Ghost Industries of Port Hope, Ontario

A couple of relics from two of Port Hope’s largest manufacturing factories, the Winslow and Ambrose Brewery (Canning Factory) and the Globe File Factory (Nicholson) recently stirred my imagination. While strolling along the Ganaraska River on what finally feels like spring has arrived with the camera in hand, I had to know their story. After much research, their story slowly came to life and what a story they have to tell.

The forlorn-looking little building at 228 Cavan Street was most recently known as the Cavan Candy Factory and best remembered by locals for its excellent fudge. This building may look abandoned but it is presently used for storage by the Atomic Energy Limited. It is remarkable that this small building is the only remaining remnant of the massive Port Hope Brewing Company. The Brewery, started in 1874 by Messrs. Winslow and Ambrose was located above of the Candy Factory site below the Brewery Pond. Under the “Highland Spring Brewery” banner the company consisted of various buildings and had an impressive capacity of 5,000 barrels, or nearly 2,500 gallons daily! Their water was supplied by a natural spring and their energy was supplied by a steam engine that was built in Port Hope.

The Port Hope Canning and Preserving Company acquired the property in 1911 when the Ambrose Brewing Company went into receivership. Before moving to Cavan Street, the Canning Factory started its life in 1896 at the harbour at a site leased by a Mr. Stanley and “Yankee” Bill Miller. They were also connected with the Canadian Canners Ltd. plant # 14 in Picton, Ontario. They were primarily can makers making cans in the winter months ready for the summer packing season. The plant was closed for a time and was re-opened in 1936. The canning plant was closed and sold in 1962. Some products packed (early years) were Strawberries, Gooseberries, Pears, Plums, Peas, Corn, Pig’s feet, Turkey, Olives, Mincemeat, Catsup, Pork and Beans and Jam. In later years, Peas, Apples, Apple Juice, Del Monte Juice Drinks and Tomato Juice were manufactured here.

According to a local resident “The Brewery Pond behind the old canning factory was surrounded and sheltered by trees. Its deep water froze early and remained solid and relatively smooth until spring. Young men of the neighbourhood cleared the snow and on Friday and Saturday nights especially, there were blazing bonfires to light the scene and warm the toes and to toast marshmallows.”

After 1962, Stein Packers were producing dog food here under the Alpo brand. The building was totally destroyed by fire on March 2, 1968. It would seem most town residents were not sorry to see the business go, packaging raw dog food produced a most undesirable odor for some blocks around the plant!

The largest and most visible building located on Cavan Street is the old, abandoned Nicholson File Manufacturing Company. It started its life as the Globe File Manufacturing Company in Port Hope in 1888 on the former Beamish Mill property. The town agreed to give Frederick Outram the property known as the Beamish mill property “a tax exemption for ten years, and four hundred dollars for repairs, providing Outram would erect certain buildings, remain in operation ten years and employ a certain number of men for that period.” The Beamish property was purchased by the town for $7,000.

From The Port Hope Times, April, 1889: “The Globe File Works is a big place, and its increasing output is necessitating the employment of more help than was estimated for this period of time here. The Globe File Works pay sheet will probably equal that of any factory in town, and that all the employees are men is another very desirable feature about it.” The last sentence of the above quote would likely cause rioting in the streets if used anywhere today! The Globe erected a large factory building with a 100 horsepower head of water to propel their machinery. The file factory was the largest in Canada, but they faced a lot of competition from many smaller manufacturers of files. The main factory building was divided into sections. The cutting, tempering, forging, grinding and an electrical room. The second storey was devoted to a packing and store room. Eleven brands of files were manufactured here thus a large stock of labels for boxes had to be carried, half a million at any time for the files which were packed into boxes for shipment all over North America. The company’s storeroom would also contain raw materials, usually about 50 tons of steel, numerous pulleys, coal, oil etc.

The factory’s equipment included shearing machines, trip hammers, an annealing furnace and grinders. After the files were completed they would require a thorough cleaning with oil of vitriol and sand would be applied, after which the files were placed in lime water to keep them from rusting. They were then tested, oiled and packed in boxes for shipment. Today, ‘The File” building photos when compared to ones of only a few years ago show the devastation that vandalism and being empty for so many years can do to a once very attractive building.

In 1901 the Globe was sold to the Nicholson File Company of the United States. A new File Factory was opened on Peter Street in 1955. Nicholson File was taken over by Cooper Industries in 1972 and remained in Port Hope until NAFTA (1994) led to its being moved to Mexico. Maybe the 2018 NAFTA agreement will be an improvement for businesses in Canada today.

Regards, Ranger



  1. Old West · · Reply

    My Grandfather Samuel McLelland of Port Hope worked at the plant starting in the early 1900s. He was what was known at the time as a file grinder. When WW 1 began in 1914, Grand Sam worked another two years at Nicholson File until he immigrated to Elizabeth, N.J. where he also worked as a grinder at the American Swiss File & Tool Co. in Elizabeth. He worked at Swiss File until his death in 1941.


    1. garymac, Great comments, we appreciate readers historical information.


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