MHS Centennial Business: Arctic Ice Company / Arctic Glacier
Arctic Glacier is the brand name under which the parent company, Arctic Group, manufactures and distributes ice. Here in Winnipeg it operates locally as Arctic Ice Services, and Winnipeg is also the headquarters of Arctic Group, the second largest ice manufacturing company in North America. It owns 59 sites across Canada from Quebec to British Columbia and in nine of the United States, with companies as far south as Texas. The story began in the 1880s with a small Winnipeg enterprise that cut blocks of ice from the rivers and lakes and stored them in ice houses, insulated with sawdust, to help the citizens of Winnipeg preserve goods in the warm summer months. How this local business became an international giant serving North America is a real Manitoba success story.
The Company was founded in 1882. A 1967 Winnipeg Tribune article tells how Charles H. McNaughton and a group of associates purchased two horses, wagons, and invested several thousand dollars in an ice house on Fountain Street off Alexander Avenue. The 1885 Henderson’s Directory lists James S. Nicholson and McNaughton as the managers of the Arctic Ice Company, with Delmond O. Bricker managing the Winnipeg Ice Company. By 1901 the two ice companies had united.
Initially the company cut ice from the Red River and delivered it to customers by horse-drawn wagons. In fact, by the early 1900s they cut ice as far away as Millwood on the Assiniboine River near Russell where in one season they brought out 400 carloads of 40 tons per car. Considering the extensive filtering that the water undergoes today, it is frightening to read that in 1912 the ice plant was situated at “the sewer outlets on the [Red] river” but was moved that year to a more sanitary site “on a point seven miles upstream near Manitoba Agriculture College. Ice was transported down the river on barges, moving 250 tons a load and sometimes making two trips a day to the Norwood bridge.” In 1936 the Red River site was abandoned and for three years the company cut ice out of the crystal clear spring water in the Canada Cement pond at Fort Whyte. When the water level dropped the company decided to make its own source of ice and purchased 56 acres of land in St. Boniface, scooped out a huge hole, and poured in 10 million gallons of water to provide a supply of natural ice. Using mechanical saws, more than 110,000 tons of ice were removed in one year, and stored in the buildings and stables on the Bell Avenue site at Arctic Street. At one time Arctic Ice had 67 horses and 42 wagons, but the last house delivery was made in 1954. The demand for natural ice was decreasing and by 1967 the two artificial ice plants at Langside and in Norwood produced 1,800 tons of ice a day.
Although Charles Crawford, the vice-president of Arctic Ice in 1967, predicted an end to the big ice companies, Arctic Glacier is busily expanding its business in what has been called a “footrace to consolidate ice makers in the US market.” Bob Nagy started as a summer employee in 1971 and bought the company in 1986. By 1992 he had bought out dominant ice companies in the western provinces and then took the company public. In the year 2000 alone Arctic acquired 12 companies and now employs 800 employees in the peak summer months, with 400 trucks distributing 100,000,000 bags of ice per year. With their eyes firmly focussed on a bright future, Arctic Glacier can be proud of a long and successful past that has involved constant adaptation and innovation.
An MHS Centennial Business Award was presented to Arctic Glacier by Judith Hudson Beattie in January 2002.
“The Arctic Ice Company Ltd.,” Winnipeg Tribune, 25 September 1915, page 164.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 26 December 2022