A black and white image of a building, showing two men in apron looking out from a doorway. On the left of the building are a series of stacked milk pails, and on the right, a sign that reads "Home of Armstrong Cheese."
The Armstrong Cheese Co-Operative plant in 1940.

The ultimate comfort food

Cold snowy weather calls for comfort food like pizza, and what would pizza be without its quintessential cheese topping?

Moving back in time to 1902, the residents of the Village of Armstrong joined forces to establish a creamery, financing the project through the sale of land shares. Despite initial resistance from the municipal council, this determined group overcame obstacles. By the year’s end, a creamery had been constructed, furnished, and a skilled butter maker hired.

As detailed in an article by Mary Blackburn in the 47th Report of the Okanagan Historical Society, the creamery was situated just north of Armstrong, near Fortune Creek. In 1916, it was reorganized as part of the North Okanagan Creamery Association (NOCA), collecting milk from dairy farms extending from Mara Lake southwards to Vernon. By 1923, the Armstrong Creamery was producing an impressive 12,000 pounds of butter per month.

The City of Vernon Muscles in

The creamery changed hands in 1925, when it was purchased by Pat Burns and Co., becoming part of the Okanagan Valley Co-Operative Creamery (although the NOCA brand name persisted). Two years later, a devastating fire wiped out the Armstrong creamery, prompting the Vernon City Council to offer incentives to Pat Burns and Co. to centralize the creamery industry in Vernon. The history of NOCA and the Okanagan Valley Co-Operative Creamery carries on from here, but back in Armstrong, the loss of the dairy industry was being keenly felt.

A silver lining emerged in 1938 with the opening of a new cheese factory under the guidance of Charles Busby. Once again, shares were gathered for construction, leading to the official incorporation of the Armstrong Cheese Co-Operative in 1939. Armstrong Cheese swiftly became a renowned business, with temperature-controlled cooling rooms facilitating longer aging and mass production resulting in sales of 820,000 pounds a year by 1943.

Goodbye Armstrong

Fast forward to 1997, and the company changed hands, sold to Dairyworld Foods, the production and marketing arm of Agrifoods International Cooperative Ltd. In 2003, Saputo Inc. acquired Dairyworld Foods, including the Armstrong Cheese brand, and in 2004, closed the Armstrong plant.

Fortunately, just a few years prior in 1998, the Village Cheese Company opened in Armstrong, keeping the tradition of quality cheese-making alive in the region. Although the Armstrong Cheese brand can still be purchased throughout the North Okanagan, it is no longer the result of North Okanagan milk, most of which is now produced in Abbotsford, B.C., before being shipped to Calgary, A.B., for packaging.

 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives