Carberry and its Search for Industry

by Terry O. Brown and John Cater Everitt
Geography Department, Brandon University

Manitoba Pageant, Spring 1979, Volume 24, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Why is it that some prairie towns have grown and others declined? One thing is clear, there is no simple answer to this question - the factors that affect settlement change, both environmental and cultural, are many and varied in nature. [1] Roads, railways, credit unions and banks (or the lack of these) have all been cited as the ’key’ factor in town growth and stability. An influence which receives less credit than it should, however, is one that is much less tangible: the variable characteristics of the inhabitants of the different settlements. These characteristics have been particularly noticeable in the industrial history of Carberry, for this small town in the heart of farming country, has a major industrial influence on its environs.

Before we look more closely at this industrial pattern we must outline some of the physical and cultural conditions that make it possible. Carberry has always had a fortunate position in the physical landscape, where the major characteristics that distinguish it from many other settlements in south west Manitoba are soils and groundwater supply.

Soil of good quality was the major attraction of the Carberry area to the early settlers who were primarily concerned with agrarian activities. Pioneers of the area found a relatively level plain which was named the “Big Plain” [2] or the “Carberry Plain,” [3] and included 278,000 acres of good quality farmland surrounded on all sides by lesser quality land typically covered in woodland. More recent studies have shown that within this larger area lies a smaller `island’ of very good soils, termed “Class One” soils by the Canada Land Inventory (Figure 1). [4]

Figure 1

Figure 1

This island of Class One soils was excellent for the production of a variety of quality cereal grains but soon became a producer, in the main, of wheat. The quality of the crops is demonstrated by the fact that “Three entries of Red Fyfe wheat grown in the Carberry area won first in each class at the Provincial Industrial Fair at Winnipeg” in 1893. [5] Oats, barley, flax, sunflowers, rape, and field peas were common crops in the area by the 1950s. Such diversification was made possible by the soils, and when wheat prices dropped provided area farmers with production alternatives. The soils were also important in terms of attracting certain industries to Carberry, as we will see.

Early settlers were also pleased to find a supply of good water in an aquifer of sand and gravel that resulted from the last glaciation. [6] Locally this is known as an ’underground lake’ and it is tapped by the use of sand points, yielding fresh water fit for human consumption in seemingly unlimited quantities.

A readily accessible water supply was a valuable asset to Carberry area farmers. Farmers in other areas of the prairies have had to haul their water supply many miles in the past and some are forced to do so today when their modern deep drilled wells go dry during drought conditions. Carberry area farmers have been fortunate in having few worries about a water supply for their families and livestock even during the dry years of the “Dirty Thirties,” and today it even provides the possibility of inland irrigation. [7] The water supply was also important, as were the soils, in attracting industry to the area.

Population change has been a feature of most settlements, but the fluctuations have been particularly noticeable in Carberry. After an initial period of growth a peak was reached in the early 1900s. This was followed by a twenty year decline, but in the 1920s another reversal occurred and population has increased to over 1300 today. This pattern of change is quite different from that of the surrounding settlements (Figure 2).

The structure of the population is also somewhat different. Whereas most of the surrounding areas have exhibited an aging population Carberry and the surrounding RM of North Cypress have revealed increases in the younger generations. Again there is a connection with the more industrial nature of the labour force. Much of this population change is a result of in-migration to the area, with younger local people finding employment attributable directly and indirectly to the existence of industry in Carberry.

Carberry has been quite fortunate in terms of transportation facilities. Early trails had crossed the Carberry Plain in pre-railway times and the importance of the area as a passageway from east to west and north to south was reflected in the early location of both CP and CN lines through Carberry. During the railroad era, the Carberry Plain was eventually crossed five times by the various tracks which are evident in the landscape today.

As rail travel was slowly replaced over the years by road travel, Carberry was also chosen to be on or near main highways, including the First Trans-Canada Highway, built some 50 years ago. Due to a barrier in the form of the Bald Head Hills to the south, North-South linkages were slower to develop. This situation was not changed until Provincial Road 258 was built in 1964-65. But despite this problem the key word in describing Carberry’s transportation features has been accessibility, with its good long term contract in three directions.

It may be said then, that Carberry has a favourable location in terms of its physical and cultural characteristics, but economic theory by itself would not suggest it as a centre of industrial development. Fortunately for Carberry (and other such towns), however, “production does not always take place at those locations that would seem best from a purely economic standpoint.” [8] Sometimes the “variable characteristics of human beings” [9] are deemed as more significant.

Industry can have a major influence upon local economies both by using local factors of production, and by stimulating other activities to locate in the area. Consequently many settlements are desirous of attracting industry to their local area. Carberry has been the scene of several attempts through the years, by various industries, to locate in the area. These attempts may be looked at within three periods of industrial development. [10]

Main Street, Carberry, Manitoba, circa 1906.

