As a boy living in the Norwood District of Edmonton, I used to “help” our Woodlands Dairy milkman. At the end of his route, I would tag along to help unload the wagon and stable the horse and help the milkman cash in. An important element of cashing in was placing the paper milk tickets on sheets of sticky paper. I was an expert at this. The pay was good – a bottle of chocolate milk or an ice cream treat. Woodland Dairy was located at 95th Street and 108th Avenue.
In 1995 after retiring from the natural gas industry, I became re-introduced to the Dairy Industry through collecting milk bottles. Ten years of collecting has enabled me to assemble a good collection representing the four western provinces – milk bottles, dairy go-with’s and related items. I started with bottles. Numerous dairies in each province used bottles with their names on them. Many of the smaller dairies used plain bottles with their own paper caps (milk bottle tops) identifying the dairy, although in some districts or smaller centers this would hardly have been necessary.
In Alberta about 80 dairies used bottles with their names on them. Of these, a dozen were in Edmonton, the largest four being Edmonton City Dairy (established 1906), Woodland Dairy (established 1908), Jasper Dairy (established 1907), and the Northern Alberta Dairy Pool (established 1928). Each of these dairies used a variety of embossed and applied color label (ACL) bottles. The bottles from these four dairies make a nice collection in their own right. The advent of applied coloured labels allowed the dairies to expand greatly the styles of logos used, as well as the advertising slogans on the reverse.
Milk bottles became readily available at reasonable cost after 1905 when the automatic bottle-making machine came into use by our Canadian manufacturers. Prior to the wide use of glass bottles, milk was delivered in bulk in milk cans and ladled out into the customer’s own container – not too sanitary a process. So the use of sterile glass bottles with a paper cap sealing in the milk was a big step forward from a health standpoint.
On the prairies, bottles of three sizes were used – the quart, the pint, and the half pint. The first style of bottle we saw was the empire or bowling-pin shape. These were followed by the stubbies of varying heights. Then the dairies and manufacturers standardized on the taller round bottles with longer necks. Next came the square bottle with the same wide mouth. And lastly before the change to cardboard cartons was the light-weight square bottle with a narrow mouth. Edmonton City Dairy and Palm Dairies (the successor to Woodland) also used “cream-top” quarts.
Edmonton City Dairy used a large variety of 29 different groups of bottles. 27 groups are embossed bottles. Group 28 are the round two-color ACL bottles which have four different slogans on the reverse. The last group is the square wide-mouth bottle with an orange colour label only.
David and Sandford Haire formed Woodland Dairy in 1908. In the early years they used two styles of bottles each embossed with both “Haire Bros.” and “Woodland Dairy.” After 1913 there was a succession of 12 styles, 10 embossed, a group of red and green ACL bottles with six different slogans on the reverse, and finally a square wide-mouth bottle with a red only ACL.
Palm Dairies, a larger multi-city operation, used numerous styles of embossed bottles, red only ACL bottles and two-color red and green bottles. The Northern Alberta Dairy Pool used four styles of embossed, two styles of round red ACL and two styles of square red ACL bottles.
Bottles with the Haire Bros logo are very rare, as are bottles for Huff’s Maple Leaf Dairy and North Edmonton Dairy. W.P.Huff bottles (predecessor of Jasper Dairy) are as rare as those of Edmonton Pure Butter. All of these bottles have embossed labels.
Horricks Dairy bottles are hard to find but do appear from time to time. Horricks bottle have black coloured labels. The attractive blue ACL bottles of Edmonton Natural Milk Producers and Distributors are also fairly scarce.
In addition to the bottles, there is an array of “go-with’s” for the collector to watch for. These include milk bottle tops, tokens, milk tickets and milk top picks. Promotional items include lids for milk bottles, recipe books, needle and sewing kits and calendars. These are all interesting to collect and add variety and scope for the dairy collector.
Milk bottle tops (the paper caps) are fun to collect and easy to store and display. They range widely in rarity. Tops from some of the larger dairies are common (Palm, N.A.D.P.), while those from some of the smaller dairies (Rife’s or Henry’s Dairies) are rare.
Out of my collecting activities has grown a strong interest in the history of the dairies. So far this has led me to publish two books, The Milk Bottles of Edmonton City Dairy (Second Edition 2004) and Dairies of Edmonton. The first provided information about the Edmonton City Dairy, details and photos of the bottles used by the Dairy and information and photos of the myriad of promotional items, and other business items they used. Dairies of Edmonton provides a listing of the 134 dairies that operated in Edmonton from 1905 to 1955, with photos and individual histories including descriptions and photos of artifacts. Both books are available through several Edmonton outlets.