This Week in History


Canada’s Big Cheese Paraded through Ingersoll

For the week of Monday August 19, 2013

 On August 23, 1866, a wagon-sized cheese was paraded through the town of Ingersoll, Ontario. The mammoth cheese was produced by several factories, and the publicity stunt helped to promote the Canadian cheese industry internationally.

Mammoth cheese made at Ingersoll, Canada West, 1866
© Library and Archives Canada / C-8564
Cheese first appeared sometime about 9,000 years ago. Legends claim that a desert nomad accidentally created some during one of his journeys. The conditions of his travel made the milk he was transporting curdle, and when the nomad inspected his cargo he found a mysterious new substance. Hungry, the nomad tried it and enjoyed it! Over time, cheese makers developed various ripening and ageing techniques, and produced a wide variety of cheeses, including some 150 varieties made in Canada.

At first, Canadian cheese was made in small batches at home, usually by the wives and children of farmers. In 1864, the first co-operatively run commercial cheese factory, “The Pioneer”, opened in Canada, and Canadian cheese began to be produced on a large scale. Cheese proved to be popular within the country and, by 1867, Ontario boasted over 200 cheese factories! 

Canadian cheese 51 cent stamp
© Canada Post / Library and Archives Canada / R169-2334-X-E

Though the tasty product sold well domestically, Canadian cheese makers had a difficult time competing on the international cheese market. To promote Canadian cheese, a gargantuan one was created at the Ingersoll Cheese Factory Company in 1866. Using over 30 tonnes of milk, the resulting cheese was about two metres wide (seven feet), one metre high (three feet) and about seven metres around (twenty-one feet). Six horses were needed to haul the huge mass to the train station at Ingersoll where the cheese was sent on a tour of the United States and England.

The First Cheese Factory was designated a national historic event in 1931 and represents the start of an important and dynamic industry in Canada.

To read more about the development of primary industry in Canada, please visit the This Week in History archives: “To Each His Own”, C.E. Saunders and the Miracle of Marquis, and Springhill Strikes!

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