Wednesday, August 14, 2013

We used to make things in this country. #118: Welland Vale Manufacturing Company Ltd., St. Catharines, Ontario

I found this old axe head at a local garage sale.  It was covered in rust and was mushroomed as a result of having obviously been hit with a sledge hammer, contrary to good axe practice.  Cleaned up, it announced itself as a product of Welland Vale, a company I had never heard of.




Beginning as the firm of Tuttle, Date and Rodden, The Welland Vale Works was founded in 1869 on the Welland Canal (the "Welland Vale") in St. Catherines, Ontario.  They made wagon wheels and a variety of edge tools and by 1871 they had about 120 employees and production putting them in the top one percent of Canadian manufacturers.  By 1874, they were Canada's largest axe maker, famous for their "Black Prince" axe, among others.   


Yesteryears Tools

Other Welland Vale brands included "Lion", pictured below on another axe I subsequently stumbled across:



In 1892, they established a subsidiary in Montreal, the Canadian Axe & Harvest Tool Company.  The company was quick to capitalize on the bicycle craze at the end of the 19th Century, producing a variety of bicycles beginning in 1896.

http://vintageccm.com/content/welland-vale-and-co-operative-cycle-motor-co
In 1899, Welland Vale Manufacturing amalgamated with three other major Canadian bicycle manufacturers to form the Canada Cycle & Motor Co. Ltd.  Welland-Vale bicycle production ended in 1900 when the factory burned down.  It was rebuilt, but production returned to edge tools.  In 1921, the company was acquired by the  American Fork & Hoe Co. American Fork & Hoe, which also purchased the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. of Charleston, West Virginia. The company was eventually purchased by True Temper of Ohio sometime in the 1950's, which continued to offer the Black Prince axe but under the True Temper name.  



Canadian Homes, June 1961

The factory was closed down after a strike in 1965, the first in the company's 96-year history.  The factory closing resulted in the loss of 94 jobs.

After serving a variety of the functions, the Welland-Vale axe factory is now the home of  the Biolyse Pharma Corporation, Canada's only manufacturer of oncology drugs.  These are based on a compound found in the Eastern yew tree (Taxus canadensis) which ironically doesn't need to be cut down to obtain the substance.

As for my axe, it has now been completely cleaned up, sharpened, and fitted with a new handle, to resume its original function in my wood lot.

Below, some additional photos sent to me by Jason, a visitor who has previously contributed tool photos for James Warnock.  He commented:


"Was out today at a garage sale and came across these three.  Couldn't believe I could find all in one place.  Usually I am pretty selective about items I pick up but had to grab all of these.  If you want feel free to ad them to the post about Welland Vale.  Keep up the awesome work on a greatly appreciated blog."

Thanks Jason for the photos and the kind words!






I wonder if the "DHO" initials stamped on one of these axes stood for the Department of Highways Ontario?   If so, it would indicate that Welland-Vale was an official supplier to the provincial government. In addition, since the Department of Highways designation lasted from 1930 to 1972, it would provide a rough indication of the age of the axe.

Below are images of another head sent in by Mike Schaefer. This one seems to be an earlier example.


4 comments:

Buckin' Billy Ray Smith said...

this is so kool as I am a logger and a vintage axe and power saw guy, learning more about the axes now, and am very happy to find out about the names welland vale and black prince being from Canada

Lespaulsen2020@gmail.com said...

I have a Welland Vale hatchet my grandfather gave me. The stamp on it is the same as the one at the top of the blog. I'm wondering about the dating of the use of that stamp as opposed to the stamp I've seen on other WV axes, which is simple the words Welland Vale. I know the name was used from 1874 to 1950, but don't know about the dates of the different style of stamps, and I'd really like to know how old the hatchet is. Anyone know? (I could send a picture for you to add to your post, but don't know how.)

Mister G said...

I can't help with the dating, but you can send pictures to gerald@vanwyngaarden.ca and I'll happily add them. Thanks for the note!

Unknown said...

Hey buckin.. I am a follower of you channel and love it everyday. I just came across a welland vale hatchet it is stamped. And I was lucky enough to find a welland vale black prince double bit the other day..I love restoring old axes and it means so much to me when I find a welland or walters true Canadian history.. you are a great guy my friend and an honest man.. just a good ol Canadian lad.. I found it funny when I saw your name show up here and had to say hello.. Mark "bartering bushcraft" on youtube