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The Dutch Clock

Find out about the story of cheese making from dairy barn to sale room at Farmtown Park home of the Hastings County Museum of Agricultural Heritage in Stirling, Ontario.  This is the story of the Dutch Clock used to sell cheese. The Dutch Clock is now at the museum.

People have been making cheese commercially in Hastings County for almost 150  Years. Cheese makers still make cheddar using the traditional methods at Maple Dale, Ivanhoe, Empire and Black River cheese factories. The men working here are at Maple Dale Cheese at Plainfield.

During the second World War, some cheese factories in Belleville were requisitioned by the Canadian government. They then shipped cheese to Britain, as part of Canada's war contribution. After the war the export of cheese continued.

The Cheese Producers Association and the Province of Ontario wanted to modernize the cheese industry. So in 1956 Charlie Heath  from Stirling and Everett Biggs,  deputy minister of agriculture  for Ontario, went to flower auction in Aalsmeer in Holland. This auction dates back to seventeenth century and is now largest flower auction in the world.

 Flowers continue to be sold there using the reverse Dutch auction system. In this type of  auction the base price is set and the clock runs backwards. Bidding is stressful. The buyers press a button to make a bid.   Press too soon and you pay too much, press too late you and loose to another bidder.

Charlie Heath and Everett Biggs came back to Ontario with the large green and white Dutch Clock that is now at the museum. It cost  $1,200 to buy and $3,000 to install. The first auction was in Kingston on July 12 1956. In 1959 the clock was moved  in Belleville and used the Milk Marketing Board  which took over from the Cheese Producers Association, to auction cheese.

Gwen Hall ran the Dutch Clock from 1960 to 1991, when both she and the clock retired. Gwen visited the museum to share some of her memories.

I’m Gwen Hall. I worked for the Milk Marketing board for 37 years and ran the Dutch clock for 31.

First off the cheese was graded at the different grading stations around the country.

Then they sent the grading to us in Belleville and we compiled a catalogue that listed all the factories that they were graded 94.93,92. They were sold separately then if a factory had an under grade that was sold at the end of the sale.
You would start the clock with the hand and bring it up It would give the dollar  and the cent it could got 90 to 70 cents what ever the you would run it down 90 cents 80 cents the 10th of cents in between so when the clock came down the first buyer would stop it, Then I would bring it back up and run it again and the next buyer could bid. when the bidding stopped the article was sold at that price,
The under grade was sold at the end of the sale for 10 cents less in that ball park.

But it was pretty well the same buyers each week from Brookville, Cornwall, Sanderson for Oxford Station, Belleville, Stratford, Toronto.

We did have one buyer fromToronto who we always got a kick out of Mr. Chisholm and he almost always bought under grade cheese and when it was time for him to buy the block he wanted he would start to whistle so all of the men would know when he started to whistle he was going to bid on a block of cheese and they would over bid him and it got to be a real joke.

Visit the Hastings County Museum of Agricultural Heritage and walk through the eight buildings and explore  rural life in Hastings County.


Cheese Making in Hastings County


Cheese making started commercially in Hastings County around 1864. By 1920 there were cheese factories on each concession runas co-operatives by the farmers who lived within easy distance of the factory. The cheese was boxed and shipped to Belleville usually by train to be sold to dealers and then transported to Great Britain.