Wednesday, August 14, 2013

We used to make things in this country. #118: Welland Vale Manufacturing Company Ltd., St. Catharines, Ontario

I found this old axe head at a local garage sale.  It was covered in rust and was mushroomed as a result of having obviously been hit with a sledge hammer, contrary to good axe practice.  Cleaned up, it announced itself as a product of Welland Vale, a company I had never heard of.

Beginning as the firm of Tuttle, Date and Rodden, The Welland Vale Works was founded in 1869 on the Welland Canal (the "Welland Vale") in St. Catherines, Ontario.  They made wagon wheels and a variety of edge tools and by 1871 they had about 120 employees and production putting them in the top one percent of Canadian manufacturers.  By 1874, they were Canada's largest axe maker, famous for their "Black Prince" axe, among others.   

Yesteryears Tools

Other Welland Vale brands included "Lion", pictured below on another axe I subsequently stumbled across:

In 1892, they established a subsidiary in Montreal, the Canadian Axe & Harvest Tool Company.  The company was quick to capitalize on the bicycle craze at the end of the 19th Century, producing a variety of bicycles beginning in 1896.
In 1899, Welland Vale Manufacturing amalgamated with three other major Canadian bicycle manufacturers to form the Canada Cycle & Motor Co. Ltd.  Welland-Vale bicycle production ended in 1900 when the factory burned down.  It was rebuilt, but production returned to edge tools.  In 1921, the company was acquired by the  American Fork & Hoe Co. American Fork & Hoe, which also purchased the Kelly Axe Mfg. Co. of Charleston, West Virginia. The company was eventually purchased by True Temper of Ohio sometime in the 1950's, which continued to offer the Black Prince axe but under the True Temper name.  


Canadian Homes, June 1961

The factory was closed down after a strike in 1965, the first in the company's 96-year history.  The factory closing resulted in the loss of 94 jobs.

After serving a variety of the functions, the Welland-Vale axe factory is now the home of  the Biolyse Pharma Corporation, Canada's only manufacturer of oncology drugs.  These are based on a compound found in the Eastern yew tree (Taxus canadensis) which ironically doesn't need to be cut down to obtain the substance.

As for my axe, it has now been completely cleaned up, sharpened, and fitted with a new handle, to resume its original function in my wood lot.

Below, some additional photos sent to me by Jason, a visitor who has previously contributed tool photos for James Warnock.  He commented:

"Was out today at a garage sale and came across these three.  Couldn't believe I could find all in one place.  Usually I am pretty selective about items I pick up but had to grab all of these.  If you want feel free to ad them to the post about Welland Vale.  Keep up the awesome work on a greatly appreciated blog."

Thanks Jason for the photos and the kind words!

I wonder if the "DHO" initials stamped on one of these axes stood for the Department of Highways Ontario?   If so, it would indicate that Welland-Vale was an official supplier to the provincial government. In addition, since the Department of Highways designation lasted from 1930 to 1972, it would provide a rough indication of the age of the axe.

Below are images of another head sent in by Mike Schaefer. This one seems to be an earlier example.


Unknown said...

this is so kool as I am a logger and a vintage axe and power saw guy, learning more about the axes now, and am very happy to find out about the names welland vale and black prince being from Canada said...

I have a Welland Vale hatchet my grandfather gave me. The stamp on it is the same as the one at the top of the blog. I'm wondering about the dating of the use of that stamp as opposed to the stamp I've seen on other WV axes, which is simple the words Welland Vale. I know the name was used from 1874 to 1950, but don't know about the dates of the different style of stamps, and I'd really like to know how old the hatchet is. Anyone know? (I could send a picture for you to add to your post, but don't know how.)

Mister G said...

I can't help with the dating, but you can send pictures to and I'll happily add them. Thanks for the note!

Unknown said...

Hey buckin.. I am a follower of you channel and love it everyday. I just came across a welland vale hatchet it is stamped. And I was lucky enough to find a welland vale black prince double bit the other day..I love restoring old axes and it means so much to me when I find a welland or walters true Canadian history.. you are a great guy my friend and an honest man.. just a good ol Canadian lad.. I found it funny when I saw your name show up here and had to say hello.. Mark "bartering bushcraft" on youtube

benny said...

thanks for posting this i got this axe for $10 at the market outside of london ontario to turn into a camping axe or boys axe for the kids and i and when i got the rust off i could only clearly make out the word brand but could see alittle bit of a circle and that there was another word so i whent onto google images and two hous later found this haveing said all that im not sure if im reading this correctly is all the axes that say lions brand from the late 1800's

The Duke said...

Sorry, I can't date your axe. I don't know when they started using Lion Brand or when they stopped. Still, you've got a nice piece of Ontario history there, and a quality axe, so bring it back to life and enjoy it!

Woodifyoucould said...

Thanks for organizing all of this information into one spot for us.

I just bought a "Black Prince" hatchet (head only) yesterday at a flea market.

It was a last second toss-in after I'd stumbled upon it buried under a bunch of other misc. tools inside of a box just a few minutes earlier. I didn't even take it out of the box to look it over to try to find a maker's engraving at the time because I wasn't even really planning on buying it yet until had a chance to ask what the price was.

Only after I found the seller and asked him how much he wanted for it (and after making an offer for the other tools I wanted to get and having him accept that offer) and having him tell me that I could have the hatchet head for $5 - did I decide to buy it.

All that I knew about it up to that point was that it was in pretty good shape and that the steel seemed to be of good quality based on the few seconds of handling it/ lifting it up a bit to feel its edge when I first found it in the box. So, that was all I needed to know about it to leave me more than willing to buy it when he said I could have it for $5.

I then just grabbed it out of the box it was in and tossed it into the bag I had open with the rest of the smaller tools I was buying already in the bag, still yet to look over the hatchet head anymore closely at all (in fact, I hadn't even looked close enough at it at that point to notice that it was a hewing hatchet).

You can probably imagine my surprise and joy when I got home and took the hatchet head out of the bag and then realized that, not only is it a carving hatchet (which I've been looking for for at least 5 years, now) but also, after finding your site and other info about the maker, that this is an axe known for its high quality and that it was made in Canada to boot!

It seems to be the same model as the one posted here:

Mister G said...

Thanks, good story! Much more fun than shopping at Home Depot!

Anonymous said...

Sept 19/20 - I have a True Temper Black Prince with the letters HEPC printed under the name Welland Vale. Would anyone know what company these letter represents?

Mister G said...

Thanks for your comment. H.E.P.C. stnads for Hydro-Electric Power Co. -according to

Mike Schroder said...

I just found an old welland and Vale hatchet from a family realtive. All it has is the stamp. its very heavy, would you like some pictures ?

Mister G said...

Yes please! You can send them to Thanks!

Unknown said...

Just cleaned up an axe head I found in the garage of place I bought 15 years ago and found a name
TUTTLE,DATE &CO ST CATHERINES ONT stamped on it. From the above threads I gather the axe head is pre 1869???

Mister G said...

It does seem that way! Could you send a picture to ? I'll add it to the post.

Unknown said...

My Grand Father worked at this plant until it was closed in 1965. He started working there in the late 30's.

When the factory opened in 1869 it was owned and known known by Tuttle, Date & Rodden. The factory was sold to William Chaplin in 1874 and adopted the name Welland Vale Manufacturing Co.

Mister G said...

Thanks for the history!

Douglas Todd said...

....Fun Fact - Notorious Nazi Rudolph Hess was captured by a Scottish farmer after he parachuted into Scotland during the war. The pitchfork was made at Wellandvale!