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MHS Resources: Manitoba Bricks and Blocks: Portage Brick Yards / Portage la Prairie Brickyard Company / Stephens Brick Company

A directory of brick-making in Manitoba
Bricks

A directory of block-making in Manitoba
Blocks

People involved in brick and block-making in Manitoba
People

A glossary of terms relating to bricks and blocks
Glossary

William Turber was listed as a brick maker in the local Portage la Prairie directories from 1880-1881; however, nothing more is known about him or his brick yard. In 1881, W. Lockey established a brick-making business named the Portage Brick Yards and it is very likely that the yard was located on the site previously established by Turber. During the 1881 season, Lockey manufactured 400,000 bricks and took on William Patterson Smith as a business partner in autumn of 1881. Smith’s contribution to the operation was the land he owned at the east end of Portage la Prairie because it possessed superior brick-quality clay of a yellowish-grey colour. The clay also possessed an unusual strength and toughness, making it perfect for making bricks.

In 1882, Lockey and Smith bought a steam-powered brick making machine and, with the help of the 30 to 35 men they employed, began producing 4,000 bricks per day. It was shortly after this that Lockey left the company, leaving Smith as the sole proprietor. Business dwindled from 1883 to 1888 but, by the spring of 1889, Smith had brought in new, larger-scale machinery and planned on operating the brick yard at full capacity. He began using his new Penfield machine for making old-style bricks and another machine for stock-pressed brick. He also made ornamental brick. The bricks came in a variety of colours from white to bright pink to red. Around 1890, the Portage Brick Yards supplied bricks for the construction of the Garland Block in Portage la Prairie and the new home of Reverend William Halstead on the north side of town.

Around 1891, Smith sold the brick yard to John R. McDonald, although Smith was still listed in the local Henderson’s Directories as a brick maker until 1893. McDonald produced grey-coloured bricks, including for Portage's new Fire Hall in 1893, until approximately 1906 when he sold out to Harry Stephens, another local brick-maker who had established the Portage la Prairie Brickyard Company in 1899. Stephens’ facility was located about one quarter mile east of the Portage la Prairie train station and had the capacity to produce 40,000 bricks per day with the help of two soft-mud machines. His ten down-draft kilns had the capacity for 20,000 bricks each that burned for 7½ to 8 days for each batch, producing a white-coloured brick. His purchase of McDonald’s brick yard allowed Stephens to triple his business, which helped him to keep up with the demands from a building boom in the local area. By 1906, Stephens had 12 furnaces for burning brick, each able to hold 100,000 bricks at one time. He employed 80 men and had his own Canadian Pacific Railway spur track that went directly to the yard site.

In the spring of 1908, Stephens converted his firm to a joint-stock operation known as the Stephens Brick Company, becoming one of the largest and best-managed brick companies in the province. The company produced 8,500,000 bricks in the 1909 season and a large portion of them were shipped to Saskatoon and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He produced 11,000,000 bricks in the 1910 season. In 1912, Stephens acquired yet another new brick yard the bring the company’s yards to a total annual output of over 14,000,000 bricks. The Stephens Brick Company continued until 1928 when its charter was cancelled.

See also:

Memorable Manitobans: Henry “Harry” Stephens (1865-1934)

Sources:

Manitoba Brick Yards by Randy Rostecki, Manitoba Historic Resources Branch Report, May 2010.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 11 May 2020

Leary Brickworks

Manitoba Bricks and Blocks

A history of the manufacture of bricks and concrete blocks in Manitoba, based on research by Randy Rostecki for the Manitoba Historic Resources Branch and supplemented by information compiled by Gordon Goldsborough of the Manitoba Historical Society. .

Bricks | Blocks | People | Glossary

We thank Hugh Arklie, Gordon McDiarmid, and Heather Bertnick for their help in the development of this online guide. Financial support of the Thomas Sill Foundation is gratefully acknowledged. Additional information was provided by Ina Bramadat, David Butterfield, Neil Christoffersen, Frank Korvemaker, Ed Ledohowski, Ken Storie, Lynette Stow, and Tracey Winthrop-Meyers.

© 2010-2020
Randy Rostecki, Manitoba Historic Resources Branch, Gordon Goldsborough, and Manitoba Historical Society.
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