Remember These? The Neilson Dairy




Neilson was taken over by Cadbury’s and then by Kraft foods. Here is the original packaging by Neilson that were popular when we were younger.


  • Häagen-Dazs ice cream licence – acquired in 1981, sold to Ault Foods in 1990.
  • Cadbury Confectionery Company Canadian operations – acquired in 1987, sold all confectionary and chocolate products back to British Cadbury in 1996. Currently licensesCaramilk and Crispy Crunch-flavoured chocolate milk.
  • Chocolate bars and confectionery – Jersey Milk, Mr. Big, Malted Milk, Sweet Marie and Crispy Crunch (for which the recipe was changed), Pep, Will-O-Pak sold back to British Cadbury in 1996. Jersey Milk and Will-O-Paks continue to have the Neilson brand name on them; however, they are now manufactured by Cadbury Canada.
  • Bite-size chocolates – Neilson sells several varieties of chocolate snacks, including Golden Buds, small milk chocolates similar to Hershey’s Kisses; Slowpokes, similar toTurtles; and Willocrisp, flaky peanut wafers dipped in chocolate, similar to Crispy Crunch.–Wikipedia


So what does this have to do with our local area? If you take a drive out to the Appleton North Lanark Regional Museum and hang a left at the 3 corners, just down on your right in between the bushes lies the farm that the Neilson family once owned.

Neilson Dairy

From its founding in 1893, the William Neilson Company was dedicated to “nothing but the best.”

“William Neilson”
William Neilson, the son of Scottish immigrants, was born on a farm near Almonte in Southern Ontario. Trained as a machinist, he moved to Toronto in 1890 to open a grocery store. Three years later, the business was bankrupt. William rented a house on four acres of land for $4 a month for his family, then went to work on his brother’s farm in North Dakota for $4 a day.William sent as much money back to his family as he could; meanwhile, his wife, Mary, sold her home-made mincemeat pies door to door, while their oldest son, Morden, milked the family cow and sold the milk door to door on his way to school.When William Neilson returned from North Dakota after the harvest, he took a chance, investing every penny the family had saved in seven cows and some used, hand-cranked ice cream makers.
“Nothing but the best”
From the very beginning, Neilson stood by his credo: “Nothing but the best.” Some ice-cream manufacturers may have used milk, but Neilson used only the purest cream and he had a secret other manufacturers didn’t know: to get the smoothest ice cream, you have to churn the cream faster as it gets firmer (some say that William’s insistence on this technique gave son Morden Neilson – the family’s official “churner” in the first summer – the physique that made him Canada’s amateur wrestling champion from 1900 to 1903).Neilson’s Ice Cream was an instant success. In their first summer as ice cream makers, the Neilson family sold an amazing 3,750 gallons, earning a profit of $3000 – a princely profit in 1893.The business quickly prospered and grew, and in 1904, William Neilson built a three-storey home with an attached factory on Gladstone Avenue in Toronto. The only trouble was, ice cream sales tend to fall off in the winter. Neilson knew he had to keep his 25 skilled employees working year round, so he launched a line of chocolates. Again, he used only the best ingredients, and Neilson chocolates were an instant success as Neilson’s ice cream had been.As the business grew, William ensured the critical supply of milk when he purchased a former cheese factory in Beachville, Ontario, buying dairy products from surrounding farmers.By 1915, when William Neilson died at the age of 71, the Neilson company was producing a million pounds of ice cream every year and 500,000 pounds of chocolate.
“Continuing the Tradition”
William’s second son, Morden, took over the company at his father’s death in 1915. But he had worked his way up through the company – starting as a milker and ice cream churner at the company’s founding. Under his leadership, William Neilson Ltd. became the largest producer of ice cream in the British Commonwealth and the largest manufacturer of chocolates around the world, earning international renown.Morden continued the traditions established by his father. He was a “hands-on” manager, intimately involved in the daily operations of the company. He was an innovative promoter: in summer 1921, he dressed a man in a heavy parker like an “Eskimo” to walk up and down Yonge Street to introduce Eskimo Pies. and in 1924, he used a contest to launch what became the company’s all-time best-seller: the Jersey Milk chocolate bar. The first prize: a Jersey cow.
“Treating Employees like Family”
William Neilson always treated employees like family – it was his concern for his employees and his desire to keep them that inspired the creation of Neilson chocolates. The company’s several employee picnics every year became  a local event. Morden Neilson continued this tradition with ball games, lunch hour concerts and winter sleigh rides for the employees. He knew all of his 1000 employees by name, and the names of their wives. The strong relationship between Morden and the Neilson employees was shown when Morden was diagnosed with leukemia in 1947: hundreds of employees donated blood for his treatments. All were saddened when, on August 26, 1947, Morden Neilson succumbed to his illness; he was buried beside his parents in the Forest Lawn Mausoleum in the north end of Toronto.
“The Founding Principles Today”
After Morden’s death, William Neilson Ltd. was bought by the George Weston firm. Weston continued the traditions established by William and Morden Neilson: a commitment to the best ingredients, people, processes and products, and a strong and positive relationship with employees.When it acquired William Neilson Ltd. in 1947 (for $45 a share), Weston already owned and operated two dairies: the Donlands Dairy in eastern Toronto, and the Royal Dairy in Guelph, Ontario. In 1947, Weston acquired Clark Dairy in Ottawa. Each one operated independently, each with its own label. In 1981, the company incorporated all three Under one corporate structure, giving them all the popular Neilson brand name. Now fluid milk products were part of the Neilson lineup.Meanwhile, the Gladstone Avenue plant continued to produce Neilson ice cream, from premium to economy brands, and Neilson chocolate bars such as Jersey Milk, Malted Milk, Mr. Big and others. In 1987, Neilson purchased the Canadian operations of the Cadbury Confectionery Company, and started producing Dairy Milk, Caramilk and several other brands. Once again, William Neilson Ltd. was the largest candy bar manufacturer in Canada.In 1981, Neilson also got exclusive distribution rights and a manufacturing license to produce Haagen-Dazs premium ice cream.In 1990, William Neilson Ltd. sold its ice cream production business, including the Haagen-Dazs license, to Ault Foods and restructured into two separate companies: Neilson Cadbury, based on Gladstone Ave., producing chocolates and confections; and Neilson Dairy, based in Halton Hills (Georgetown) and with a facility in the former Clark Dairy premise in Ottawa, producing milk products. George Weston Limited sold Neilson Cadbury in 1996.
“Nothing but the Best in Dairy”
The Neilson tradition of quality, excellence and dedication continues today Under its “twin manufacturing plant” system. At the premises of the former Clark Dairy, the modern, high-efficiency Ottawa Neilson Dairy supplies eastern Ontario and western Quebec. The Superdairy in Halton Hills, which opened in 1981, supplies the Greater Toronto Area, as well as the rest of Ontario. Combined, Neilson Dairy produces millions of litres of milk products annually.Built after two years of research and design, the Superdairy was the most modern dairy in North America at its opening and remains a leader in technology, innovation, design and productivity. It has also been recognized by the government as the cleanest and most sanitary dairy in Canada. Its employees are among the best in the industry and lead the dairy industry in training and development. Most important, Neilson Dairy’s employees continue the tradition of dedication to producing the best products possible.

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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