Sunday, 2 September 2012

Medalta Pottery

There's a new party in blogland!  Claudia at Mockingbird Hill Cottage has started a party for us to share  A Favorite Thing.  I wanted to join in and the hardest part was choosing WHICH of my things I loved the most!  I hate to show favouritism and I'm famously indecisive, but settled on some humble pieces of everyday pottery.

Medalta Potteries was a household name in Canada from 1916 until 1954 and was the major industry for Medicine Hat, Alberta.  My grandfather Jesse William Wyatt (Will to his family) was hired as superintendent in 1924 and travelled west, from Ontario, to his new position in a 1921 Ford touring car with his wife and five children.  The trip west is mentioned as a single line in the history books.  But, to our family, it includes two year old Jackie falling ill with pneumonia and them transferring to a train to get him there faster.  Jackie didn't survive and is remembered as, "The sweetest little boy ever.", by his sister who is ninety years old.

The old buildings are a museum today. ~

photo attribution here

My grandfather was a ninth generation, British trained, potter and master mould maker.  He designed and oversaw the massive, beehive kilns that soon dotted the landscape of the small prairie city.  He was a brilliant man and a little eccentric.  My uncle told the story of my grandfather going back to check on the kilns at night and not noticing that he had parked his expensive, new car on a pile of burning coals, until it went up in flames!    By 1929 Medalta Potteries was supplying 75% of all the ceramics in Canada and was shipping as far away as Australia.  Their bread and butter lines were everyday useful items like crocks, bean pots, chicken waterers and bed warmers.  Lamps and decorative wares soon joined the roster of over 700 items in production.

Then, the Great Depression struck and the mighty pottery was fighting for survival.  Workers reported for their shifts even though they didn't get paid. Uncle Bert said, "There was nowhere else to work so we figured we might as well show up."  My grandparents didn't get paid either.  Ranch families would trade chickens and eggs for Medalta wares.  I remember Nanny saying she didn't have any money but had lots of food.  Men rode the rails (stole rides on freight trains) to come west in hopes of finding work in the harvest. The large, brick house on the hill was the first they came to and Nanny had her kitchen maid make bacon and eggs for every one that came to her door.  She also gave each man a cigar because, "A man needs a nice smoke after a meal!".  The big house with the maid, the meals and cigars for tramps all faded away during those terrible times and my grandparents left Medicine Hat with only what could fit in a car.

You'll see me use this bowl over and over again as I cook and can. ~

It may have been made by my grandfather himself or his sons, Bert and Bill, who worked with him there.  It will certainly have been used to set bread to rise or filled with snapped beans by the women who owned it before me.

This bean pot had made it's way to Halifax, Nova Scotia for me to find in an antique store. ~

This lamp was found at my local Salvation Army store for $2. ~

The lamp had no shade so I took an old, paper lampshade from a hotel lamp and added the Medalta logo.  This shade came from an auction but you could swipe one from the next hotel you stay in.  My camera is doing something strange with the texture on the shade and making the logo look weirdly shaky but it's not like that in real life.  I made an inverted copy of the logo on a laser printer and transferred the image with a Blender pen.

And if you own a Medalta crock it may have been one that my grandfather sat on with my beloved Auntie Doe and my dad! ~ 

photo courtesy of  Medicine Hat Museum and Art Gallery

Oh, how I love these simple pieces of pottery!

I'm sharing this with ~


  1. What a great piece of history to share. I love Medalta and have travelled East (from the West Coast) to visit the Pottery twice (in its museum incarnation. My first visit was before they museum had tidied up the production area and I was fortunate to see it as it had been when the factory closed, all the racks and various lines and stacks of crocks and toilet forms, dust and atmosphere, beehive burners and outbuildings. Next visit the large building and area was mega organized and very professional but still a thrill to visit. So many examples of pottery and a gift store with home written history books, modern examples and cased (for view only) examples from the past.

    A treat indeed to read your post today. Thank you for sharing on A Favorite Thing.


  2. Oh this was a great post to read! I have never heard of that pottery, but I'm going to start looking for a piece of my own now that I know the history! I wonder if it's hard to find here. Oh..and I never thought about stealing lampshades from hotels!!! Leave it to you for that fine suggestion!! Thanks for sharing this lovely story and the great old photos!

