The eastern Ontario cheese factory destroyed by fire earlier this year hopes to break ground on rebuilding a new, larger operation next month to help the small town that relies on its business.
The cheese co-op in St. Albert, Ont., is a landmark in the tiny community of 500, about 45 minutes east of Ottawa.
The factory, known for its distinctive cheese curds, had been a major employer in the region since it was founded in 1894. It is also one of the oldest Francophone co-operatives in Ontario and employed about 110 people in the small community.
But the co-op lost almost everything to a massive fire on Jan. 3. Since then, the old structure is gone and some remaining equipment, such as a large refrigerator, is in the midst of being salvaged.
Co-op wants to bring cheese back home
That fridge will house cheese while the new structure is being built. The cheese is currently scattered, stored in the east Ottawa suburb of Orleans, as well as Montreal and Mirabel, Que.
The new structure will be larger and cost about $25 million to build, according to Réjean Ouimet, the cheese factory's former general manager.
The new plan has had input from many different people, which has made the process a little more difficult, he added. The co-op also has required help from many different businesses.
"Right now, it's really tough on us," said Ouimet, adding the cheese also does not taste the same since manufacturing began at two other Quebec factories.
Local contractors to fuel new factory construction
The co-op hopes to begin digging and building the new foundation after Canada Day and plans to finish the structure by October. It then hopes to have the factory up and running in time for the one-year anniversary of the devastating fire.
The construction will not be run by one large company, though, Ouimet said. Instead, the co-op wants to hire numerous local contractors.
It's a vision that stems from the fact only half of the factory's former employees are currently employed by the co-op.
"We want people from this area," said Ouimet.
"If you hire one contractor, if he's far from this area, he don't know all our people … we want to give jobs to our people."