an agreement which included a payment plan and an undertaking to employ at least a daily average of 25 people within three months.

 

In April 1940, Cyril D. Henderson operating Dominion Plywoods Co. (known as Dominion Plywoods Ltd. as of May 1940), purchased the property and business assets from Southampton Plywoods Ltd., and carried on business under this new name.

 

During the Second World War, the company played an important role in supporting the Allied Efforts in Europe. As the production of military equipment consumed most of the available metal, the development of the Anson bomber and Tiger Moth fighter trainer planes was introduced, using plywood components. The company had extensive experience in the production of wood panels and plywood components and began producing these components.  When the Mosquito Bomber, a true plywood fighter aircraft, was developed, they began providing the doors, window frames, molded items, and plywood components for this aircraft.  Due to its lighter weight, the Mosquito was capable of speeds up to 400 mph, while other fighters were only able to attempt speeds of 300 mph.  These three aircrafts were assembled at the de Havilland factory in Downsview, Ontario, with Dominion Plywoods supplying the required parts and components.

 

T-Shirt
Plywoods Bombers T-Shirt, BCM&CC 2010.028.002

A Dominion Plywoods advertisement headlined “Plywood for Planes Must Get Precedence” (original publication source unknown) reinforced the importance of a stepped‑up war effort and their commitment to contribute.  As production increased, night shifts were added.  The workers at the Southampton factory included women, many of them wives of soldiers enlisted in the Canadian Military, as well as men not eligible for military duty.   One such employee was Lorraine Reinhart who was the original owner of this “Plywoods Bombers” T-shirt created for employees during that time.

 

 

Most of the veneers used in producing plywood for the Anson, Tiger Moth, and Mosquito were birch, with the curved moulded parts being sliced spruce.  Birch veneers were supplied by Canada Veneers of St. John, New Brunswick; later in the war, Wood Mosaic in Woodstock supplied these materials as well.  Already‑sliced spruce was obtained from Penrod Jurden and Clark in Norfold, Virginia, USA, and billets (3 to 5” planks reading for slicing) came from mills in Oregon and Alaska.

 

All the veneers received had to be inspected for quality and thickness as specified by Aircraft Spec 5v3.

 

Office space was limited, so Ernie Vopel of Port Elgin was brought in to create more space.  The office interior was used to display fancy plywood designed by Pat Buckley.  Several new buildings were added to provide space for the increased production.  In early war years, floor space was a constant problem – to help alleviate this, the scarfing and shipping departments were moved to the “Harry Eagles” plant where Ross Baker supervised the inspection and shipping of the plywood. During the war, the second floor was used for the inspection and repair of all veneers before they were assembled and went to the hot press.

 

The vacuum bag moulding department was also located on this upper level, producing curved furniture parts.  During wartime, these bags were used to produce moulded parts for the Mosquito and Anson aircrafts.

Dominion Plywoods plant layout
Dominion Plywoods plant layout and materials flow chart, BCM&CC A2013.035.013-003

 

High Frequency (HF) equipment was added after the war, offering a new method of producing power to bond the plywood. This equipment operated on wavelengths and frequencies like a broadcasting station.  One product manufactured using HF equipment was bowling alley gutters, made of 5-ply birch in 16-foot lengths.

 

Due to their inexperience with this very new type of equipment, shielding was never used on the presses.  Hence, radio signals were sometimes being sent out to parts unknown.  It also caused interference with the telephones.  Jack Obright, employed with Dominion Plywoods from 1940 to 1962, recalls a gentleman coming to the office asking if any broadcasting equipment was being used.  Jack innocently showed him the HF equipment, and upon testing, the gentleman concluded they were the culprits interfering with radio communications going into the airport at Omaha, Nebraska.  He’d been tracking this problem from Omaha to St. Louis to Washington, Toronto and Kitchener, then finally to Dominion Plywoods in Southampton.  With permission, he checked their machines to locate the offending one, then changed a few condenses to remove them from the frequency causing problems at Omaha airport.  After this, shielding with grounded chicken wire became an accepted practice on the presses.

two men working inside Dominion Plywoods shop
Working inside Dominion Plywoods around 1960, by John (“Jack”) Richard Obright

 

In approximately 1952, one of their customers, Emanuel Products in Toronto, started producing TV cabinets that involved putting plywood or Masonite onto a wooden frame.  Dominion Plywoods Ltd. designed a new process for this which enabled them to produce thousands of TV cabinet parts, sending a steady flow of materials to Emanuel in Toronto daily.

