By Jamie Rieger
Time really does fly by, it seems. It’s hard to believe that it will be 25 years on Sept. 30 since the Domglas factory in Redcliff closed its doors, leaving uncertainty for all of the employees who had to start looking for other work, some who had been working there for 30 or more years.
I worked there for more than a decade. I started as scrawny 16 year old who wanted to make the big bucks and when I applied for a position, I really didn’t think I was going to be hired. But, I was called in for an interview and remember vividly, the words the plant manager told me. “You’re hired, but you will never work the same shift as your dad,” said Grant Congdon.
And, I didn’t. My dad had worked at the factory since the 1950s and before going to straight days, worked on “C” shift. I started on “A” shift and my first shift was on April 6, 1979 on the afternoon shift.
Fortunately, I was brought up with a good work ethic because it was hard work and definitely not for anybody afraid of working hard or getting dirty.
Seeing the mass of bottles moving down the lehrs and the sorters looking over each one of them and keeping up was amazing to watch the first time I walked into the packing room. I was about to become one of them.
After the molten gobs of liquid glass dropped into the moulds and moved down the lehr, the sorting was an important part of the process. Chicken roosts, bird swings, tops down, and ring checks were among the many defects that had to be watched for and culled so they would not be packed and shipped to the bottlers.
Over the years, I worked my way up to the position of “Inspector-tester” where I worked with others testing and measuring the glass, often looking for defects that would not be seen by visual checks. And, that was the position I held until the plant closure.
The workers were like a big family. We worked hard and got the job done, often the number one plant in the country, but we socialized too. We had our own bowling league, played slow pitch, and had evenings out on our days off.
When the Domglas employees got the news in June, 1989 that the plant would close its doors at the end of September of that year, it was a blow to everybody. Many were unsure how the bills would get paid, where would all these people find decent employment, and some even suggested that the closure would kill Redcliff.
Redcliff went on to thrive and while the wages were very decent, the workers went on to find other work. Some went back to school for further education, some went to other glass factories in the countries (I do not believe and of them are open today), some retired, and others were fortunate to find other employment right away.
The initial shock was overwhelming and there were plenty of tears and hugs when the end arrived, the day we all dreaded. The uncertainty about the future was as difficult as saying good-bye to all my co-workers.
I was one of many who opted to go back to school, first as an English major in the Education program, then taking Marketing/Management in Business Administration.
Everybody who worked at the Domglas plant had been used to that steady paycheck every two weeks, and had to find other ways to put food on the table. The wages were very good, especially for women, and many are not making equal wages to this day. Jobs like that are just not available any more as more service industry jobs are out there than industrial ones.
There were several reasons why the factory closed and I do get asked that on occasion. Major upgrades to the factory’s furnaces were needed at a huge financial investment and changes to Alberta’s Beverage Container Act were two of the primary reasons. Beverage containers made from plastic or aluminum were becoming more popular than glass, likely because the cost of production was lower and plastics are lighter in weight, making them more convenient for the consumer.
It may have seemed like a good idea at the time for the bureaucrats, but today, our landfills are filling up with plastics. A plastic bottle can only be filled once before it has to be recycled. A glass bottle, by comparison, can be cleaned, refilled and used multiple times before it is melted down and re-used. It is also less reliant on fossil fuels in the manufacturing process. Some of the raw materials used for making glass are silica sand, soda ash, and lime rock, most of which came from across Canada; although some was shipped in from the United States.
My argument for glass products over plastic ones can be a long-winded one and would be a column all on its own.
Twenty-five years have passed since the plant closure and I still think about that place from time to time. I keep in touch with a few people and wonder about many more. Where did they go? What are they doing these days? And, I miss many of them.
So, it seems fitting that a reunion of sorts will be taking place this Saturday at the Redcliff Hylton for former employees to get together to reminisce, get caught up, and just have a few laughs over a meal and drinks.
I, for one, can’t wait to see everybody again. I am positive none of us have changed a bit over the past quarter-century and without a doubt, whether it was a blessing or a curse, we all will have our own stories to tell of how the plant closure changed our lives.