Today’s official opening of the new St-Albert Cheese Co-operative was attended by an array of dignitaries, partners, suppliers, members and friends. The Co-op is rising from its ashes two years to the day after the terrible fire that wiped it out on February 3, 2013. The ceremony, hosted by Michel Picard, began with the blessing of the factory. This was followed by tributes paid by a series of VIPs, including the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, Madeleine Meilleur, provincial MPP Grant Crack, the Mayor ofLa Nation, François St-Amour, and the representative of the Fédération des caisses populaires de l’Ontario, Stéphane Trottier. A mural was unveiled along with a commemorative plaque honouring the Co-op’s founders, marking the official opening of the new building.
“We are so happy to turn the page on this sad chapter in our Co-op’s story. Happy and proud. Because here we are, bigger, stronger and more determined than ever to continue the tradition of our ancestors by making the best cheese in the country,” indicated the Co-op’s President, Ginette Quesnel. The new building measures 75,000 square feet, which is larger than the old one. It contains a restaurant and a shop, as well as a section that will eventually be turned into a museum, and it provides visitors with a terrific view of the cheese production area. As for the production capacity, it is now three times what it was before.
“We didn’t want to just build a replacement: we wanted to innovate!” pointed out General Manager Éric Lafontaine, at the same time highlighting the extraordinary support received from customers over the last two years. “There is an old saying that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Today, we can safely say that we have grown through this ordeal. And we are proud to have accomplished in two years a project that generally takes that amount of time merely to plan. But what makes us the proudest is the commitment and support we have received from our loyal customers, who, despite the inconveniences, continued to buy St-Albert cheese. None of this would have been possible without their backing,” he concluded.
All of the employees who were laid off while the factory was being rebuilt have been recalled, and the St-Albert Cheese Co-op has now resumed production according to tradition, with a recipe that has been passed down through the generations, involving the use of 100% pure milk from Eastern Ontario dairy farmers.
The St-Albert Cheese Co-op would now like to turn the page on this episode, and focus on its future, which looks very bright. “We have lots of projects, and we want to highlight our mature cheeses, which are among the best in the country,” explained Mr. Lafontaine. “We used the opportunity provided by this construction period to analyze and restructure our organization, to carry out an extensive market study, and to prepare our action plan. We are ready to take on new challenges.
- Founded in 1894, the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative is one of the oldest co-ops in Canada.
- The St-Albert Cheese Co-operative is owned by some thirty Eastern Ontario dairy producer families.
- The new factory, at 75,000 square feet, is 30% larger than the previous one, which was 57,000 square feet.
- The commercial area, which includes the restaurant and shop, is 9,000 square feet, up from 2,500 square feet (shop only) under the previous operation.
- The visitor centre is 3,000 square feet, compared to 400 square feet before.
- The annual production capacity is up to 10 million kg of cheese, compared to 3 million kg before.
- The first sod turning ceremony was on September 17, 2013.
- The construction phase was completed in less than 17 months.
- The total cost of reconstruction was more than $30 million, including a $10 million investment by the Cheese Co-op to improve and expand the facilities.
- The number of employees at February 3, 2015 was 150, including 120 in St-Albert, which is the same as before the fire.
- Recent awards: Grand Champion Cheddar 2014 at the British Empire Cheese Show, and first prize for its extra mature cheddar.
The St-Albert Cheese Co-op is open to visitors seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays to Wednesdays, and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. For more information, go to www.fromagestalbert.com