Glass | The Canadian Encyclopedia



The first known Canadian glass factory or glasshouse, the Mallorytown Glass Works in Upper Canada, began operation in 1839 and closed in 1840. Glassmaking involved a large investment in raw materials, equipment and salaries.


The first known Canadian glass factory or glasshouse, the Mallorytown Glass Works in Upper Canada, began operation in 1839 and closed in 1840. Glassmaking involved a large investment in raw materials, equipment and salaries. The smallest glasshouses employed 15-20 men producing glass from a 5-pot furnace; additional workers were needed to perform ancillary functions (eg, cutting firewood, unpacking raw materials, packing finished products). Thus, it is not surprising that the early period of glassmaking in Canada (1839-80) was one of changing partnerships and of firms going into and out of business.

Throughout the 19th century imported glass set the fashion and competitive standard. Between 1840 and 1860, 5 Canadian glass factories manufactured the most useful glass products - common green window glass and bottles.

Manufactured and Pattern Glass

The Canada Glass Works at St Jean, Canada East (now Québec), 1845-51, and the Ottawa Glass Works at Como, 1847-57, were window-glass factories located on water routes leading to Montréal. From this distribution centre, sales were advertised as far away as Hamilton. Window glass was made by blowing an elongated, hollow tube. Both ends were cut off and the tube was slit lengthwise and opened out into a flat sheet which was cut into various pane sizes. The largest windowpane available measured about 76 by 102 cm.

Bottles might be free blown but, more often, were mold blown, using iron molds. A general line of bottles, made after 1851 by the Como factory and the Foster Brothers Glass Works, St Jean (about 1855-58), would include aquamarine medicine bottles, soda or mineral water-bottles, whisky flasks, ale and wine bottles, square, tapered case bottles to fit travelling cases, and large demijohns for storing liquids, made in black (really a very dark green) glass.

The 4 major companies operating between 1860 and 1880 made bottles, jars and lamp chimneys as staple products. All were located near shipping facilities or the railway lines laid down in the 1850s. The Canada Glass Works, Hudson, Qué, 1864-72, and the Hamilton Glass Company, Hamilton, Ont, 1865-96, were "green" glasshouses. Green glass, used for window glass and bottles, ranges in colour from aquamarine through green, olive green and amber. The colour results from iron impurities in the sand, the major raw ingredient used in glassmaking.

The St Lawrence Glass Company, Montréal, 1867-73, and the Burlington Glass Company, Hamilton, Ont, 1874-98, were flint houses. "Flint," or colourless glass, used for finer glass lamps and tablewares, is made by adding a decolorizing agent that masks out the natural green colour. After 1864, an improved soda-lime formula for a good-quality colourless glass reduced the costs of raw materials by one-third of the costs of the lead glass formula then in use. This development opened the druggists' bottle trade to flint glasshouses. It also greatly expanded the market for cheaper, pressed flint-glass lamps and tablewares.

Druggists' bottles were mold blown in green, amber and flint glass in sizes ranging from individual doses of 1 or 2 ounces (28 or 56 mL) to a 16-ounce (about 450 mL) size. By the mid-1870s all North American druggist-ware manufacturers were making round, oval, square and rectangular mold shapes. On special orders, bottle molds would be lettered with the name of the retail druggist or the patent medicine. A cheaper method used a letter plate that could be inserted into a standard mold shape.

At first, soda-water bottles were egg shaped, a style introduced in England as early as 1814. In 1870 a modified version with a flat bottom was patented and, beginning in the early 1870s, a cylindrical bottle was also made with rounded shoulders and base or with a small flattened base, allowing the bottle to stand upright. These bottles were used by the growing number of late-19th-century bottlers of sweetened SOFT DRINKS and ginger beer. Whisky flasks and bottles were made up for distilleries. The BREWING INDUSTRY required cylindrical, mold-blown black or amber bottles for its ale, beer and porter. Although some custom-lettered molds were made up for Canadian breweries, most used plain bottles identified with paper labels bearing trademarked designs and names.

