Sackville’s Enterprise Banquet of 1903

Although the event has been forgotten and the participants are no longer in our midst; it must have ranked as one of the most important events of the year. Since it took place just over a century ago, on January 14th, 1903, you may wonder how it came to my attention or what its significance might be today.

Each morning, I make a point of checking incoming e-mail. Seldom am I disappointed, as readers have taken seriously my request to forward ideas for and comments about Tantramar Flashback. Thanks to the Internet, most reader reaction reaches me via e-mail. Since the Tribune Post is online, Ive become acquainted with readers not only throughout the Atlantic Provinces and across Canada, but in many parts of the USA, and from such far flung countries as Switzerland, Australia, and Israel.

Further, since there is an accessible archive, the comments received may well be about a column written several years ago. Other suggestions reach me by way of a tap on the shoulder in the Post Office, or I may be stopped by someone on the street. A number of people make contact by regular mail or telephone. All are welcome! The tip for todays Flashback came from Riverview, NB. A telephone call from Pat Kilcup Hicks, a former resident of Sackville, was most intriguing. She had in her possession a menu card in the shape of a stove. Would I be interested in seeing it? I was, and she offered to loan it to me. What made me especially interested was the date: Jan. 14, 1903. By coincidence, I received her call just a few days following the 100th anniversary of the event.

Meanwhile, I had an opportunity to investigate the banquet, at which the menu card was featured. Fortunately it was covered by C.C. Avard, then editor of this newspaper. Held at Siddalls Restaurant, it was sponsored by the Enterprise Foundry management to honour their employees. The card was described by him as a particularly appealing and artistic piece of work. It represented an Enterprise stove; the oven of which contained a list of employees and the tempting menu. (See Illustrations).

The names of the employees reads like a page from todays telephone directory. How many can you identify? Avard concluded that those present would save it as an excellent souvenir of an enjoyable occasion. We are grateful that the Kilcup family did just that. Pat pointed out that both her great grandfather Walter, and grandfather Tupper Kilcup, were among those listed. The surfacing of this item a century later, underscores the fact that Sackville was once the foundry capital of the Maritimes. Today a brief summary of the history of the Enterprise Foundry will be featured. Ill save the story of the older Fawcett Foundry for another occasion.

It all began in 1872. Sackville was to have a second foundry specializing in the manufacture of stoves. Called the Dominion Foundry Company, the site selected was near the old Intercolonial Railway station and not far from the Sackville harbour and wharves. This meant that transportation of both the required raw material and the finished product would be near at hand. The manager was Robson M. Dixon, a direct descendant of Charles Dixon, one of the Yorkshire founders of Sackville. Associated with him were: W.F. George, Harmon Humphrey, Edward Anderson, George T. Bowser and Edward Cogswell.

Over the next few years the firm was to change ownership more than once. In 1888 it was purchased by W.S. Fisher and R.B. Emerson of Saint John and renamed the Enterprise Foundry Company. By 1895, according to the Chignecto Post, the principal officers were: W.S. Fisher, President, W. Bedford Dixon, manager and John McMeekin, foreman. By this time there were some 30 employees and shipment of stoves was well distributed throughout the Maritime Provinces. Over the next decade the Enterprise Foundry prospered and expanded to meet the needs of its customers.

Suddenly, a mere five years following the 1903 banquet tragedy struck. On the night of July 29, 1908 a fire broke out on the Enterprise Foundry premises. Soon out of control it left the plant in ruins; destroyed the Intercolonial Hotel, and the old railway station. There was also some damage to the exterior of the new Intercolonial Railway Station, erected three years earlier. [The latter is the present VIA Rail Station.]

The scene is best described by an on the spot observer: The fire was first discovered about 1 AM. At the time rain was falling and a very strong wind was blowing from the west. Although the alarm was immediately sounded and the Fire Department responded quickly, the force of water was not equal to the demand. It was impossible to do anything but check the progress of the blaze. Through the hard work of local firemen, volunteers and the assistance of the Amherst Fire Brigade, whose members came to Sackville on the Night Express, the new station was saved and the fire prevented from spreading even further. Happily, no lives were lost and no one sustained serious injury.

But this was only part of the story. Upward of 100 employees were out of work; and the question on all sides was: Would the Enterprise Foundry be rebuilt? Following a brief period of uncertainty, a decision was made on August 20, 1908, to construct an up to date facility with new machinery. The replacement plant went into production in 1909. Complete new lines of ranges, furnaces and heaters were developed and the firm moved ahead. Over the years, other members of the Fisher family joined the ranks of management. In 1905 Fred A. Fisher, son of the founder became Plant Superintendent. In 1911 and 1912, D.S. Fisher and C.M.P. Fisher joined the firm; with Fred A. Fisher later assuming the presidency. The founder, W.S. Fisher died in 1931. During the Second World War, in common with similar firms in other parts of Canada, the Enterprise Foundry played an important role in producing items for the war effort. Of special interest was the design of oil burning equipment for the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Navy.

A Flashback reader recalled for me a unique wartime contribution of the Enterprise Foundry Company. At the time, Radio Station CFCY Charlottetown had one of the strongest transmitters in the region. Known as the Friendly Voice of the Maritimes it broadcast a special summary of war news each evening at 7:30; sponsored by the Enterprise Foundry. What made these broadcasts special was the personable newscaster, Stuart Dickson, whose voice became one of the best known in the region. There was a special reason: Because of his English accent and voice of authority, many people would not believe the news unless they heard it from Stuart Dickson. How many Flashback readers recall his nightly introduction: This is the Enterprise Foundry News, Stuart Dickson speaking?

During the post war period there was considerable diversification as the Enterprise Foundry added new production lines. At one point it could make the claim that it was the only company manufacturing a complete line of cooking products using wood, coal, gas, oil, electricity and microwave energy. Unfortunately trouble was brewing in the wings. The popularity and convenience of electricity for both heating and cooking, the almost demise of the wood cook stove and the ability of large multinational corporations to market and service their products spelled trouble for smaller competitors.

Matters came to a head in 1982. The layoff of 160 employees for an indefinite period added to the feeling of uncertainty then gripping Sackville. On Dec. 2, 1982 the company went into receivership. The remainder of the employees were given their notice at noon on Dec. 23, 1982. Meanwhile an organization to save the Foundry encompassing the entire community interested in its past and future was formed. Spearheaded by David Hawkins of Hawk Communications, it drew widespread support from citizens, including representatives from both union and management.

Despite great effort, including extensive lobbying of all levels of government; organizing petitions and an attempt to find new investors; their efforts did not succeed. Later, Enterprise Foundrys assets were sold to Enheat Inc. In turn, its Fawcett Division, the remainder of the first Sackville Foundry established in 1852, became part of a new entity to be known as Enterprise Fawcett Limited. The two rivals in the foundry capital of the Maritimes had become one.