Main Street, Carberry, Manitoba, circa 1906.

The first period extended from the beginning of settlement (1882) to the end of the First World War. It was a period of high hopes, shared by many settlements on the prairies, when a number of small industries tried their luck in an uncertain and rapidly developing economci landscape. Their fortunes were often decided by outside influences over which the local people had little control. For instance a flour and grist mill which once operated in Carberry was closed because of financial losses incurred by the owner at a Montreal warehouse. Many small industries produced goods for which the local market was insufficient, and which were more suitably made elsewhere - for instance in Carberry the W. G. Murphy Company which produced high quality ladies’ dresses and hats in the early 1900s. Sometimes technological development led to change - the Acetylene Light Company gave way to the electric light plant in 1906. A series of these industrial activities was established and eventually disappeared, but all showed the desire of the people of the area to establish something other than a single economic - in this case agricultural base to the area.

The second period of industrial activity may be viewed as stretching from the end of World War One to the end of World War Two. It has been described as a period of industrial stagnation, when few changes were made in Carberry’s industries, but when some developments took place that were to influence future ventures in the Carberry area. For example, an airport was constructed one and one-half miles south east of Carberry, occupying the better part of one section. This facility, which was to prove critical to the town’s industrial development, was constructed in 1940 as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan under which a number of airports were built across Canada and functioned as training centres for pilots for the British Air Force. The airport not only provided jobs for support staff which added to the local economy, but also provided a number of local improvements such as street surfacing and the erection and/ or repair of several buildings. [11]

During this second time period the economic landscape was beginning to grow into the pattern that we now see. Large centres were growing relatively rapidly and smaller centres were losing out to the dominance of these larger centres in the manufacturing field. In addition, the war effort demanded that most human energy be focused on national issues and local improvements become secondary concerns. Carberry was more fortunate than many small towns in the province, in having a positive influence in local matters from the building of the airport and associated activities.

The third period of development extends from the end of the Second World War to the present. Initially there was a boom caused by the return of people to the area after the war which led to a flurry of new businesses. This growth was short-lived, however, as the rural to urban shift resulting from farm mechanisation began to have a greater effect. Many small prairie towns entered an era of decline as people migrated to larger centres in search of employment and perhaps a new way of life; the latter may be attributed, in part, to the exposure many war veterans had to other ways of life during their time overseas.

When the airport at Carberry was vacated it seemed that this settlement might also fall into an unending downward spiral. It was clear that the town could not simply rely solely upon the economic marketplace to curtail the general decline of the centre, although there were glimmerings of hope from the early days.

The earliest industry to locate in Carberry after the war was the Carberry Egg and Poultry Station. Established in 1947, this enterprise graded and marketed eggs as well as preparing poultry for local and distant markets. Unfortunately the operation was located in the centre of town, adjacent to schools and residences, and the odour from the plant became a common course of complaint. In the early 1960s the operation was moved to Rivers rather than the newly created Industrial Park near Carberry.

The Industrial Park resulted from a concern by the people in the area for the future of the Town of Carberry. A group of businessmen and area farmers banded together in 1959 to form the North Cypress-Carberry Community Development Corporation. All members bought shares and gave their board members a mandate to save the town from dying. The corporation was to be a vehicle by which to stimulate economic growth in the area and defeat the `natural economic forces’ that were threatening the town’s existence. [12]

One of the corporation’s first actions was to purchase the vacant airport from the Crown Assets Disposal Corporation and change the function of the site to an industrial park. Subsequently, the Development Corporation began a programme of attracting small industry and business ventures to locate in the Carberry area with the majority in the Industrial Park.

Figure 2

Figure 2

This programme has proved to be quite successful with a whole range of different industries being attracted at various times to the Carberry area, although not all of them have become successful. The attractions for these industries include the raw materials available in the area, the good transportation, low taxes, necessary buildings (old aircraft hangars) and also the response of the people in the area towards the incoming industry. A particularly good example of this latter point is the case of the J. R. Simplot Company.

J. R. Simplot from Idaho was convinced to locate his multi-million dollar plant in the industrial plant at Carberry for a number of reasons. The aforementioned water supply and area of good soils capable of potato production were important, as were the site facilities and the transportation system (road, rail and air). But several other settlements in the area were also making briefs to Simplot in order to convince the company to locate in other areas.

In the end Mr. Simplot was most impressed with the work of the North Cypress-Carberry Community Development Corporation and the community spirit expressed by their representatives in the negotiations. [14] This community spirit has shown itself on a variety of occasions but it is in the Simplot case that it has had the most significant and lasting effect upon the local community.

The major difference between Simplot and earlier activities is in market size. Simplot not only serves a local market but has national and international customers for the products which include several forms of processed potatoes - such as French Fried potatoes marketed under the name of Carnation as a result of an amalgamation in the early 1970s. Considering this market factor, it appears that the operation will have an opportunity to remain active for a much longer time span than have similar activities in the past.