A mold-blown glass preserve jar was first patented by John Mason in the US in 1858. It had a wide mouth with spiral threading blown into the glass at the neck that created a tight seal with a metal screw-cap lid. This improvement over pottery jars and the advantage of visible contents encouraged home canning. The 2 Hamilton factories and the one at Hudson, Qué, all marketed one or 2 jar styles; the Hamilton ones were identified by the glass-company name blown into the glass.

The 2 flint factories (St Lawrence Glass Company and Burlington Glass Company) made lamps and lamp chimneys, as did the Hudson factory. The fragility of the chimneys, which required a daily washing, created a high-volume trade. The St Lawrence Co also made pressed flint-glass tablewares. The molten glass was pressed into patterned molds by a plunger that forced the glass into all parts of the mold. This process produced identical pieces very quickly and cheaply. By the 1860s heavy geometric designs, imitating cut glass, were in favour. Tableware sets included covered compotes and bowls, nappies, sugar and cream sets, spoon holders, tumblers, goblets, water pitchers, salt cellars and casters.

During the period 1880-1900, bottles, jars and chimneys continued to be staple products of the green and flint Hamilton factories, of several smaller firms established in the 1890s and of the 3 major new factories: the green and flint glassworks of the North American Glass Company (later Diamond, Diamond Flint, Dominion, Domglas), Montréal, 1880 to the present; the flint factory of the Nova Scotia Glass Company, New Glasgow, NS, 1881-92; and the Sydenham Glass Company, Wallaceburg, Ont, 1894-1913.

In druggists' bottles, some Canadian shapes were probably introduced in the 1890s. They were named for the city in which the factory was located or for the glass company. Jars were lettered with the glass-company name or with a trademarked name suggesting quality, eg, "Crown" or "Best."

By the 1880s the number of pieces offered in a tableware set had expanded and commonly included several sizes of plate, bread plate, footed cake plate or salver, butter dish, mug, celery vase, relish dish, and quart and half-gallon jugs. The new designs of the 1880s were delicately molded flowers, birds, berries, leaves, crests, scrolls, commemorative events and fine, shallow-pressed geometric patterns made by the flint factories.

By the 1890s patterns were more deeply pressed, imitating the current fashions in cut glass, or with bolder patterns of leaf or fruit. Panelled patterns were also popular. After the mid-1890s, pressed emerald green glass and white and blue (pale turquoise) opal pressed glass became popular. By 1900 Canadian firms supplied half of the Canadian market of 5.5 million people with bottles, lamps and tablewares.

From 1900 to 1932 pressed glass patterns continued to imitate the pinwheels, stars and floral designs of cut glass. They were made by the Diamond Flint/Dominion Glass Company, Montréal, and by that company's tableware and illuminating plant in Toronto, the Jefferson Glass Company, from 1913 to 1925. By the mid-1920s imitation cut patterns were becoming less popular, as new, delicately molded floral designs in pale pink, green, yellow and blue glass replaced them.

By 1932, the Dominion Glass Company phased out production of most of its earlier tablewares, concentrating on hotel wares and on several simple, geometric patterns in the new pastel shades. As in the 19th century, bottles and jars were a staple and, after 1932, became the major production line of both the Dominion Glass Company (with plants in Montréal, Qué; Toronto, Hamilton, Wallaceburg, Ont; Winnipeg, Man; Redcliff, Alta; and Burnaby, BC) and the Consumers Glass Company, Toronto (established in Montréal in 1917 and now Consumers Packaging, with glass plants in Ville St-Pierre and CANDIAC, Qué; Toronto and Milton, Ont; and Lavington, BC). After 1907 large orders were produced by the newly introduced automatic bottle-blowing machinery. In 1989, Consumers Packaging gained a near monopoly of Canadian-made glass container sales with its purchase of Domglas.

