Manitoba Business: Manitoba Sugar Company
Attempts in the early 20th century to develop a sugar-processing industry in Manitoba were unsuccessful until 1939 when the Manitoba Sugar Company was established. Its foreign shareholders included Baron Charles de Neuman (who owned textile and industrial plants in Europe and South America) and Jacob Goldschmidt, an industrialist who had fled Nazi-controlled Germany. Local investors included men with links to the grain and building trades: Elbert Walter Kneeland, Harry Eugene Sellers, Gordon Harold Aikins, William Pitt Riley, Norman Lawrence Leach, William Henry Carter, William Henry McWilliams, Frank Ernest Halls, Chessman George Spencer, Theodore Kipp, Joseph Harris, John Martin, and John Thomas Boyd.
Fueled by fears of sugar shortages during the recently-declared Second World War, the plan was to encourage Manitoba farmers to grow sugar beets from which refined, white sugar could be produced. Over 600 farmers began to grow sugar beets experimentally during the 1939 growing season, with expectations they would be fully operational by 1940, to supply the company with 1,500 tons of sugar beets daily. The province’s cold winters meant that beets produced during the summer would freeze rather than spoil, thereby extending the period of time over which the beets could be processed. In this way, it was believed that Manitoba would be able to produce sugar at competitive prices.
In January 1940, Premier John Bracken broke sod for a $2,000,000 sugar processing plant in the Fort Garry area of Winnipeg. The construction firm of Carter-Halls-Aldinger did the work and the plant opened for beet deliveries in the fall of 1940. Sugar produced at the plant became available in Winnipeg stores in early October 1940.
In late 1956, controlling interest in the company was acquired by one of its competitors, the British Columbia Sugar Refining Company (known as BC Sugar, later operating in Manitoba under its subsidiary Rogers Sugar), which hoped to prevent competition from developing in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The company was subsequently taken to court by the Manitoba government over its monopoly in the western sugar market and the perceived impact on prices to consumers. The case was dismissed by Judge Esten Kenneth Williams of the Court of Queens Bench and an appeal was subsequently dropped.
The sugar plant closed in January 1997, putting 82 full-time employees out of work and leaving 230 sugar beet growers with no option for selling their product. A factor contributing to the closure was a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiated in 1995 that allowed the United States government to restrict Canadian exports of sugar-containing products and to levy barriers on refined sugar from Canada.
The former plant is now occupied by several other businesses.
“Sugar refinery for Winnipeg,” Winnipeg Tribune, 20 January 1925, page 4.
“Sugar factory to be built in city this year,” Winnipeg Tribune, 26 January 1925, page 2.
“Local sugar beet factory to start up next fall,” Winnipeg Tribune, 23 December 1939, page 17.
“Bracken turns sugar plant sod,” Winnipeg Free Press, 8 January 1940, page 3.
“New industry controlled by local interests,” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 October 1940, page 28.
[Hudson’s Bay Company advertisement], Winnipeg Tribune, 5 October 1940, page 31.
“G. Aikins, K. C., named Director,” Winnipeg Tribune, 27 January 1941, page 14.
“Directorate shake-up at Man. Sugar,” Winnipeg Free Press, 27 June 1952, page 1.
“Court told of bid for Manitoba Sugar control,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 March 1960, page 1.
“Crown says letter bared sugar trust,” Winnipeg Free Press, 18 April 1960, page 9.
“Sugar appeal launched,” Winnipeg Free Press, 5 October 1960, page 1.
“Drop sugar case,” Winnipeg Free Press, 27 January 1961, page 1.
“Sugar plant, trade killed,” Winnipeg Free Press, 24 January 1997, page 1.
We thank Jerry Zednai for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 18 May 2022