The RCA Plant –Smiths Falls –The Day the Records Stopped Spinning

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picture disc

First Picture Disc in the RCA plant from The Record News 1978

In May of 1953 work on the construction of the two unit record factory of RCA Victor Company Ltd. was begun in Smiths Falls and the $750,000 plant was expected to be in operation by fall. December of 1953 saw 26 presses beginning to turn out phonograph records and the RCA division expected to be in full production by the end of January 1954.

The Smiths Falls factory might employ up to 125 workers and have a yearly potential of 8,000,000 records for both domestic and export markets. Over 75% of the employees were women and the plant had seven soundbooths where “testers” checked on quality,  where only maybe two or three per cent of production was rejected.

Marilyn Bennett originally from Perth was recorded on Facebook as saying she made the very first picture disc of Elvis in 1978. When Elvis died in August, 1977, workers remembered being called in to work to produce Elvis records to satisfy the nostalgic rush. They pressed almost a million Elvis records in one month. The very first Beatles record ever pressed in North America was done at the Smiths Falls RCA Victor plant in February 1963.
So what happened next was shocking to the residents of the Ottawa Valley rural town. In 1975 RCA Canada pulled out of Renfrew with 250 people losing their jobs after working there since 1955. After the company reassured the council and town they were not closing the Smith’s Falls plant they ended up shutting down completely in 1979.
rca_1968_plant
Photo–www.capitol6000.com–RCA smith falls 1968 pressing plan (Google Image)
Instead of complaints, the Smiths Falls staff marched out of that RCA plant to the tunes of a local piper when the very last shift ended. Lois Mantle was quoted in The Ottawa Citizen saying  that they wanted to show the town they had some spirit left and that they would be good employees for any new industry that might be choosing Smiths Falls  as a new location. Mantle had worked at the plant for over 17 years, and she and her husband were among the 300 workers to lose their job that day in April of 1979.
RCA officials blamed the closing on stiff competition and the lack of automated equipment at the valley location. Then Smiths Falls plant manager, Harry Fisher, praised the employees for the co-operative spirit they showed during the shutdown period. While Fisher and four others had jobs with a Toronto company that would still produce RCA records, most of the remaining were not so fortunate.

Local citizens were shocked as they expected RCA factories in Montreal and Prescott to close, but not in Smiths Falls. Over 6000 Canadians were once employed by RCA in 1970, and in 1978 the total had dropped to 2,000. The thing that angered local residents most was that RCA had never been above board with anyone.  Smith Fall’s Mayor Fred Aboud said the closure of RCA was going to be more disastrous to the town than the huge layoffs that had been  done at the nickle plant in Sudbury.

There was no doubt that when the plant left town, it let many people down. Some still say today they haven’t bought an RCA product since,  and the same with a Hershey Chocolate product. But most of Smiths Falls rallied together and stood tall for their town, and as the Beatles once sang:

“But tomorrow will rain, so I will follow the sun”.

historicalnotes

Sandra RattrayMy Mom worked there for a number of years, after Bates & Innes in Carleton Place called. She worked in one of the sound booths, testing records and took so much pride in her job. I remember when she test Elvis’ album “Moody Blue” and the first covers were, I believe, signed by him. She was so excited. I also remember the sheer devastation she felt, when, at age 57, she was laid off. Chances of another job at that age were nearly impossible. She was a “company man” or “company woman” as you would say today, and very production and quality control oriented. Very sad for all the workers.

helpaa

Help!! Got a Readers Question yesterday from Newfoundland… Can you help?
Hey!
This might seem like an odd question, but did you write an article about the RCA pressing plant in Smiths Falls last year? I’m trying to track down the master stampers of a record that was pressed there in 1980. I’m sure I’m on the hunt for something that doesn’t even exist anymore, but why not ask around. If there’s any way you could help me out, if you know any ex-employees, I would appreciate it! Thanks, Alex

“Smiths Falls, Ontario, can rightfully claim to be the real birthplace of Beatles records in North America,” writes author Piers Hemmingsen.

The Beatles in Canada, The Origins of Beatlemania, by Piers Hemmingsen

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.

4 responses »

  1. My mother, Elsie Devlin-Roberts, worked there for 2-3 years in the mid 1950s running a record pressing machine so she could save enough money to go to business college. Said she really enjoyed her time there…

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  2. My godfather used to own a scrap yard and recycling plant. He would get train containers of rejected RCA records for disposal. I still have some and the amazing cases they came in. His scrap yard/recycling paper plant was the biggest play area I have ever had….

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