In 1908, Robert William Gladstone (1879-1951), Henry Burton Sharman (1865-1953) and John N. Lyon of Manitoba, combined forces to form the Ontario Metal Culvert Company. The letters of patent issued for that and subsequent years also included the wives of Sharman and Lyon.
Based in Guelph, this company was to metamorphose several times during its development. In 1915, it became known across the country as the Canada Ingot Iron Company. In 1931 it was sometimes associated with Armco Drainage and Metal Products before, in 1969, becoming relabelled as Armco Canada Ltd. In between these years, the company became one of the oldest and better-known producers in Canada of corrugated galvanized metal culverts and pipes as well as road equipment. Its products were produced and utilized in highway construction as far west as Vancouver and east as Halifax.
Founded by a Theologian and a Teacher
The Ontario Metal Culvert Company was founded as a means for HB Sharman of Birtle, Manitoba to obtain financial independence. His intent was for the business to be so successful it would allow him to follow his true calling – as a church theologian. In fact, after being president of the company from 1908 to 1920, he had achieved his goal. He remained a member of the Board of Directors until 1931, but his interest lay elsewhere.
Another major participant was Robert William Gladstone born in Oxford, Ontario . He had been a teacher but now helped to operate this fledgling company. As a partial owner, he became financially successful. Like Sharman, he moved in another direction. In the fall of 1925, he ran as a Liberal against Conservative Hugh Guthrie in the Federal Election in Wellington South. Gladstone lost, but did not give up. He became an MP 10-years later in 1943. He was re-elected in both 1940 and 1945. Several of his speeches deal with the need to address the manufacturing and farmer sectors of Canada. He also made several comments on the piano industry. Gladstone closed out his political career as a Senator sitting from September 1949 to his death in office, in Ottawa in 1951.
Edward L. Campbell
One other important contributor to the company’s success was Edward L. Campbell (1901-1971). This Yonkers born, American had been an engineer for the Illinois Division of Highways. He held this position from 1922 to 1926 when he moved to Guelph. In all likelihood, he was recruited by Gladstone during one of his frequent visits to the United States. In Guelph, Campbell became active in the operation and managing of Canada Metal Company. According to an article in the Winnipeg Free Press dated July 25, 1934, he left his position of sales engineer and became Western General Manager, moving to Winnipeg and establishing a manufacturing facility for the in 1927/1928.
During this period, Campbell was responsible for the establishment and operation of several Western plants in Edmonton, Regina and Vancouver as well as “branch distributing yards” in Calgary and Saskatoon. During this period, he established a residence in Winnipeg on 989 McMillan Street. He is listed in the Henderson Directory from 1934 to 1946. After this, he returned to the Guelph headquarters where he continued to run the company, retiring as President in 1966.
Campbell, like Gladstone, was heavily invested in the Guelph community. While Gladstone chose politics, Campbell was a member of the Engineers Club of Toronto and the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario. He became president of a number of organizations including:
· The Guelph Chamber of Commerce
· The Guelph Rotary Club
· The Guelph Country Club
· The Guelph Junction Railway
He was also president of the Corrugated Metal Pipe Institute.
The Canada Iron Ingot Company
By 1914, the founders decided a name change was necessary. The Ontario Iron Ingot Company became the Canada Iron Ingot Company. It was under this name that it recorded one of only two acknowledged accidents:
1. John Smith had his arm crushed by a rolling machine on July 19, 1913
2. Harvey Webber had his left hand smashed by a corrugated curving machine on July 3, 1919. He was pulled free when James Smith managed to separate the rollers.
This is a low number reflecting, perhaps, the care the company took of its employees and/or the safety of the manufacturing process. Whatever, the reason, the Canada Iron Ingot Company continued to maintain an excellent record in this area. They also avoided any strike at their factory in Ontario.
In this, but particularly in their product line, the company proved to be astute. The focus was the manufacture of “Corrugated Iron culverts for permanent Municipal Highways and Railways.” Local and national municipalities purchased them for their highways. Railroad companies also had a need for this product. In 1916, an ad proudly proclaimed the company to be “the foremost in the line of Guelph’s industrial progressives.” During these years, the company grew under the management of Gladstone.
The products being produced out of its premises on Norwich/Perth Street focused on their “superior to all others” culverts. The market ranged all across Canada. Canada Iron Ingot Company had branches in Montreal, Winnipeg and Calgary. Yet, in 1916, they only had employment for 25-40 hands out of its premises.
By 1921, the company needed larger premises. It moved from the old Wellington/Inglis Foundry to new facilities at 35-41 George Street where it has remained ever since. It also expanded its line of products. While the focus was still on culverts and pipes, the company also began to produce various pieces of equipment, including graders. At one point, they added guard rails and traffic signs to their repertoire.
The growth of the company was increasingly tied to Armco Drainage and Metal Products. However, it remained as the Canada Ingot Iron Company. In 1931, the company became closely associated with the American firm, Armco Drainage and Metal Products. However, it remained as the Canada Ingot Iron Company. By this time, it was providing customers with at least two brands: The Armco and the Road Boss. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the specific products listed were:
1. Armco Ingot iron culverts
2. Armco part circle culverts
3. Armco paved invert culverts
4. Armco perforated pipe
5. Multi-plate arches
6. Multi-plate pipe
7. Road Boss maintainers
8. Road Boss Fresno
9. Road Boss Drag
More branch offices had been added. In 1927, the company began manufacturing its products in Winnipeg, constructing offices and a factory on property at 37 Higgins Avenue the following year.
Other plants were listed in Edmonton, Regina and Vancouver, with distribution centres in Calgary and Saskatoon The Canada Iron Ingot Company now also had a strong presence in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
Armco Canada Ltd. and the Aftermath
The road projects of the 1930s helped to ensure the company’s continued success into the 1940s. While still supplying products nationally, the company began to reduce the number of its facilities in 1945/1946, including closing the plant in Winnipeg. Further, changes were coming in the second half of the 20th century.
Therefore, it was no surprise, considering the focus on Armco products, that the company would eventually change its name. The company formally was renamed Armco Canada Ltd. in 1969. The products remained the same. The staff expanded but the headquarters remained in Guelph at George Street, although other plants were established at Campbell Road and Dawson Avenue.
It was under the Armco name that the company had its first strikes in Guelph. These occurred in April 1973 and May 1976. In the 1973 strike, United Steel Workers Local 4053 were asking for an increase of the basic wage. Other concerns were vacations, improved life insurance, weekly indemnity and a dental medical plan. The workers went out on April 2 and went back on the 23 after an agreement was reached.
The 1976 strike lasted from May 10 until July 5. 135 members of USWA Local 4054 walked off the job Sunday night after negotiations for a contract, which had ended in February, had broken down. A sticking point was the length of the contract. The union wanted a one-year contract; Armco was asking for three. The strike ended by mutual agreement.
A later merger with Westeel Rosco resulted in the creation of Armco-Westeel in 1983. However, this was of short duration as the company became Armtec Inc in 1987. Armtec was, in turn, devoured by Jannock Steel Fabricating Company in 1988. Eleven years later, the company had 20 sales’ offices and offered employment to 250 people in 12 plants.
This was not the end of changes for the company. In 2018, Armtec’s Steel and Plastic Drainage Divisions was taken over by WGI Westman Group Inc. It has kept the Armtec name. Together with Canada Culvert acquired in 2007), it formed Armtec Inc. The company currently boasts 77 locations across Canada and the United States providing employment for 2,200 workers. The Guelph division continues to operate out of their George Street location.