At the turn of the Twentieth Century, cheese factories were a major part of the Ontario economy, and North Grenville and the surrounding area was one of the largest producers of cheese in Eastern Ontario. Every community seemed to have had its own cheese factory, and the work there, and revenue from making cheese, provided important income for farm families during the May to November cheese-making season.
In 1904, there were twenty-six cheese factories sending their product to the Kemptville Cheese Board for sale. Each cheese weighed around 90 pounds, and the Oxford Station factory supplied 60 cheeses in one week in June, 1904. This was small in comparison with the total of 2,139 sold through the Kemptville Board that week, but its output increased enormously over the years, eventually reaching 20,000 boxes a year in the 1930’s.
The Oxford Station factory was built in 1899 by James Sanderson, a man of great vision and energy, who built the first refrigerated storage facility in Eastern Ontario. James Sanderson served on the Oxford-on-Rideau Council, was Warden of the United Counties, and was M.P.P. for the riding for thirty years, between 1907 and 1937. The Sanderson family operated the cheese factory until it burned down in 1963.
Cheese was an important export item for Canada, reaching a peak level in 1904, when 234 million pounds of cheese was exported to Great Britain, that was 95% of all the cheese imported by Britain that year. But, aside from increases during the two world wars, exports of cheese declined steadily after that. Public demand for liquid milk drew supplies away from cheese-making in the small community factories, and the introduction of large, automated facilities made the local cheese factory less and less economically viable.
But for generations of people in North Grenville and beyond, the daily run to the cheese factory was both an economic and a social occasion, and there are still a number of these buildings dotted around the municipality, reminders of a long-gone era.