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In September 1894, the L. B. Banks’ Co. of Buffalo, N. Y. built what was believed to be the largest ice house in Canada in the small town of Dunnville. American ice capitalists loved Dunnville’s ice – 24 inches thick and so clear that you could read a newspaper through it!
The ice house was a windowless, rectangular block covered with corrugated iron siding. Measuring 252 feet long, 116 feet wide, 55 feet high, it was the largest building in Dunnville at the time. The building could hold 35,000 tons of ice, most of which was shipped to Buffalo in the spring and summer. The building was located on Main Street to the east of the current location of Godfather’s Pizza. If you look at the empty lot today you will notice that it had been built up by four feet, which was done to prevent flooding of the building in the spring.
It would have been difficult and dangerous work, but the ice house provided much needed income in the normally idle months of winter. At times there would be 100 to 125 men working on the river for the princely sum of less than 15 cents an hour in the early years. Some years, little or no ice was harvested, depending on the mood of Mother Nature.
Vanilla Ice - Ice Ice Baby by EMI_Music [Did you know? Vanilla Ice used a sample from Queen/David Bowie's 'Under Pressure' to create the groove in Ice Ice Baby and the name for cracks that appear in large expanses of frozen water (ice!) are called Pressure cracks? It's all starting to make sense.... CP ]
The ice house remained an important part of Dunnville’s commercial activity until late December 1919, when it burned to the ground and was not replaced. How does a building containing ice burn down? Since the ice filling had just begun, most of the building was empty. But the building contained significant amounts of sawdust used to insulate the ice. Perhaps the gas stove in the office was left burning or someone dropped a match or cigarette, although smoking was strictly prohibited. The fire had gained significant headway before being noticed and there was no hope of saving the building.
April Cormacci is a new contributing heritage writer for the Silo and a representative of the Dunnville and District Heritage Association located at the Haldimand County Public Library Dunnville branch on Chestnut Street in Dunnville. The Dunnville and District Heritage Association meets monthly to discuss topics relavent to the Haldimand area, with archives available during select hours.
The details in this article came from the archives of the Dunnville District Heritage Association. The archives are located at the Dunnville Public Library, 317 Chestnut Street. They include genealogical information and material related to the history of Dunnville and surrounding areas. The archives are open to the public on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., February through November, or by appointment. The Association can also be reached through email at email@example.com.