By Julie Pike, Director, Canadian Events, SME
In May, the Canadian economy got some welcome news: manufacturing sales increased for the third consecutive month, up 1.1% to $54.6 billion.
Manufacturing is the largest sector of the Canadian economy. In 2014, manufacturing companies invested $14.8 billion into our economy and employed 1.8 million Canadians.
This year, Canadians from coast to coast to coast are celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial. And, as we do, it is important to reflect on the important role that manufacturing has played in Canada’s history. In fact, manufacturing was important to Canada even before the formation of the Dominion in 1867.
Canadian Manufacturing Pioneers
In 1809, a steamboat built entirely in Montreal was launched by the Eagle Foundry. The Accommodation was the first steamer to navigate Canadian waters, making its maiden voyage from Montreal to Quebec City in just 36 hours. Other steamboats would follow in subsequent decades, but would ultimately be replaced by larger, ocean-going steamships. In 1854, one of the largest trans-Atlantic steamship lines was founded (also in Montreal). Sir Hugh Allan operated a fleet of more than 100 vessels that travelled between Montreal and the United Kingdom. In 1917, the Allan Line Royal Mail Steamers company was acquired by Canadian Pacific Ocean Services Limited.
The building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s – considered to be one of the great engineering works of the world – is the stuff of Canadian lore. But the first steam locomotive-powered railway service in Canada was offered nearly 50 years earlier, in 1836. Between 1881 and 1961, CPR would operate 3,267 steam locomotives.
That same period represents the early days of automotive engineering, with the first Canadian automobile being built in 1867 by Henry Seth Taylor. Canada’s automotive industry really began to flourish with the establishment of the Ford Motor Company of Canada and the McLaughlin Motor Car Company in 1904 and 1907, respectively. Between 1918 and 1923, Canada was the world’s second largest automotive producer in the world.
The growing popularity of cars also drove a demand for oil. This inspired two Canadian entrepreneurs – T.H. Smallman and W. Bowman – to establish the Canadian Chemical Company in 1867. This marked the beginning of the mass production of heavy industrial chemicals in Canada. In 1880, 16 separate oil refineries merged to form Imperial Oil, which was acquired in 1898 by John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust.
The discovery of oil and gas also led to the construction of Canada’s first energy pipelines. In 1853, a pipeline was built to carry natural gas 25km from the Maurice River to Trois-Rivières, Quebec, where it was used to provide street lighting. Additional pipelines were built in Ontario in 1862 and in 1895.
Coal gasification plants were built in Montreal in 1838, in Toronto in 1841, and in Halifax in 1850. Most remained in operation for more than 100 years.
Both the First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945) stimulated industrial manufacturing in Canada. The heavy manufacturing sector experienced the most growth during this time, with unparalleled demand for products in the automotive, aircraft, armament, steel, and chemical sectors. By 1945, nearly one-quarter of all Canadian workers were employed in the manufacturing sector.
The Foundation of the Canadian Economy
Other significant Canadian manufacturing milestones include:
- 1805 — Canada’s first paper mill
- 1826 — Powered machines for industrial textile production were introduced
- 1850 — Factories producing agricultural implements were established; in 1891, Massey-Harris became the largest manufacturer of farm machinery in the British Empire
- 1852— Manufacturing of explosives began in Canada
- 1854 — Rubber footwear began production
- 1856 — Safety match production was introduced
- 1864 — The first Canadian cheese factory; by 1873, Canada was home to about 200 cheese factories
- 1868 — Mass production of clothing commenced
- 1869 — Manufacturing of phosphate fertilizer started
- 1871 — Canadian Manufacturers Association founded
- 1874 — Canadian patent application on the electric light bulb by Henry Woodward; the patent was granted and later sold to Thomas Edison
- 1883 — First Canadian producer of condensed milk
- 1891 — Streetcar manufacturing began
- 1892 — Heavy manufacturing companies like General Electric and Westinghouse Canada began fabricating large electric generators and motors
Canadian manufacturing remains an important element of Canada’s economy. Without it, Canada would suffer a dramatic decrease in jobs and reduced innovation.
Canada’s Economic Engine Powers Forward
Events like the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS) – taking place September 25–28 at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada – are dedicated to strengthening Canada’s manufacturing sector to support the industry for the next 150 years.
Featuring exhibits from more than 700 suppliers, CMTS 2017 will attract more than 9,000 manufacturing professionals. CMTS also offers attendees two informative conferences — Advanced Manufacturing Canada and RAPID Canada — each featuring two days of presentations and panel discussions intended to provide information on the latest developments in the areas of additive manufacturing, automation economics and robotics, workforce development, and more.
CMTS will celebrate Canada’s 150 years as part of the event’s Opening Night Celebration on Monday, September, 25.
For more information, and to register, visit cmts.ca. Enter promo code BLOG at registration to save 30% off the conference list price or receive a free exhibit hall pass.
 According to Statistics Canada data published in July 2017.