  3. The pottery is wonderful but the story accompanying it is even better. What a great story and history for your family to own. I am thrilled that you have some of the pieces. I can see why it is one of your favorites. How sad that the little boy died as the family made their move. Today I am sure antibiotics could have saved his life. What a dreadful loss.
    How funny about the car on the coals. xo Diana

  4. What a great story and great pottery! I love the old photos! Cindy

  5. Wow, what a story. I hope you will print a record of this because things can get lost in cyberspace, and rich stories like this about ancestors need to be preserved for future generations. Lovely piece. Thanks so much!

  6. So interesting. I love to hear about family history. It's so interesting sometimes. Love the pottery. Looks like you make good use of it. Do it proud.

  7. This is a fascinating piece of history, Maureen - thank you so much for sharing it! I had never heard of Medalta pottery. I love pottery, as you know, and really enjoy hearing about the history of the various potteries that sprang up in the early part of the 20th century. The fact that the pottery had everything to do with your grandfather and your family is priceless. I love your pieces. Thanks so much for joining in on the party! Now you have to find another favorite thing for next week!


  8. Your post is making me hungry. Such beautiful pottery and delicious things inside it, too!

  9. What a wonderful piece of history, you tell them so well that I NEED to keep reading. I have to keep my eye out for Medalta pottery now, and you know how much I love pottery.

  10. This reminds me of something I saw recently in Santa Fe...wonderful and that lamp is adorable!

  11. Maureen - What an interesting and informative post!! I've never even heard of Medalta pottery. I'll start looking for it. I love pottery and most of what I have is McCoy. But, I like it all.


  12. I adore crocks and old pottery. I have a few crocks I've collected through the years, and even though I don't use them, I enjoy looking at them.

    The good news about the party at MHC is we don't have to choose a single favorite thing, but get to choose a new one each week. :) YAY!

  13. Hi Maureen ~ thanks for visiting from Claudia's Favorite Things. I absolutely love your pottery and especially the family story behind it. That would have been my first choice too (: I collect old pottery, and am especially drawn to milk pitchers and jugs for some reason. How wonderful to have the history of your family,it's traditions and a few keepsakes.

  14. I had never heard of Medalta pottery, and enjoyed reading the story behind your family's business.
    Thanks for stopping by and nice comment on the necklace.

  15. Just realized I was signed in under different acct. when commented
    and you may be thinking who is that. :)
    Dab of This and That

  16. What a great story -and amazing to own a bit of your own family history. Your grandfather sounds like a character and someone I would have loved to have known!

  17. I love that you have all these historical stories to share with everyone. It's obvious you are proud of your heritage...and rightly so!! When I look at my Medalta crocks now, I think of your grandfather and that's kinda nice... xo wendy

  18. These would be my favorite things, too.

    I love things that make me feel history.

    I've not heard of Medalta crocks but I'm going to look on e-bay just for fun!

  19. What a glorious history of humble yet lovely pottery. That your family made them makes them so mush more special. If I ever run across some you shall be the first to know. xoxo, Olive

  20. First, I love the idea of this party Maureen.
    Secondly I love your pottery, and your whole post with all it's history.
    Thirdly, I think, somewhere, I have a picture of me, standing on Medicine Hat Station. We were on our way (from Montreal by train)to visit my Uncle and Aunt in Vancouver !
    I shall have to see if I can find it.

  21. Oh, I forgot to say - I was six at the time !

  22. I adored this post, so interesting and such a lovely tribute to your family.

  23. Medicine Hat and its Medalta Potteries- Canada's pottery capital we think. An amazing piece of Canadian history, the potteries produced the first finished goods to be shipped from western Canada to eastern Canada. We have several pieces of Medalta. Some old, some new including a set of repro baking bowls which we had shipped from Medalta to our home in the east. :- ) Great post. Wonderful provenance. Love the personal connection.

  24. Love pottery and love this story and your connection. It seems that I have heard of Medalta Pottery, but not sure. Thanks for sharing your story ... will have to be on the lookout for this pottery.
    Audrey Z.

  25. I have one old green mixing bowl that was my great grandmothers and it is from Medalta potteries. It is a treasured piece of family history.

  26. What an interesting post about your family history and connection to the Medalta Potteries. I have an aqua coffee mug from the Medicine Hat Potteries which I believe is part of Medalta. Am I correct? I found it at my mother-in-law's and love it's pretty colour. I did a post about it last year wanting more info on it but I also googled it. I'm glad I searched your 'antiques' link on your sidebar to find this. Pamela

  27. Me again. I just checked out my old bean crock and it's also from Medicine Hat Properties. It was my mother's but I'm not sure where she got it as she left us so many antiques. Pamela

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