A new donation to the Western Canadian History program
By: Cathy Roy, Curator, Western Canadian History
Robert “Dairy Bob” Snyder recently donated his large early twentieth century Alberta dairy collection to the Royal Alberta Museum. The collection comprises dozens of milk bottles printed with dairy names, bottle tops, plastic tokens, cheese and butter crates, cream cans, and advertising clocks and calendars. The artifacts come from dairies in Red Deer, Calgary, and Edmonton as well as from 39 other locations around the province.
Dairy memorabilia take us back to the days of home milk delivery in horse-drawn wagons, five-cent ice cream cones at the local confectionary store, and the many small, family owned dairies that operated in Alberta towns and cities.
Mr. Snyder has fully documented his collection and self-published three books as a result of his research: Dairies of Edmonton 1905-1955; Milk Bottles of Alberta; and The Milk Bottles of Edmonton City Dairy. It is the wealth of data accompanying the collection that makes it such a valuable addition to the Western Canadian History collection.
Cathy Roy and Bob Snyder with an 100 year old egg crate
Snyder’s research reveals that many small dairy operators emigrated from Europe, the US, and eastern Canada where small agricultural producers made a living selling to local markets. Small dairy farmers owned acreages within or just outside of cities, and had herds ranging in size from two to 120 cows. The family or hired hands cared for and milked the cows (not every operation had a milking machine) and then bottled and delivered the milk to customers within a small geographical area. Some children of dairy farmers report washing milk bottles after school as part of the family business. Some dairies were mechanized with bottle washing equipment, a filling machine, and a capping machine.
There was an ever-increasing demand for dairy products, but there were problems for small producers. The dairies faced competition for workers during the wars when many men signed up, and from industrial booms, such as the discovery of oil at Leduc. The health department encouraged dairies to pasteurize their products but this was an improvement beyond the means of most small producers. The expansion of the municipal airport in Edmonton in the late 1930s took up farm lands and closed some operations. The peak number of milk dealers in Edmonton occurred during the 1930s. In 1935 there were 36 milk dealers. Many producers sold their operations and retail routes to larger dairies such as Edmonton City Dairy (eventually Silverwoods), Woodland (Palm) Dairy, Jasper Dairy, and the Northern Alberta Dairy Pool. By 1955, the number of milk dealers had decreased to just four large businesses.
Until this donation, the Western Canadian History collection had very few dairy artifacts. The Snyder Alberta Dairy Collection will allow Western Canadian History curators to interpret the history of small dairies in future exhibitions.
The collection will also be a valuable resource for historians interested in agricultural history of Alberta.
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