Wellington White was one of Moose Jaw’s first successful businessowners.
He arrived here when the town was emerging from a frontier settlement on the edge of a wilderness to become a city of fine large homes and impressive public buildings, an agricultural and rail centre of the new province of Saskatchewan.
Although Wellington White became involved in many local business ventures, he is best remembered as a brickmaker.
Brickmaking was one industry that local promoters had tried to encourage from the beginning of settlement.
In 1884, the editor of the Moose Jaw News wrote: “Does not someone wish to make a fortune by manufacturing good bricks cheap and then getting our city fathers to pass a bylaw forbidding wooden houses within certain limits?”
The essential ingredients for bricks — lots of good quality clay and water — were available in the Moose Jaw River valley. A drawback was the high price of importing coal to operate the kilns.
Prior to 1891, in the wake of a severe economic depression and disastrous crop failures, Moose Jaw remained a huddle of wooden shops with false fronts and clapboard cottages, just like a setting of a western movie.
The one great fear of its inhabitants was fire — and with good reason.
The town was full of horse barns and livery stables, hay stacks and manure piles; tin stovepipes protruded from wooden roofs; kerosene lamps provided the only light; and a stone’s throw away from all this was the Canadian Pacific Railway yard where diamond-stack, wood-burning locomotives spewed sparks in every direction.
Then the inevitable happened. Someone knocked over a kerosene lamp in the Foley Block, on the site of today’s Cornerstone Inn, and the entire first block of Main Street, with the exception of one stone store, was swept away. Another fire three months later destroyed the west side of the second block.
It didn’t take long for town council to spring into action. It decreed that henceforth all structures within a designated area must be constructed of brick.
The first person to make bricks at Moose Jaw was Jim Brass, who had set up a kiln near the site of the old power plant on Manitoba Street East.
He gathered his clay — high in iron content — along the CPR tracks near the Ninth Avenue East crossing, and advertised his product as the “only red brick on the prairies.”
Commenting on Jim Brass’s brick, the Moose Jaw Times reported: “It is of a beautiful red colour, hard and solid, and appears capable of standing any amount of exposure . . . in the near future we may expect to see the rude shacks of our settlers replaced by beautiful brick residences.”
In the early 1890s, the long agricultural depression finally lifted. Climatic conditions improved and better world financial trends boosted wheat prices.
Moose Jaw grew as an agricultural and commercial centre.
Demands for locally-made red bricks increased until they exceeded the supply.
In 1898, Wellington White, a Prince Albert brickmaker, always alert to business trends, expanded his business to Moose Jaw.
He acquired a quarter section of land encompassing a portion of River Park, and set up a brick plant on the site of the present tourist campground. He estimated the supply of clay from the surrounding hillsides “would last for generations.”
Wellington White’s brickyard flourished from the beginning. At the end of the first season, the plant reached an output of one-half million bricks. Much of the brick was sold to the CPR for its new station at Moose Jaw (demolished in 1922).
In 1902, Wellington White began manufacturing firebrick from pottery clay obtained in the Dirt Hills about 20 miles south of Moose Jaw. It was advertised as the “only firebrick made in Canada.”
The brick plant continued to thrive until just before the First World War when the building boom in Western Canada came to a halt. Wellington White closed his brickyard and it was never reopened.
Brickmaking was only one of his many business ventures. He had extensive real estate holdings including a 2,500-acre farm southeast of Pasqua. He owned gravel pits east of Moose Jaw from which he hauled gravel for Moose Jaw’s first sidewalks.
Wellington White died in October 1934 when his automobile struck a spike on No. 2 Highway three miles south of Chamberlain and rolled into a deep ditch.
His wife Ollie continued his business interests until 1948, when she moved to California where three of her children resided. She died in 1971 at the age of 91.
Both Wellington and Ollie White were buried in the Moose Jaw Cemetery, and their gravesite is usually visited on Heritage Moose Jaw’s cemetery tours.