Southern Alberta's Clay Empire
When Albertans think of Medicine Hat, the first thing that comes to mind is the Saamis Teepee, The Cypress Hills, Kin Coulee Park or even their slogan The Gas City; but when it comes to the antique world only one thing comes to mind, Medalta.
If you didn't already know, Southern Alberta has a rich history in the world of pottery and stoneware. With the abundance of Natural Gas in Southern Alberta coupled with a surplus of clay from the South Saskatchewan River, the makings for success were surely written in stone. In 1916 Medalta Stoneware was established and quickly surpassed their predecessors in the pottery business. They became the first Western Canadian company to ship goods (other than grain) East of Manitoba and due to this became a famous attraction to dignitaries including The Prince of Wales in 1920. All of this hype came quickly for the small company of 12 employees and they saw an expansion to 82 employees by 1924. This is when they re-branded to Medalta Potteries. Although business was booming as they supplied over 75% of Canada's Stoneware, the company was seeing little profits. The cost of shipping the clay from Saskatchewan combined with cheaper manufacturing and labour costs elsewhere was causing Medalta to hemorrhage money. During the Great Depression they began providing shelter for travellers along the track line while they searched for work as the cooling kilns (pictured below) could house up to 40 people per night.