Pencils in Canada

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!

19th Century

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 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.)

20th Century

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.

21st Century

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?

10 Replies to “Pencils in Canada”

  1. Thanks for this post. I only have one tidbit to share: Eberhard Faber Canada was established in 1955, purchased by Dixon Ticonderoga in 1978, then amalgamated in 1980. I don’t know when they closed shop though.

  2. Thanks Sola! Eberhard Faber Canada were formally in Acton Vale, which I gather is about 20km from Drummondville.

    Some official details here:

    (Dixon purchasing Eberhard Faber Canada likely explains why in Canada, the Pink Pearl is a Dixon product, not a Sanford product!)

    Oh! Look what I found online:

  3. Thank you for this post, especially with the 150th anniversary of Canada.

    I found a Berol Verythin with “Canada” on its side, so probably made in Quebec then.
    Very nice hard vermilion lead, better than current Verythin offering, but IMO inferior to the same Berol Verythin with made in U.S.A. I wonder if they were only sold in Canada,..

  4. Hi Matt, thanks very much for your comment! You know, the question of whether these pencils were exported is really interesting – and I have no idea.

  5. Hello. I have 4 unsharpened pencils marked “Made in Canada TERRA NOVAN 31-HB”. I’m wondering if these might be the pencils that were made in Newfoundland that you were talking about in the “Pencils in Canada” post. I can’t find any information online about Terra Novan pencils and there’s no other marking on them. Do you think these are the ones? If so, I would be happy to send you one.

  6. Venus pencils were I have been told were made at Hanna Avenue in the former Liberty building after the building was decommissioned after being built for manufacturing the Bren guns during ww2. I was told this by a friend who knew the building from the war period and the tenants which followed, printers and the largest, Kodak.

  7. I just bought 48 (never used) pencils red, green, blue and yellow. “Welcome to British Columbia Centennial Years 1966-1967” written on the sides of each pencil. Each dozen has a paper sleeve with the following words: Welcome to British Columbia Centennial Years 1966-1967 One Dozen lead pencils Made in Canada Extra fine quality pencils. Do you have any idea where these are from?

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