Gumbo was visiting the Historic Clay District, specifically the unique Medalta Potteries site in southeastern Medicine Hat, Alberta. Congratulations to George G and PortMoresby, who recognized where Gumbo was.
One of my most interesting stops this past summer was at Medalta. A century ago the 150 acre site was home to a busy and important clay factory, producing a variety of dishes, containers and pottery. Today things are pretty quiet here, although the grounds around the factory buildings show evidence of this prior industry with their display of broken bits of pottery...
Medalta was founded in 1915 and the site made good logistical sense. The Medicine Hat region provided a good source of the clays needed, and Alberta is known for its abundance of natural gas deposits which fueled the kilns. Medicine Hat was built on a railway so shipping to Canadian and distant markets was easy. Between 1928 and 1950 Medalta accounted for two thirds of Canadian pottery production.
(Some of the clays used at the Medalta plant)
The site has been well preserved and is an interesting museum to visit. In many ways it seems as though you are walking through a working factory after the day shift has gone home and the place is empty. The aged wood and instrumentation are atmospheric, as is all the clay dust.
The details of dish production are beyond the scope of this blog, but each step is explained on the tour, with physical examples and lots of illustrations of the processes involved. I found it to be very interesting especially if you've never been to a place like this before.
Today the site has a large ceramics studio where a few select Medalta items are made for sale in the gift shop, and where enthusiastic amateurs can take pottery classes.
(Current active production site in Medalta)
(A limited selection of clayware is still made at Medalta and sold in the
museum's gift shop)
One of the most impressive features of the Medalta site are the circular brick beehive kilns, which you can explore and in which several displays are located.
Medalta produced a large variety of household items such as crooks, jugs, churns, vases, bowls, and so on. I enjoyed seeing the extensive displays of items made here because I remember seeing many of them in the stores during my younger years on the Canadian prairies. As you can see from the photos below, customization was popular with many businesses.
Medalta faced many hurdles during its functioning lifespan. The stoneware market plummeted in 1929 when glass bottles replaced Medalta's products. The Company was shut periodically in the Depression years, but kept struggling on.
During World War II things improved for Medalta as it was placed into wartime operations mode. Domestic production was kept to a minimum while the company focused on supplying the armed services with dishes, cups and saucers. During the war the factory was short-staffed because many Canadians were serving in Europe, so German prisoners of war from the Medicine Hat internment camp provided much of the workforce.
I highly recommend a visit to the site, especially for families and those with an interest in pottery and glassware.