Millions of Cigars Left Owen Sound Prior to 1931
When I am walking home from downtown in Owen Sound, I often pass a building that once produced a product I would never want to use, and yet I sometimes wish that I could hop into my time machine (with a camera) to see how the work was done there. The H. E. Cooke & Co. Limited cigar factory (which produced hand-made cigars) was located in a brick corner building at the northeast corner of Union & Scrope streets (now 8th St. and 3rd Ave. East). The street address at the corner door is now 302 8th St. East (the Hewett & Milne Limited land surveyors office has been located there for a long time now). The cigar factory was only located on the first floor area of the corner building. I have often wondered where all the tobacco they used came from, and what sort of wage a cigar maker made? It likely wasn’t very much. The Cigar Makers’ Official Journal (Vol. 5, Issue 1) mentioned in 1910 that “There is one factory located in Owen Sound employing women principally”.
- Cooke & Co. Ltd. was likely established in 1899 or 1900. In the 1911 “Magazine of Industry”, published by the Owen Sound Herald, the company’s building was described as being three and a half stories high, 10,000 sq. feet, and mention was made that the company had been in business for twelve years at that time. Messrs. Harold. Cooke and Leonard Ferguson operated the company, and their cigars were sold across Canada. The brands they made were “Toothpick”, “Palma”, “Peace Maker”, “Confederation”, “Mic Mac” and the “C.P.R.”. Four examples of their cigar boxes are illustrated on page 31 of Owen Sound On The Georgian Bay (1912). Mr. Cooke and Mr. Ferguson resided at the Coulson House hotel along with other lodgers in the 1901 census. In that census, Harold Cooke was listed as age 24, his trade that of “Cigar Maker”. He had been born in England on May 25, 1876, and had emigrated in 1888. He was raised in Owen Sound in the late 19th-century. His business associate, Leonard Ferguson (b. April 3, 1879 in Ontario), was listed as a “Clerk” in 1901. The H. Cooke & Co. Ltd. firm dissolved in 1931. Mr. Cooke and his family moved to Leamington, and later to Orangeville, where Mr. Cooke began another cigar factory. He passed away in January, 1935. His obituary stated that the cigar company in Owen Sound had began in 1900.
What I like about the humble paper-trimmed and nailed-wood cigar box that exists at the Grey Roots Museum & Archives (see photo) is that it shows that the brand name was apparently inspired by another Owen Sound product that was also sold across the Dominion, the once-ubiquitous, flat-style birch wood toothpicks that were made by the Keenan Woodenware Co. Limited. Another thing that I like is that someone clearly disregarded the instructions printed on the underside of the cigar box. Rule number four was “When the package is empty the stamp and package must both be destroyed.” With instructions like that, it is fortunate this example still survives. The notation of “Factory No. 4” and “Port 33E” are also printed on the underside. Before it was sealed up, the cigar box was packed with fifty cigars. They are long gone now. They were likely priced at five cents each. The seal stamp remnants on the box have “1922 Series” printed on them. A local historian, Melba Croft, mentioned in her book Renewal of a Canadian Port: Owen Sound on the Georgian Bay (p. 10), that the company usually averaged an annual production of a million cigars, but that only 600,000 were shipped in 1921. She also found in her research that there was a promotion around then where factory workers would pack a “nail”, one for every 250 cigars that were packed. Whoever found a “nail” could redeem it for a box of his favourite cigar brand from the company. If I was back in the Twenties, I’d rather have an empty fresh box please, to keep my “treasures” in. I’m guessing that is how this box survived the years before it was exhibited at the Owen Sound Public Library, and later was moved to the Grey Roots collection in 1978.