A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ST-ALBERT CHEESE CO-OPERATIVE
Did you know that St-Albert Cheese Coop is one of the oldest cooperatives in Canada?
As early as the late 19th century, master cheesemakers in a charming Eastern Ontario village were already producing a high quality Cheddar: the St-Albert. Founding President Louis Génier and his nine partners could hardly have imagined back on January 8, 1894, that their little cheese factory would shape the history of the entire community and become a true regional institution.
Back in those days, there were lots of smaller local cheese factories, and the one in St-Albert was officially known as Fromagerie # 743 and registered as “The St-Albert Co-Operative Cheese Manufacturing Association”, this even before the famous Desjardins co-operative movement started (in 1900).
Today, Fromagerie St-Albert is the only one to have survived in Eastern Ontario.
Little is known about the co-operative’s first 45 years because the first book of minutes is from late 1939. However, we know that the co-operative was sold to an individual in 1931, and bought back by its members in 1939 for $8,500, which included the building, the one-acre property and the equipment.
In 1950, St-Albert Cheese inaugurates a brand new building for the manufacture of butter and cheese, an impressive and completely modernized plant for that time.
The Centenary and the Curd Festival
In 1994, the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative struck a special committee to prepare for its 100th anniversary. Roger Cayer wrote a book about the history of the Co-operative entitled Souvenances de la Fromagerie # 743. A great deal of research went into this book, which is filled with information and period photographs. Another highlight of the 100th anniversary was the first edition of the Curd Festival. Over the years since 1994, the Festival has become one of the big events of the summer, attracting up to 50,000 visitors annually to St-Albert for five days of shows and festivities.
True to the principles established by the founders in 1894, five generations of dairy producers and artisans have successfully developed and maintained the Co-operative’s tradition of quality cheeses. A fertile environment, a co-operative approach to every challenge, and a so-far unmatched expertise have earned St-Albert cheese its enviable reputation.
From 1994 to now
Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors stop by the St-Albert shop to buy our delicious cheeses and local products. At the same time, more than 2,000 points of sale throughout Western Quebec and Eastern Ontario carry our cheeses.
In 2007, the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative opened a second shop in Orleans, Cheddar Et Cetera, and in 2009 it purchased Fromagerie Mirabel, in Saint-Jérôme, Quebec. Over the years, many of the cheese products made in St-Albert have won awards in national and international competitions, including the Toronto Winter Fair, the Spencerville Fair, the British Empire Cheese Show and the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. In 2012, the Co-operative had its best year ever, employing 125 people, all driven by the same commitment to quality and freshness, the foundations of the Co-operative’s success.
On February 3, 2013, the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative was completely destroyed by a devastating fire. Over the next few days, production was quickly moved to other factories so that they could keep supplying their loyal customers. Some of the employees were redeployed to the St-Albert primary school, while others were temporarily laid off. The entire community was affected. Despite the challenges, in 2013, the Co-operative earned the title of Grand champion at the 86th edition of the British Empire Cheese Show, and won two prestigious awards for its matured cheeses.
In 2014, as the Co-operative was ready to mark its 120th anniversary, it emerged from its ashes, stronger than ever, with modern facilities, increased production capacity and an iron will, with but one goal in mind: to continue the tradition by producing the best cheddars and dairy products in the country.