Cut Glass

Between 1867 and 1900, the 5 Canadian flint-glass manufacturers concentrated on making the cheaper grades of glass bottles, lamp chimneys and pressed tablewares. All of them employed cutters to decorate their wares. From surviving examples, this earliest cut glass was engraved. The engraver used fine copper wheels and abrasives to cut minute, shallow lines in the glass. Usually, no final polishing was done and the designs appear with the opaque, greyish surface made by the engraving wheel.

This technique was used for adding monograms to goblets and special presentation pitchers, or decoration to tableware sets, lamp chimneys and door lights. Fern fronds, wreaths of leaves, and sometimes grape vines and flowers, all reduced to a stylized simple form, were the most common decorative motifs.

The making of the more expensive and more deeply cut glass tablewares began in Canada about 1895. Between 1900 and 1930, 4 major firms made cut glass: George Phillips, Montréal, 1904-71; Gowans, Kent & Company, Toronto, about 1900-18; Gundy-Clapperton, 1905-20, later Clapperton, 1920-72; and Roden Bros, Toronto, about 1907-54. One of the largest, the Gundy-Clapperton firm, employed 50 cutters in 1912.

In addition, some 15 other glass-cutting firms were in operation during the period. They were concentrated in Toronto and Montréal, or located in Ontario centres (eg, Ottawa, Lakefield, Wallaceburg, Waterford) and in Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver. Some of these operations were one-or 2-man cutting shops. Many of the highly skilled glass cutters, including George Phillips and Harry Clapperton, came from the US.

High-quality lead-glass blanks, ie, the undecorated pieces for cutting, were imported from the Val St Lambert factory in Belgium; the Baccarat firm in France; Libbey Glass Company, Toledo, Ohio; O.C. Dorflinger & Sons, White Mills, Pa; and Mt Washington Glass Company, New Bedford, Mass.

In the larger cutting shops, cut glass was usually produced by a team of cutters, each with his specialty. The "rougher," using a stone wheel and a fine abrasive, followed the designer's marks that outlined the decoration and made the first deep cuts in the glass. At this stage, there was always the danger of cutting too deeply and ruining the piece. The work was then passed on to a "smoother," who also used a stone wheel to smooth the first deep cuts and added the shallower lines of the design. Cutting gave the cut areas a dull, opaque surface.

By the time the Canadian firms were in operation, the final polishing was no longer done with a wooden wheel and fine pumice. Instead, the glass was dipped in a bath of sulphuric and hydrofluoric acid, which returned a clear, sparkling finish to the cut areas. The process had been invented in the 1890s and helped cut production costs. In smaller shops, the whole cutting process would be carried out by one man.

The Canadian firms used the hob stars, pinwheels and stars that became popular in the American industry in the late 1880s and 1890s, and the more recent stylized flower and leaf patterns. They created many of their own designs of a brilliant beauty, with such names as Primrose, Oak, Tulip (Gundy-Clapperton); Cornflower, Poppy and Sunflower (Roden Bros); Maple Leaf (Gowans, Kent); as well as many geometric patterns.

The Toronto firms marked many of their pieces permanently with an acid-etched trademark: Gundy-Clapperton with "GCCO" in the leaves of a cloverleaf; Clapperton with a "C" in a cloverleaf; Roden Bros with an Old English "R" flanked by lions; and Gowans, Kent with the word "ELITE" in a maple leaf in a circle.

By about 1930 the smaller glass-cutting shops in Canada had vanished. They faced stiff competition from the larger firms, and their disappearance coincided with a decline in the demand for elaborately cut glass. A new style of lighter blown glass with highly polished, shallow-cut delicate floral and leaf patterns found favour in the market.

From 1930 to 1972 firms such as Phillips and Clapperton followed much simpler geometric designs in cutting. One firm, W.J. Hughes, Toronto, specialized in cutting one pattern, Cornflower, which they first made in 1914 and still produce. Other new firms, such as the Mayfair Glass Company, Montréal, and the Crystal Glass Company and Monogram Glass Company, both of Toronto, produced the new light cut wares in patterns such as Carnation, Laurel and Grapes, Marguerite and Comet.