Hershey Employees final donation to the Smiths Falls Legion Branch 95, on July 6th 2010
It was a 470,000 sq. ft. chocolate factory opened by The Hershey Company in 1963 and was the first Hershey plant to be opened outside the United States.
Grand Opening 1962
The story begins in 1960 when the Smiths Falls Chamber of Commerce stood at the end of one street in Smiths Falls attempting to stop the first car with foreign licence plates. They devised the clever plan so they could hopefully sell the occupants of the car on the town. The first car they stopped happened to contain the occupants of the Hershey Chocolate Company looking to open a new Canadian facility– and by 1961 construction had started.
Smiths Falls was selected because of its adequate source of labour, plentiful supply of milk, water, and its location with direct railway lines. It was also situated conveniently between the main marketing areas of Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. On June 16th, 1963 the Smiths Falls Hershey plant was officially opened.
The Smiths Falls factory was the first to incorporate a Visitors Gallery which was an elevated walk way where visitors could view the factory’s production. The Visitor Gallery received over 960 visitors on opening day, and the Smiths Falls facility was also the first plant opened outside Lancaster, PA.
The Smiths Falls facility began with 200,000 square feet of production space capable of producing 200,000 bars a day. Its first products produced at the factory were 5 and 10 cent chocolate bars, instant chocolate, cocoa, chocolate chip and chocolate syrup. In 1965 Hershey’s introduced the Peanut Butter Cup and production lines where soon added to the Smiths Falls plant. By 1966 the plant had employed around 105 people.
In the mid 70’s the cost of a chocolate bar had risen to 25 cents a bar and sales for the Smiths Falls plant had reached approximately $20,000,000 dollars per year.
On March 17th 1973, a lit flair was thrown through a window into the plant which
subsequently set the factory’s bean warehouse on fire. There was no major damage done to the facility and the fire was under control within a few minutes..
The 1989 Expansion
During 1989 a new warehouse was constructed allowing the factory to store more goods.
Freezer Snacks—On December 31, 1996 Hershey Canada purchased the shares of Leaf Canada Inc. acquiring the rights to Mr. Freeze (a water based freezer snack). In 1998 all of the freezer snack production moved to the Smiths Falls plant.
The Plant’s 3 Millionth Visitor
On Feb 7th, 1998, three year-old Garett Sanderson became the factory’s 3 millionth visitor, a huge milestone for the plant’s shop, and on August 13th, 1998, the plant received 86 visitor buses, a new record.
The 2001 Shop Expansion
During the late 90’s it was discovered that the Smiths Falls factory store was inadequate, and during 1999 and 2000 plans were made to expand the plant’s store. Construction for the new shop was done throughout spring 2001, and on July 19th, 2001, the newly renovated shop was officially opened.
The 2001 – 2006 Plant Renovation
Between 2001 and 2006 Hershey’s spent over 100,000,000 US dollars modernizing the plant and its production lines.
The 2004 Strike
On March 14th 2004, Hershey workers went on strike, demanding they receive the same benefits of their American counter parts.
Record Numbers of Visitors
Throughout 2005 the plant received 450,000 visitors, the largest amount of visitors in a year.
On November 9th, 2006, salmonella was detected on a routine inspection of the plant which prompted a recall and the plant and shop had to be temporally closed. The source of the salmonella was confirmed to be soy lecithin, a product used to help chocolate retain its sheen. It seems the soy lecithin got contaminated at some point during shipping, possibly due to improperly refrigerated shipping containers. The Hershey Co. attempted to sue the supplier of the soy lecithin, but was unsuccessful due to a contract which stated: “All contents of sale is final”.
More Contaminated Goods
In 2009, some of the contaminated goods were stolen from a recycling plant where they were set to be destroyed and they managed to find their way back onto store shelves in Eastern Toronto. The thieves where caught and fined. There was also a separate case of 2 young teenagers finding a box of the contaminated products in a dumpster and bringing them to school. Thankfully the teachers caught them right before anyone had consumed any of the contaminated chocolate. Hershey slowly rehired 200 workers to help sanitize the plant, and by December 2006 the plant was back up and running.
On February the 11th 2007, Hershey announced the Falls plant would close. The closure of the plant was part of a global restructuring plan. Hershey confirmed the plant would remain open throughout 2007 and 2008 although production would slowly be fazed out.
The Rally Against The Closure
On February 24th 2007, Hershey workers, the Canadian Autoworkers Union, and local residents of the surrounding area’s joined forces in a rally in front of the Hershey factory tried to prevent the now impending closure. Unfortunately, the rally did not change the company’s decision to close the 47 year-old complex.
The Final Closure
By late November 2008 the plant was only running at 20% capacity. This was largely due to a high Canadian dollar, which had been caused by the 2008 recession. On December 23rd 2008, the factory’s production shutdown along with the associated shop. Hershey’s would then open a new plant in Monterrey, Mexico.
Results of the Closure
The closure of the Smiths Falls plant caused a 650 worker layoff combined with spin off jobs such as producing dairy and packaging for the plant.
In the summer of 2009 Hershey sold off 76 million dollars of former chocolate and confectionery equipment to local plants as well as plants in countries as far away as Africa and China.
During that time a company named “Aquablue” announced it would be opening a water bottle plant in the former Hershey plant and possibly hire over 200 workers. They also said that they would open a recycling plant as well and an amusement park which would bring in as many tourists as Hershey did.
By 2011 Aquablue still hadn’t purchased the Hershey plant and it was revealed that the company’s CEO had transferred over $100,000,000 dollars in investors money into his personal account. The water bottling plant never opened, and the building sat vacant.
On May 24 2012, the plant was finally sold to Icon international. The building was listed in 2009 for around 10 – 9 million Canadian dollars and it was puchased in 2012 for an estimated 2.6 million.
Close Call to Demolition.
In 2013 plans were being written to demolish the plant, and in November 2013, Tweed Inc. along with Saumure Building Group purchased the plant and it’s exterior building.
“Tweed & Saumure Building Group”
In 2014 Tweed Inc. transformed the plant’s former shipping room into a medical marijuana grow-op. Construction on the grow-op continued through 2015 although useage was only around 1/3 of the plant’s space.
In January 2015 Summit Energy Inc. announced it would be taking over the former peanut production section of the plant and hiring around 20 workers. Summit Energy had plans to covert plastic waste such as water bottles to diesel. However residents living near the plant had concerns about a potential fire or dangerous fumes in the air. Trying to rezone the old factory also had its issues and by March 2015 plans for the waste to diesel plant ended.
The Tweed Expansion
In spring 2016 Tweed announced it would be expanding its operations for the impending legalization of marijuana. On December 24th 2016, Tweed purchased the rest of the former Hershey plant from Saumure building group and investors.
As of 2017 is unclear as to what will happen with all of the ex-Hershey confectionery equipment and former tour infrastructure, but according to Tweed they have big plans for the empty building.
Brent WhitenHershey Friends and Family