How Kamloops' once booming cigar industry went up in smoke - InfoNews

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How Kamloops' once booming cigar industry went up in smoke

This photo shows some of the workers of Kamloops Inland Cigar Factory.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED- Kamloops Museum and Archives
September 02, 2019 - 7:00 AM

KAMLOOPS - Kamloops was once home to a company that created, sold, and exported nearly 4,000 Havana cigars per day.

Word of a cigar factory in Kamloops had been brought up in 1894 by a Vancouver man, James Harling. While looking into the possibility of this venture, Harling rented a building on what is now known as Victoria Street West but never got the business rolling, according to an article from the Kamloops News.

In December of that year, a man named George E. Borthwick, who was employed at a cigar factory in Victoria, decided to try his hand at creating a cigar industry in Kamloops. According to notes from the Kamloops Museum, he rented half of the building from Harling and the Inland Cigar Factory came to be.

At the start, three journeymen apprentices, including Borthwick, rolled cigars with tobacco from Havana, Sumatra, and the United States, according to a Kamloops News article.

The factory began to produce various types of cigars such the Pride of Kamloops, which was strictly Havana tobacco,  as well as some mixed-tobacco varieties such as Nature’s Beauties, La Flor de Cabinet, and Stags, according to notes from the Kamloops Museum.

In 1897 the company was reorganized and made plans for expansion. Borthwick was now partnering with a Vancouver man known as M.P. Gordon, according to the Kamloops News. The company constructed a new building on the corner of First Avenue and Seymour street, which still stands today. The name of the company was changed to the Inland Cigar Manufacturing Company Ltd.

The factory constructed for the Inland Cigar Factory still stands to this day, although it has gone through many ownerships and changes.
The factory constructed for the Inland Cigar Factory still stands to this day, although it has gone through many ownerships and changes.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED - Kamloops Museum and Archives

In 1899, around 3,800 cigars were made each day, then sold locally and exported to a major Vancouver distributor, Kamloops Museum notes say. The cigars were often sent up to the mining communities in northern B.C. and the Klondike.

Around the early 1900s, the company brought in Spanish employees from Cuba to help teach workers how to craft and roll Havana quality cigars, Museum notes read.

The factory employed 30 workers, who were all a part of the Cigar Makers International Union of America, according to an article in Kamloops News.

According to notes from the Kamloops Museum and Archives, the workers received a salary of $15 to $30 a week. There is one picture that captures all of the workers and shows two young boys in the mix. The Museum notes state child labour was a commonality in the cigar manufacturing industry, although it was reported that Borthwick was formally a union man and continued to carry on those values with his staff. It is unclear the age of the young boys in the photo.

This photo shows some of the Inland Cigar Factory employees. The presence of two young boys and a woman has raised some questions, according to notes from the Kamloops Museum and Archives.
This photo shows some of the Inland Cigar Factory employees. The presence of two young boys and a woman has raised some questions, according to notes from the Kamloops Museum and Archives.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED - Kamloops Museum and Archives

In 1908, the directors of the Inland Cigar Manufacturing Company decided it was in the best interest of the company to move production to Victoria, as that was where most of the business was, a Kamloops News article reads.

Borthwick purchased a ranch on the North Thompson River near the mouth of the Barrier river, according to Kamloops Museum notes. Although he was out of the cigar industry, he ran a post office, store, and sawmill.

The end of the Inland Cigar Manufacturing Company wasn’t the end of the Kamloops cigar industry, as five former workers decided to create their own company. They planned on having 24 employees by the next year, according to Kamloops Museum notes. They worked out of the same building on First and Seymour and called themselves the Western Cigar Manufacturing Company Ltd. They created their brand of cigars called the Seal of B.C.

By using their Havana style training, the men were able to keep business up and running although they didn't increase their staff as they thought they would. In 1913, they announced their plans to build a new factory next door to the original location and rented the building on the corner of First and Seymour to the Model Bakery Company.

The building on First Avenue and Seymour Street was leased out to the Model Bakery Company after cigar production was moved next door.
The building on First Avenue and Seymour Street was leased out to the Model Bakery Company after cigar production was moved next door.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED - Kamloops Museum and Archives

According to Kamloops Museum notes, trouble for Western Cigar Manufacturing Company became apparent in August of 1917 when the company sold its former factory for $5,000. With expensive transportation costs and a lack of local support, the company began to voice signs of dismay. Museum notes say the company published a poem in a local paper, although it is not specified which organization published the poem. 

In old Quebec

“If men in Kamloops will but try
To give home goods the show
We might keep here an industry
Yes, even make it grow.
If we don’t get your best support,
Cigar men in Kamloops
Will soon be memories of the past,
Be down in the Pea Soups.
They’ll have to travel eastward
To get a job by Hec.
To make cigars for Kamloops folks
Way back in old Quebec.”

They created three more brands of cigars during their last stretch called Master Duke, the Kamloops Club, and the ironically titled Terminus.

Documentation of their activity and the eventual shutdown is uncertain, according to Kamloops Museum notes. The Model Bakery Company remained open for many years, and the building has seen many changes since then. It is currently the home of Venture Kamloops, but a plaque on the building reminds passersby of what once was.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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