June 21st, 2024

Heritage in the Hat: Alberta Linseed Oil thrived in Medicine Hat

By Medicine Hat News on June 30, 2018.

The only choice before the Second World War, linseed oil paint has virtually disappeared from the Canadian market, replaced by solvent and latex paint. However, conservation advisors are again recommending it for heritage projects. Once a “made in Medicine Hat” product, now it must be imported from Sweden.

Linseed oil is extracted from flax seed by pressing. It is used as a preservative for wood, concrete, and in paints, varnishes, stains and putty. It is also used in soaps, inks, and in the production of linoleum! It’s so useful that you can eat it too as an edible oil nutritional supplement. In Europe, it is traditionally eaten with potatoes and quark and considered a delicacy due to its hearty taste. I occasionally put flax seed in my porridge.

We used to make our own linseed oil paint here. The Alberta Linseed Oil Mills began operation in 1912, financed by John McNeely, president and general manager, Harlan C. (“Hop”) Yuill, vice-president, and William McNeely, secretary-treasurer. A fire on Oct. 19, 1914, completely gutted the plant but it was rebuilt. The mill, located on Allowance Avenue south of the CPR, employed 24 and produced raw and boiled linseed oil for use in paints and varishes as well as livestock meal.

In 1918, the company was sold to Brandram-Henderson Limited of Montreal and the name changed to Alberta Linseed Oil Company Limited but in 1934 Yuill bought the company back. Throughout the years of operation, the company diversified its product line to include hand soap, household cleanser, safflower products, edible oil products and asphalt and roofing tar. Various subsidiary companies were incorporated: Caltana Safflower Products Limited, Hy-Point Feeds, Canadian Safflower Products Limited, H & H Ranches and Lindsay of Medicine Hat.

Shortages of linseed oil and paint during the Second World War stimulated the development of solvent and water-based paints which then displaced linseed oil.

For Alberta Linseed Oil, livestock feed (Hy-Point Feeds) became more of a focus. A fire occurred in 1985, which damaged Hy-Point Feeds and parts of the main building of Alberta Linseed Oil. Six employees were injured and one was killed. The neighbourhood was evacuated due to flaming embers.

The remaining structures were demolished and the Allowance Avenue location vacated. Hy-Point Feeds moved operations to Brier Park and a feed mill operated there under various owners and names. In March 2017, Landmark Feeds closed its doors due to falling sales, thus ending a chapter in milling history that started in Medicine Hat back in 1912.

Linseed oil paint has greater coverage and longer life than modern paint products which compensates for higher paint cost. It is currently being used in the restoration of Calgary City Hall and will be used on the McKenzie Sharland Grocery. Linseed oil paint and putty and linoleum are traditional, environmentally-friendly building products and maybe there is a business opportunity here. What’s old is new again!

Malcolm Sissons is the chair of the Heritage Resources Committee. Committee member Sally Sehn provided research for this article.

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