Clayburn Industries Ltd. will be permanently closing its Abbotsford manufacturing plant as of July 29. The closure will eliminate 20 positions and put an end to a historic connection with the city.
Clayburn has operated the brick plant on the Pine Street site since 1949 and in several other locations before that. It originated in 1905 in Clayburn Village, B.C.’s first company town.
“The Clayburn name is not gone,” said David Lane, president and CEO of Clayburn Industries. “It’s just the manufacturing plant that is closing.”
While the bricks will no longer be made locally, the Clayburn Group will continue to operate manufacturing plants in the U.S., China and India. The group will remain in Abbotsford for the foreseeable future, as its head office, administration and financial operations are here.
The decision to close the brick plant was made after the company experienced years of deteriorating market conditions for the products made at this location.
Lane, who has been with the company since 1992, said there are no plans to end Clayburn’s other business ventures in Abbotsford, including Sumas Shale Ltd., a joint venture between Clayburn Industries and Lafarge Canada. Clayburn owns 325 acres of property on Sumas Mountain which it mines. While it will no longer mine fireclay, it continues to remove shale and sandstone materials to make cement. The B.C. division of Clayburn Refractories Ltd., will still be run out of the Abbotsford office as well.
As for the employees affected, Lane said the jobs may be phased out gradually.
“July 29 is the date we can best predict today, but there is some flexibility, depending on customer needs,” said Lane.
When the manufacturing plant closes, it will end a brick-making tradition that goes back to 1905.
Abbotsford’s Bud Cairns started working in the plant in 1946, following in his dad’s footsteps.
“My father worked for the company when it was still in Clayburn,” he said.
In 1988, Cairns left the company to enjoy retirement.
“There is a lot of history there. It’s a shame to see it go by the board,” said Cairns.
Despite his disappointment, Cairns said he understands why the closure is needed.
“Look at houses being made now. They use all kinds of materials. They don’t use bricks like they used to.”
While he no longer lives in Clayburn Village, Cairns said he parents stayed in the company town until they passed on.
The discovery of high-grade clay throughout Sumas Mountain, and the demand for bricks brought Clayburn Village into being.
The village and brick plant were built in 1905, by Charles Maclure, son of John Maclure, a former Royal Engineer and a B.C. pioneer.
Well ahead of its time as an employer, the company provided water, power, sewers and storm drains. It sponsored a golf club, theatre group, sports teams, and a company doctor – at a time when Abbotsford residents sometimes had to go to Chilliwack, Mission, Langley or even Sumas, Washington for medical assistance.
After operating for a quarter century, the brick plant was dismantled in 1931. Scaled-back operations were moved to the sister “Kilgard” site located further up Sumas Mountain.
In 1949, a devastating fire ravaged the plant. It was immediately rebuilt and was operational by 1950. The same year the company constructed a new, state-of-the-art plant in the Village of Abbotsford.
In 1968, the Kilgard plant was sold and the Abbotsford plant was purchased by a U.S. company.
In 1974, company employees bought the Abbotsford plant and formed two companies: Clayburn Industries Limited and Canadian Refractories Limited. The Sumas First Nations band took over the Kilgard plant and commenced business as Sumas Clay Products Limited.
While only the foundations of the Clayburn plant now remain in the village, half of the original homes, a store, the church and the schoolhouse – all made of red brick produced by the plant – have survived.
Located at the foot of Sumas Mountain, the village was designated for conservation as a heritage site in 1996. Most prestigious of the remaining buildings are the Clayburn church, built in 1912, and the Clayburn schoolhouse, built in 1907, both of which are on the register of Canada’s historic sites. The general store was also built in 1907.
– with files from The Reach