Back in the 1800’s Port Credit was something of a newborn child, and the city of Mississauga just a glint in its eye. There were a few things that helped the town blossom from native settlement to something that resembles what it is today, and one of those was the St. Lawrence Starch Company.
The company was brought to life in 1889 by John Gray and Archibald Hutchinson, and also had two benefactors. While Hutchinson was the sales and marketing brain, Gray had the know-how, and so they built a corn milling factory at the base of what is now Hurontario Street. Corn starch production began the following year in Port Credit.
As you can see from the image above, the road on the left is actually Hurontario, but rather than continuing on to the gorgeous view of the lake, the St. Lawrence Starch Company stands imperiously. The factory provided hundreds of jobs to the area and, while being something of an eyesore, was instrumental in Port Credit evolving into a destination town. Though it’s worth pointing out the image above is from 1935, when the company had grown and expanded, and thus it was significantly smaller when it opened in the late 1800’s.
The 10 acres of land was necessary, particularly being right next to Lake Ontario, because that provided the essential water in the corn starch crafting process. Originally there was just one building and two smokestacks, and the company didn’t even have electricity. By 1907 however, electricity was a thing and that allowed the company to grow. St. Lawrence Starch began building a new power plant and a new factory but World War 1 put the brakes on construction.
Production on the new factory resumed in 1917, which was fortuitous because the original wooden factory burnt to the ground that year. It was also around this time that phone lines were brought to Port Credit, and the St. Lawrence Starch Company was the first to have a number, which was, fittingly, just 1.
Now you might be asking, “just what is corn starch?” Well, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like; starch derived from corn grains. What it does however, it much more important.
Corn starch is primarily used in baking and in thickening. So if you’re making a soup or sauce, you might add a little corn starch in order to make it thicker. That’s not all however, as it can also be turned into corn syrup, which was one of the St. Lawrence Starch Company’s most important products.
Corn syrup is used in many everyday food products you use, such as Coca Cola, yoghurt, bread, salad dressing, jam, coffee creamer, ice cream, and cereal. So, suffice to say, it’s quite an important ingredient in the production of food.
It’s no surprise then that The Starch Works (as it was locally known) was a big deal. The company employed more than 100 men from Port Credit, and was the largest employer in Southern Peel at the time. It also provided housing and sponsored local charities, proving itself to be an integral part of the community economy.
Alas, it was said economy that effectively killed the company in the late 80’s. Fortunes took a downturn and the company ceased production in 1990. Three years later, the entire factory was demolished and what we know as the area now began to take shape.
It’s not all sad news however, as the Gray family is still involved. In fact, they now belong to a company called St. Lawrence Grains and Farm Supply LTD, which is located just outside of Lincolnville, in Uxbridge. While the spiritual successor to the St. Lawrence Starch Company may be some 50 miles north of Toronto, the legacy the company left in Port Credit is unmistakable. Without it, the town could very well not exist today.
Photos courtesy of Heritage Mississauga