By Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
John Redpath was born in Earlston, Scotland during a period of economic hardship for many Scottish families. As such, the twenty-year-old John chose to emigrate to Canada. With limited funds for ship passage, John disembarked at Quebec City. Yet there was no work on this side of the Atlantic, either, and he was almost out of money. Perhaps he would have better luck in Montreal, but because the couldn’t afford passage on a river steamboat, he’d have to walk – 160 miles, and part of the way barefoot in order to save his shoes from wearing out, for no one would hire, or even trust, a supposedly skilled worker who appeared in bare feet when applying for work. Once in Montreal, he found employment in the construction industry, working as a stonemason. He was a man of integrity with a keen business sense, and within a few years he was running his own sizeable construction business and in 1854 founded the Canada Sugar Refining Company.
Located near the St. Gabriel locks on the Lachine Canal, Redpath constructed a warehouse to crystallize, refine and store sugar, Canada Sugar Refinery, later called Redpath Sugar. The giant complex was the first of its kind in Canada, which employed about one hundred workers, who produced 300 barrels of sugar per month, using sugar cane imported from the British West Indies. The site had the advantage of being directly accessible to ocean-going vessels transporting the raw material from the Caribbean, in addition to the nearby availability of water used in the steam boilers.In 1857, John’s son Peter Redpath became a partner, and in 1861, his brother-in-law, George Alexander Drummond also joined the firm. In 1871, Drummond designed and built a new wing east of the existing buildings. In 1876 due to a depression, and unable to compete with the giant low-cost producers in the United States, for the three years between 1876 and 1878 the company ceased operations. Following tariff protections implemented by the government of Sir John Macdonald, the company reopened in 1879, as did St. Lawrence Sugar, a new competitor in Montreal. George Drummond took over when Peter Redpath retired in 1888. Under his guidance, the company’s success allowed for construction of a new six-story plant in 1908. The original refinery was torn down and the new building was constructed on its old foundations, doubling production capacity. A seven storey building was added in 1912 and a new boiler house and packing building built in 1925. In 1930, the company merged with Canada Sugar Refining Co. Ltd. of Chatham, Ontario. In 1959, Redpath Industries Ltd. was acquired by the British company Tate & Lyle, and a Redpath Sugar Refinery was built on the Toronto waterfront in the late 1950s, which is still in operation today.
In 1980, the Montreal plant was closed and production was shifted to Toronto. In 2007, the company was taken over by American Sugar Refining.
Closed in the early 1980s, part of the Montreal complex was demolished and pieces of equipment were dismantled for resale in the Caribbean. Today, some of the remaining buildings have been converted into residential lofts and businesses.