The Canada Ingot Iron Company: Surviving For More Than a Century
In 1908, Robert William Gladstone (1879-1951), Henry Burton Sharman (1865-1953) and John N. Lyon of Manitoba, combined forces to form the Ontario Metal Culvert Company. Based in Guelph, this company was to metamorphose into, first an American branch plant of the American Rolling Mill Company (later Armco) called Canada Ingot Iron Company in 1915, in 1931 to Armco Drainage and Metal Products and, in 1946, into Armco Canada Ltd. The company became one of the oldest producers of corrugated galvanized metal culverts and pipes as well as road equipment in Canada.
Founded by a Theologian and a Teacher
The Ontario Metal Culvert Company was founded as a means for Sharman to obtain financial independence. His intent was for the business to be so successful it would allow him to follow his true calling – as a church theologian. In fact, after being president of the company from 1908 to 1920, he had achieved his goal. He remained a member of the Board of Directors until 1931, but his interest lay elsewhere.
Another major participant was Robert William Gladstone. He had been a teacher but now helped to operate a company. As a partial owner, he was financially successful. Like Sharman, he moved in another direction. In the fall of 1925, he ran as a Liberal against Conservative Hugh Guthrie in the Federal Election in Wellington South. Gladstone lost, but did not give up. He became an MP 10-years later in 1943. He was re-elected in both 1940 and 1945. He became a Senator in September 1940 and died in Ottawa in 1951.
The Canada Iron Ingot Company
By 1914, the Ontario Culvert Company was absorbed by the American Rolling Mill company (later known as Armco). It now went under the name of the Canada Iron Ingot Company. Under this name, it recorded one of only two acknowledged accidents:
1. John Smith had his arm crushed by a rolling machine on July 19, 1913
2. Harvey Webber had his left hand smashed by a corrugated curving machine. He was pulled free when James Smith managed to separate the rollers.
An American, Edward L. Campbell (1901-1971) moved to Guelph in 1926 to manage the company, taking over from Gladstone who had been running it since Sharman had left the position.
Campbell became President of the Company as well as General Manager until he retired in 1966. By this time, Guelph was his home. He became a president of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce as well as an active member in the Guelph Rotary Club, Guelph Country Club, Guelph Junction Railway Company and the Corrugated Metal Pipe Institute.
In 1916, an ad proudly proclaimed the company to be “the foremost in the line of Guelph’s industrial progressives.” Its major product was one that was increasingly in demand – corrugated iron culverts. Local municipalities purchased them for their highways and railroad companies also had a need for this product.
However, the Canada Iron Ingot Company sold their “superior to all others” culverts across Canada. They had branches in Montreal, Winnipeg and Calgary. Yet, in 1916, they only had employment for 35-40 hands out of their premises Norwich/Perth Street.
By 1921, the company needed larger premises. They moved from the old Wellington/Inglis Foundry to new facilities at 35-41 George Street. Although the name has changed, the company has remained there ever since. They also expanded their line of products. While the focus was still on culverts and pipes, the company also began to produce various rad equipment, including graders. At one point, they added guard rails and traffic signs to their repertoire.
To an extent, this tied in with their new name. In 1931, the company became Armco Drainage and Metal Products. However, in some publications, they were still often referred to as the Canada Ingot Iron Company. By this time, they were providing their customers with at least two brands:
1. The Armco
2. The Road Boss
More branch offices had been added. They now had a strong presence in Sherbrooke, Vancouver and Regina and a branch plant in Winnipeg.
Armco Canada Ltd. and the Aftermath
After 1932, the Canada Ingot Iron Company became known as Armco Drainage and Metal Products. This became shortened to Armco informally. The company formally was renamed Armco Canada Ltd. in 1969. The products remained the same. The staff expanded but the location in Guelph was still at George Street, although other plants were established at Campbell Road and Dawson Avenue.
It was under the Armco name that the company had its first strikes in Guelph. These occurred in April 1973 and May 1976. In the 1973 strike, United Steel Workers Local 4053 were asking for an increase of the basic wage. Other concerns were vacations, improved life insurance, weekly indemnity and a dental medical plan. The workers went out on April 2 and went back on the 23 after an agreement was reached.
The 1976 strike lasted from May 10 until July 5. 135 members of USWA Local 4054 walked off the job Sunday night after negotiations for a contract, which had ended in February, had broken down. A sticking point was the length of the contract. The union wanted a one-year contract; Armco was asking for three.
A later merger with Westeel Rosco resulted in the creation of Armco-Westeel in 1983. However, this was of short duration as the company became Armtec Inc in 1987. Armtec was, in turn, devoured by Jannock Steel Fabricating Company in 1988. Eleven years later, the company had 20 sales’ offices and offered employment to 250 people in 12 plants.
This was not the end of changes for the company. In 2018, Armtec’s Steel and Plastic Drainage Divisions was taken over by WGI Westman Group Inc. They have kept the Armtec name. Together with Canada Culvert acquired in 2007), they form Armtec Inc. They boast 77 locations across Canada and the United States providing employment for 2,200 workers. The Guelph division continues to operate out of their George Street location.