July 1st was Canada Day, and a special one – the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation. I’ve long wanted to write an article about pencils in Canada. Unfortunately, information is scarce, and after many years editing and writing this blog, I remain knowing very little. Still, perhaps there is a detail that might be of interest to readers, and perhaps you may have something to share!
Formal graphite mining in Canada probably started at the Miller or Keystone mine in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge (also known as Grenville), Quebec. The exact date may not be certain. The very informative Quebec Mines Bulletin cites 1845. Mining site Mindat.org suggests pre-1845, probably 1837 or 1838 and cites the Bulletin on Graphite, Mineral Resources of Canada, Ells, R. W. (1904).
This mine is still in existance in 2017!
I think this mine had a famous customer. Henry Petroski’s The Pencil mentions that Thoreau used Canadian graphite. His reference is to The Days of Henry Thoreau: A Biography, Walter Harding.
In a passage on the Thoreau pencil business in the 1830s, Harding mentions that after the Bristol and Tudor mines were exhausted:
And when that mine eventually closed, they turned to importing graphite from Canada.
John Thoreau must have used the Miller mine in Grenville as a graphite source.
(Did you know that Henry Thoreau visited Montreal and Quebec City as a tourist in 1850? There is a description (French language) of the trip in the essay Le voyage d’Henry David Thoreau au Canada en 1850 by George Gauthier-Larouche.)
Petroski mentions that three US manufacturers all opened Canadian factories in 1932. Why the same year? I can only speculate that whoever was first spurred quick competition.
Dixon opened in the Toronto suburb of Newmarket. There is a Dixon Plaza named after the company, and they still have a small office in the locale.
Do you like the Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood pencil’s local nature? Dixon once made a similar Canadian pencil, the Chancellor, with Canadian wood, graphite, and manufacture. Heather at A Penchant for Paper owns one! I’d love to see one, but they seem to be exceedingly rare today.
Eberhard Faber located in Drummondville, Quebec.
Venus Pencil was in west end Toronto. I’m not honestly sure if it dates to 1932. There is a discount eyeglass company on the site now. Venus is know to Canadians for the Laurentien pencil crayon.
A blog reader told me one of the eonomic diversification projects that former Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood championed was a pencil factory. Is this true? I would love to see a Newfoundland pencil!
And two resource notes: Petroski mentions that Canadian graphite again came to the rescue during WWII when other sources were unavailable. Staedtler have mentioned (with little detail) using Canadian cedar.
CNP Industries – this was apparently a short-lived Quebec pencil company. Have you heard of it?
Northern Pencils A briefly alive slat supplier?
Can any readers share more about pencils in Canada?