Description of Historic Place
The Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic Site is an extensive industrial landscape situated in an area of Medicine Hat, Alberta known as the North Flats. It includes features that illustrate the combination of factors that led to Medicine Hat’s emergence as the largest supplier of clay products west of Ontario. Local clay beds, railway transportation and a ready supply of natural gas to fire the kilns were the key components that enabled a wide range of clay industries to spring up along the 1.2 kilometre Canadian Pacific Railway spur line that formed the spine of the clay industries district. The site’s landscape has a linear form comprised of three concentrations of clay industry activity spread along the 1.2 kilometre. railway spur. Moving from west to east, these concentrations are comprised of the former Alberta Clay Products factory site and the adjacent Hycroft Pottery site, the Medalta and National Porcelain Company sites, and the I-XL property at the eastern end. Between these three concentrations are two open areas comprised of fields and flood plain. Official recognition refers to the site bounded by the mainline and yards of the CPR to the south, Clay avenue to the west, the clay escarpment to the east, and the line extending from Bridge Street to the banks of Seven Persons Creek and its confluence with the South Saskatchewan River to the north.
Medicine Hat Clay Industries was designated a national historic site in 1999 because:
- of its association with the growth and diversification of an industry that has played a vital role in the economic and physical development of western Canada; and,
- it illustrates a unique combination of factors including local clay beds, an excellent transportation infrastructure, vast supplies of natural gas, and an array of factories and factory remnants that reveal the diverse range of products associated with this industry.
The heritage value of the Medicine Hat Clay Industries resides in the ability of the evolved cultural landscape to provide tangible evidence of the unique combination of factors that sustained the clay industries in this location. During the first half of the 20th century, Medicine Hat was the centre of the clay products industry in western Canada. The establishment of the McCord Brickyard in the 1880s marked the start of continuous brick manufacturing at this location. By 1907, early brickyards were displaced by larger ventures, drawn to the Medicine Hat Flats by municipal incentives, low-cost natural gas, direct access to the CPR line via spur lines and reduced freight rates. Early important manufacturers were Alberta Clay Products, Medicine Hat Brick and Tile and Medicine Hat Pottery Company Ltd. (renamed Medalta Stoneware Ltd. and then Medalta Potteries Ltd.). These three pre-1914 factories formed the backbone of Medicine Hat’s clay products industry and played an important role in the boom period that shaped the character of western Canada. They were augmented by two later factories: Medicine Hat Potteries Ltd. (renamed Hycroft China Ltd.) and National Porcelain. Collectively, the operational histories of these plants, as well as the more modern I-XL plant, reveal the dynamics and complexities of the clay industry in Canada.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1999; Commemorative Integrity Statement, September 2003.
Key elements which relate to the heritage value of the Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic Site include:
- the location of the site below steep clay banks close to CPR tracks;
- evidence of local access to natural gas;
- surviving evidence of transportation links, including the CPR spur and right-of-way, and the Seven Persons Creek trestle bridge;
- the presence of a concentration of relic industrial structures in grouped factory settings; evidence of street names and signs referring to aspects of the clay industries;
- archaeological resources associated with the former activities of individual sites and with mechanical processes, including relic gas wells, foundations and structural remains of former buildings, kilns and other structures, duct works, internal rail transportation systems, wells, pits and plinths;
- archaeological resources associated with the collective use of areas for industrial wastes and surplus materials;
- in situ equipment associated with the manufacture of ceramic products at the Hycroft and Medalta plants;
- ceramic pottery moulds and products at the Hycroft plant;
- equipment associated with early phases of brick making at the I-XL Industries plant;
- relic pieces of gas machinery in place on the Hycroft property;
- the Alberta Clay Products site, including its surviving down-draft kiln, solid brick construction, glazed interior wall surfaces and self-supporting dome, surviving footprints of its former buildings, tunnels and kilns located within the raised plinth area, the stable/garage building, with its brick and hollow-tile walls and the inscription “A.C.P.Co. 1920” above the southern entrance;
- the Hycroft Potteries Factory site including its discrete visual unit with flat rooflines accentuated by low, horizontal massing, extensive use of brick construction, factory design using clerestories and a curved corner near the facility’s main public entrance with a painted sign bearing the company’s logo, the series of additions along the south and east side of the plant, the surviving equipment of the production line, the circular tunnel kiln, and the spatial organization of the structures;
- the Medalta Potteries National Historic Site of Canada including its five interconnected buildings, one detached building and a row of four beehive kilns, all grouped together into a cohesive factory complex, their construction and structural details, including monitor roofs, double brick walls, the iron truss system in the kiln building, and exposed timber frames in other buildings, and the profile of the plant, as seen from the south elevation fronting on to the tracks, defined by a series of gable ends topped by monitor roofs;
- the National Porcelain Insulator site including its buildings and remains connected to the operations of the National Porcelain Insulator and the Medicine Hat Brick and Tile, including the former office, the clay storage warehouse, surviving concrete floor slabs and subsurface remains of foundations, and vestiges of the tunnel dryers;
- the Medicine Hat Brick and Tile/I-XL Industrial Plant site including its remnants of the Purmal Brick Factory dating from the pre-1914 era, solid brick walls, pair of brick chimneys of the former updraft kilns, structural elements from the Gas City Clay Products Company and Medicine Hat Brick and Tile era, evidence of important innovations, the continuous tunnel dryer and kiln system, and structural components of the operational plant, dating from the 1950s, 60s and 70s.