The Carnation plant has contributed to the local economy in three major ways. First it provides a direct income to a considerable number of farmers and townspeople. Second the spending of this income helped stimulate numerous existing local businesses. Third new businesses and government services have been located in Carberry as the town has grown in size and importance. As a recent example of the latter, company officials decided in the fall of 1978 to relocate the Hip’s Beverage plant from a site in Neepawa to a new site in Carberry. [15] Building on the impetus of a major industry, community spirit has combined with favourable physical characteristics to save the Town of Carberry from stagnation and/or deterioration.

We have briefly outlined some of the reasons for the success of Carberry as a prairie settlement. Certainly the traditional factors of industrial location and production have been present - land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship. But these factors can also be found elsewhere or brought from elsewhere. In the final analysis Carberry has been successful because of a more ethereal quality which is not ubiquitous community spirit. Other aspiring prairie towns would do well to take note of this and try to emulate the people of Carberry.


The authors would like to thank the Geography Departments of Brandon University and Simon Fraser University for help in the production of this article.

1. Much of this account is taken from or based upon “A settlement destined to be different: the case of Carberry, Manitoba,” a thesis by T. O. Brown produced for the Geography Department at Brandon University, April 1978.

2. Morrison, Dorothy. Around the Cracker Barrel, Carberry News-Express, Carberry, Manitoba, 1969, page 1.

3. Carberry News-Express. Wartime Souvenir of Carberry, Carberry, Manitoba, 1942, page 6.

4. Government of Canada. Canada Land Inventory - Soil Capability for Agriculture. Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Surveys and Mapping Branch, Ottawa, Ontario, 1967. Maps 62J and 62G.

5. Morrison, D. op. cit., page 10.

6. Warkentin, John. Canada. A Geographical Interpretation. Methuen, Toronto, 1970, page 17.

7. Manitoba, Province of. Ground-Water Availability in the Carberry Areal (Rural Municipality of North Cypress). Department of Mines and Natural Resources, Water Control and Conservation Branch, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1970. page i (abstract).

8. Conkling, E. C. and M. Yeates. Man’s Economic Environment, McGraw Hill, New York, 1976, page 87.

9. Conkling and Yeates, op. cit., p. 83.

10. Much of the discussion of industry in Carberry made use of Eyvidson, Peter, “The Historical Development of Industry in the Town of Carberry,” a paper produced for the Geography Department, Brandon University.

11. Morrison, D. op. cit., p. 25.

12. Interviews with B. Lupton, Editor of Carberry News Express, Secretary-Treasurer of North Cypress-Carberry Community Development Corporation, Carberry, Manitoba. February 1978.

13. Carberry News Express, “Simplot announces decision to locate in Carberry,” 24 May 1961, page 1.

14. Province of Manitoba, A Study of the Effect of Industrial Development on the Town of Carberry and the Area Adjacent to It, Department of Industry and Commerce, Regional Development Brandon, Winnipeg, Manitoba, January 1964, page 2.

15. Carberry News Express, “Town Council to back the location of Hip’s Beverages in Carberry,” 21 September 1978.


Three Periods of Industrial Development in Carberry.

1. High hopes - 1887 to the end of World War I.


A cheese factory shortlived; a brickyard.


A flour and grist mill - 20 years of operation - closed down in 1907 due to financial losses incurred by owner at a Montreal warehouse - two attempts to restart under new owners but finally destroyed by fire.


Creamery - two separate attempts to establish this service - operation continued off and on until 1919.


The Jones Stacker Company - produced a windstacker or blower attached to a threshing machine to replace a number of men previously required to stack the straw.


The W. G. Murphy Company - produced high quality ladies’ dresses and hats; planing mill; sash and door factory.


The Carberry Machine and Manufacturing Co. Ltd. - repaired threshing machines and other farm implements plus manufactured smaller implements including the Davidson Grain Pickier.


The Acetylene Light Company - obtained gas to byproduct from burning coal and used the gas to provide lights for businesses.


Electric light plant - provided power for businesses and street lights until Hydro served the area with electricity in 1940.

2. Industrial Stagnation - end of World War I to end of World War II.


No new industry.

Airport constructed one and one-half miles south of Carberry as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

3. Revived Growth - End of World War II to the present.


Carberry Potato Farms - growing and packaging potatoes to be distributed as fresh produce in Manitoba. A family venture raising broiler chickens. An implement and truck service and repair garage. Carberry Seeds - seed cleaning and sales - marketing of special agricultural crops.


Stramit Corporation producing structured wallboard from wheat straw. J. R. Simplot Company - food-processing plant producing a variety of products from potatoes.


Fairchilds Enterprises - plastic sign manufacturing plant


Hips Beverage plant.

Page revised: 3 January 2016