A diversified large-scale ceramic industry once employed thousands of people in the Redcliff and Medicine Hat area. One of the manufacturers is still here, thriving, having a longer history than any other. And the energy and clay resources are still here!
In 1928 Medalta Potteries had 40,000 one-gallon crocks in stock! And they made a dozen sizes and could fill boxcars to the roof with them! And they made hundreds of other products. And were just one company operating here!
We have things they did not
New tools, processes, equipment, and materials now put capability into the hands of small companies and even individual potters and craftsmen. It's time to stop basing our economy of buying and selling houses and start making things again.
In 1938 when Ed Phillipson, the newly hired manager and, more important, ceramic engineer, redirected the production at the failing Medalta Potteries. He did it by leveraging his special knowledge in the use of engobes. An engobe is a thin porcelain-like layer applied to ware at the leather hard stage. He formulated a white engobe to fit their buff stoneware. After bisque firing pieces could be decorated as if they were porcelain. And they fired them high enough to vitrify the stoneware to give ware porcelain-like strength.
The white engobe covers the entire back side, even the foot ring, giving the illusion the plate is made of porcelain. The transparent glaze clearly transmits the attractive Medalta vitrified logo. A similar appearance can be done today using a clay like H550 with the L3954N engobe.
Made at Alberta Clay Products in Alberta, Canada about 1960. They were hand-constructed. This was fired in a beehive kiln and is on display inside a beehive kiln (a historic site) next to the Plainsman Clays plant. Ceramic glazes are normally slurries of clay, quartz and and fluxes like sodium feldspar, calcium carbonate or dolomite - these are applied to ware before firing. But, in this salt-glazing process, common table salt was literally shovelled into a hole at the top as the kiln reached temperature (about 2350F)! The salt decomposed, separating into sodium vapour and chlorine gas within the chamber and the sodium reacted with the quartz-containing clay to form a durable glaze. Unfortunately the chlorine gas escaped into the air!
Picture taken from the southwest on the main line CPR tracks. By 1912 the plant was the second largest Brick plant in North America employing 325 men. Workers accomplished the amazing feat of building the plant by making bricks from the clay they dug to make the foundations. And making the kilns using fireclay they discovered at a deposit only a few kilometers away. The company made pipe for sewer lines by extruding soft clay as a cylinder, using a floating head in the die of the pugmill. They sealed it as water-tight by salt glazing it in giant down draft kilns. Plainsman Clays is now located on a corner of the former ACP property.
#2623 - Plainsman Clays - The Longest Surviving Company
A lot of ceramic manufacturing companies have come and gone in Medicine Hat since 1889. An amazing company of the time was Alberta Clay Products. They made vitrified clay pipe and had around 20 huge beehive kilns. But in 1962 something terrible happened: Their factory burned to the ground! But a year later something good happened: Luke Lindoe used one of their buildings to start Plainsman Clays. For fifty six years, as of 2021, operating longer than any of its predecessors, Plainsman Clays has manufactured clay bodies using the same clay resources that ACP and others in the area used. While it may appear that Plainsman is the only manufacturer left, that is not exactly true. Lots of potters produce stoneware and porcelain in this area, and across Canada, using products they manufacture and supplies they distribute.