Orange Meat: The Ambition and the Excitement

Michael Peters Orange Meat

In previous posts in this series, we have been tracing the early days of Kingston's Frontenac Cereal Company. The seed that was planted in early 1902 seemed ready to bear fruit, and the excitement in Kingston was palpable. For the original group of local investors who hatched the plan, it must have been satisfying to see their plans for the Company take form. 
Orange Meat Launch Ad (Ottawa Citizen, 1903)

The spring and summer of 1903 was a hive of activity at the foot of Gore Street. During these months, the business, transport, and social pages of the local press frequently reported on the progress of the plant. New buildings were being constructed and new machinery of the most modern design was being delivered from Detroit by steamer and rail car. Local hotels hosted American engineers, industrialists, and potential investors from far and wide. 

"Kingston," reported the Daily Whig in June, "will soon have in operation the finest cereal food mill on the continent of America." The main mill was being enlarged, "so that the building will be 100 feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and five storeys high".

For some of the locals, this must have been particularly gratifying. After all, this was part of a larger mission to claim Kingston's (and their own) share of the industrial development popping up all over Canada. For the former national capital, its waning influence and the growing industrial power of Montreal and Toronto were felt keenly. 

William Harty, in particular, (see:  A Plan is Hatched: The birth of Kingston's Frontenac Cereal Co. Ltd.) made both a political and business career of promoting Kingston's industrial development. He was involved and invested in many of Kingston's important early developments, including the Kingston-Pembroke Railway, Kingston Iron and Coal Company, and the Canadian Locomotive and Engine Company. 

The Whig does a good job capturing his pitch for the cereal company, and in some ways, the advantages of the city of Kingston itself:

 "Hon. William Harty, M.P., a director in the company, and a most ardent supporter of the enterprise say that the acquired plant is in every respect an ideal one, possessing every advantage as to location, with deep water on three sides, and Grand Trunk and Canadian Pacific railway tracks direct to the shipping department, the plant being constructed and equipped with a view of manufacturing at the very lowest minimum cost."

Even beyond Montreal and Toronto, towns and cities of all sizes were growing and industrializing in various ways and scrambling to claim their share. 

In cereal manufacturing, down the road in Peterborough, the American Cereal Company was building a large plant to produce Quaker Oats for the Canadian and British Empire. This is quite an early example of an American "branch plant" opening in Canada to access our tariff-protected market, and source grain from across Canada, increasingly connected by an expanding rail network. 

The Quaker Plant in Peterborough seems to have been on the mind of the Frontenac founders right from the outset. An Ottawa Free Press report, via the Daily British Whig, positions Orange Meat as a direct response to the invasion of Quaker Oats and other foreign cereal brands.

"With the vast increase of land in Canada under wheat cultivation, the people interested in this company believe that the Canadian company can drive the American cereals out of the Canadian market. Already the American Cereal company is erecting a big mill at Peterboro."

So, in addition to local boosterism, the excitement surrounding the imminent launch of Orange Meat cereal was also flavoured with no small amount of nationalism.

With the summer of 1903 waning, it seemed like they had successfully assembled a team that could deliver. 

Fred Wegner (who we have introduced in previous posts) seemed to have lofty ambitions as well, as the Daily Whig described in June 1903

"Mr. Wegner comes here to personally supervise the erection of the machinery, accompanied by experts of international reputation in the manufacture of cereal foods, and intends on making this plant a model of all food manufacturing companies."

Another report describes his international ambitions in more detail, 

"… it is intended to make the Kingston plant a model one, so that intending builders may come here, inspect, and copy from it. Mr. Wegner and the capitalists he has associated with him are to build food plants in Texas, New Orleans, Australia, South Africa, and Japan." 

With its colonial history, and proximity to the American economic powerhouse, Canadians and Kingstonians were familiar with doing business across borders, but for 1903 this was still quite an audacious idea, something resembling a modern multinational corporation.

It doesn't seem like Mr. Wegner ever achieved that kind of success, with Frontenac Cereal Company, or any of his other endeavors.

Quaker Oats Ad - American Cereal Company, Peterboro Ontario

Ironically, down the road in Peterborough, the Quaker Plant is still in operation today. Now absorbed into the international conglomerate PepsiCo and producing a variety of international brands, the plant has nonetheless been an employer and investor in that community for over a hundred years now.

But 1903 was full of possibilities for a fresh business flush with capital, building a new factory and brand. It carried the hopes of the people invested, but also the small city and new country it would represent. 

This means we have almost reached an exciting part of the story - the unveiling and launch of Orange Meat cereal itself, October 1903.

Stay tuned for more.

 

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