 

Transportation was a constant concern over the years.  A two-ton truck was acquired after the war.  As business grew, a three-ton was purchased for hauling the materials required by Emanual Products. Next was a tractor and trailer, followed by a new tractor and van used primarily for runs to Montreal.  A stake and rack trailer were acquired for the old Fargo tractor taking care of the daily runs to local customers.

 

With the loss of the aircraft plywood business after the war, Dominion Plywoods was continuously investigating new products to fill the gap.  They built a model home on the south-east corner of the property, incorporating and promoting their new products.  Various employees resided in this house over the years – Wray Smith, a manager employed with Dominion Plywoods from 1950 to 1973, lived in the model home from 1950 to 1958 with his family.

Model home from Maynards auction brochure
Model Home, from Maynard’s Auction brochure, BCM&CC A2023.063.001

 

On August 3, 1960, an article in the Southampton Beacon announced that Dominion Plywoods Limited was planning a major industrial expansion, to manufacture a wide range of pre‑finished plywood for home and industrial use – initially for decorative panelling, and later for use in built-in furniture, kitchen cabinets, store fixtures, and other products requiring a tough durable surface. The new process proved challenging and costly, and failed to produce the business expected.

 

As Dominion Plywoods continued to struggle financially, the property and machinery were acquired through Deed of Trust & Mortgage by Canada Permanent Toronto General Trust Company in January 1963.   In 1965, machinery, company vehicles and real estate assets were sold by public auction.  Chem-Ply Limited, operated by Neil Matheson, purchased the property, hot press and some of the other assets in 1965, and Dominion Chem-Ply began operating from the building.

 

Maynards auction brochure title
Maynard’ s Auction brochure title, 1965, BCM&CC A2023.063.001

It appears this company continued to struggle and closed in 1973.  Upon closure, it moved equipment to the company’s Toronto-area factory, and some of the company employees moved to that area to continue work for the company.  In February 1975, Higgins Company Limited, acting as the Receiver of the Southampton property and local assets of Dominion Chem‑Ply, sold the property to Neil Matheson.

 

The factory building remained unattended; eventually in 2009, the Trelford Bros. were hired to demolish and remove the buildings.  A new Rexall pharmacy was built on the property at 174 Albert St, Southampton.  It opened in March 2010.

 

Many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of former dedicated Southampton / Dominion Plywood and Dominion Chem-Ply employees continue to live in Bruce County today.  The legacy of these companies’ contributions to the plywood industry, local economy, and production of aircraft which contributed to the success of the Allied Forces during the Second World War lives on through photographs and resources preserved at the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre.

 

 

Anyone with additional information or materials related to Dominion Plywoods and related companies is welcome to contact the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre to discuss a possible donation of material or to provide information which may be added to this article.   Contact the Archives team:  archives@brucecounty.on.ca,  519-797-2080.

 

 

 

Sources:

 

Canadian Woodworker. “The Dominion Plywoods Story,” ca. 1956, Bruce County Museum & Cultural

Centre AX2016.020.002

Maynard”s Auctioneers. “lmportant Public Auction: Dominion Plywoods Ltd.”1965, Bruce County

Museum & Cultural Centre A2023.063.001

Obright, John (“Jack”) Richard. “Dominion Plywoods Research File”, 1924, 1940-1975, Bruce County

Museum & Cultural Centre A2014.030.004

Ontario Land Registry.  Southampton Abstract Register Book 226, Lots 27, 28, 29 east side Albert Street https://www.onland.ca/

Saugeen Shores.  “Dominion Plywoods Factory and the Mosquito Bomber” historical plaque.

Smith, Mike. “Mike Smith Oral History Interview” Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre

AT2022.001.045

Southampton Plywood Works Ltd. correspondence with Town of Southampton 1906-1934. Bruce County

Museum & Cultural Centre AT2017.002.017

Streeter, William G. “Dominion Plywoods Ltd. and the Mosquito Bomber.” Historical Notes Yearbook

Edition 2016, Bruce County Historical Society. Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre A2015.006.012 (and see Bruce County Historical Society Publications)

Town of Southampton and Southampton Plywoods Ltd. “Memorandum of Agreement”, 1934.

Instrument #6885 registered in the Land Registry Office for the County of Bruce.

To discover more photographs and items from Dominion Plywoods in BCM&CC’s Online Collections, Click Here

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