Saskatchewan Clay stories to 1950

People in Saskatchewan have been using the vast clay resources of the province for a long time. During the early settler period, clay, both in raw and manufactured form was put to all kinds of uses by individuals and small groups.  Eventually it began to be looked upon as a resource for commercial exploitation. Many of the early newspaper stories deal with finds of various types of clay and the possible uses it could be put to. There are also stories about early manufacturing ventures and various individuals who used local clay for a whole variety of purposes, sculpture, ceramic ware, and industrial tiles and pipes and building materials.

My interest in clay is really confined to its use by artists. I am particularly interested in the china painters who not only painted pre-manufactured china imported into Saskatchewan but also attempted to become ceramic artists and used native clay to fashion pottery and finish it themselves with glazes. Much more research needs to be done on all these early china painters and potters in Saskatchewan. (I’ve provided some names in my posts Some Women Artists in Saskatoon and Regina)  From Regina, here’s an early story that tells of pioneer ingenuity in building kilns . (Scroll down the City and Country column to find the story)

Laboratory tests of clay were constantly being done from the time that Saskatchewan became a province.  A report from the Provincial Laboratory on the subject of clay from 1908 is in the Leader. Small displays of fired clay vessels were featured at summer fairs and in jewelry store windows, promising people a future Saskatchewan-based clay industry. Women’s clubs also tried to promote Saskatchewan clay for artwork (Jun 3, 1926 ML) and it’s use in projects of all kinds was highlighted. Jan. 31, 1941 RLP

In 1921 the University of Saskatchewan was the first Canadian university to set up a department of Ceramic Engineering, probably in anticipation of manufacturing facilities being developed in the province. Apr. 30, 1921 SSP. For twenty-six years W. G. Worcester headed this one man department which closed not too long after he retired. He was involved in testing local clays and promoting clay manufacture across the province. eg.) Aug. 22, 1925 ML; Apr. 21, 1927 SSP; July, 29, 1927 ML; July 6, 1938; Apr. 10, 1940 SSP; Jan 31, 1944 RLP. His son’s family also was involved. Nov. 18, 1941 SSP. In fact, his son James Cameron Worcester was instrumental in setting up an art pottery business in Saskatoon called Canadian Clay Craft in the mid 1930s.  Canadian Clay Craft developed a line of pottery known as Teepee ware which was featured in the summer fair exhibits in 1938. For more about W.G. Worcester’s involvement in Saskatoon art, see the Saskatoon Art Club/Saskatoon Art Association posts.  Photo below from linked June 25, 1938 SSP article on Canadian Clay Craft.

1938 Claycraft items photo June 25

As late as 1947 there are reports of people being given pottery souvenirs produced by the University. Delegates to the National Council of Women’s annual meeting held in Regina received Saskatoon made items to take home with them.

The University of Saskatchewan now has an online exhibition featuring some of the ceramic ware produced in Saskatoon by both the department of Ceramic Engineering and Canadian Clay Craft. It is well worth a look.

Although this is starting to sound like a success story, it really is not. Despite all the promotion of clay manufacture as a viable and necessary business in Saskatchewan, most of the clay dug out of the ground was exported.  I have found references to some clay manufacturers, the first being the United National Resources Ltd. of 1914, later International Clay Products of Estevan and the Dominion Fire Brick and Clay Products Ltd. of Claybank, but the fact is that the Alberta Clay Products company of Medicine Hat was extracting clay from Saskatchewan for manufacturing purposes in Alberta from 1912.  It seems that the main natural resource in Medicine Hat was cheap natural gas to fuel kilns.  I was astounded to find out that the famous Medalta lines of Alberta pottery sold in Saskatchewan were often made from Saskatchewan clay.  More about this subject later in the post.

For more information about the industrial uses of Saskatchewan clay see this website for information about the Claybank Company, whose original factory begun in 1914 remains intact.

I want to go back to the heyday of Saskatchewan clay discoveries in the early 1920s because, among other stories, I have uncovered an obscure story which really interests me.

I first encountered Helene Pachal advertising the opening of a new ceramic studio in Regina in 1919. There are several mentions in the Morning Leader of her studio in 1919. Jan.16, 1919 is one of them.  I thought that she was just one of many china painters who set up shop in Regina and then moved on to greener pastures but further articles about her were intriguing. Mar.4, 1921; July 2, 1921. There didn’t seem to be anything more about her until I stumbled across this headline in the 1925 Morning Leader.


Someone at the Leader had obviously run across this story in another newspaper and inserted it in the Morning Leader because of the Regina connection.  I had no idea from other stories in the Morning Leader that Pachal was a ceramic engineer.  I was intrigued and started some genealogical digging.  I found scads of news stories about her.  One of the earliest is this one which says it in the most detail. It is an OCR translation  of the newspaper page and there is one indecipherable section in it but most of the oft-repeated story is here.

********************************************************************************Winnipeg Tribune 28 July 1923. P.6 in page devoted to News of Girls Activities Here and Elsewhere

GIRL LOCATES FINE CHINA CLAY, Enterprise of Canadian Girl is Rewarded After Much Work The pioneer efforts of many women’s movements have had their origin In Western Canada, and In that status of greater equality accorded the sex In the West and the spirit of Initiative the area naturally generates, women have found It easier to break the shackles which previously hampered them and have penetrated Into fields, previously considered sacred to men. On the top of many feminine successes in many lines in the Canadian West comes a novel achievement, that of Helen Pachal, artist, scientist, business woman and explorer, whose adventures are described in a bulletin of the Canadian Pacific Railway. “Miss Pachal, a Regina girl,” states the bulletin, “graduate of the New York School of Ceramics, since her graduation had been actively Interested In the china business, successfully operating a studio for china painting In Regina. The delay and inconvenience in obtaining fine china to paint set her to wondering if it would not be possible to produce for this purpose a suitable china in Canada. She was more than ever convinced of the national value of such an Industry when she discovered that the three Prairie Provinces alone Imported annually $5,000,000.00 worth of china which had to be transported 8,000 miles by water and 2,000 miles by rail. She saw a future for this Industry in Canada, if fins numb uuuiu uo luunu hi nunie. “The work of prospecting she undertook alone. From the geological formation of certain hills in south-western Saskatchewan, she was convinced that suitable clay was hidden under the soil. In the summer she started out, attired in prospector’s garb, with pick and shovel and a 4 – inch pole auger. A day’s travel brought her to the range of hills, where she was left by the livery driver with her food supply and camping equipment. Throughout the summer she followed an arduous routine, rising at 7 a.m. and tramping fifteen to twenty miles each day with tools and supplies carried in a pack. She discovered many beds of clay, but tests made by herself In the following winter of 1920 – 21 proved them worthless for her purpose. She returned to the quest in the summer of 1921, and after the same failure had dogged her efforts for months she was rewarded toward fall by discovering what appeared to be the long – sought – for clay. She took samples to Medicine Hat during the winter and spent months testing it and making it into fine china dishes. The results were eminently satisfactory and quantitative tests proved that only two per cent of outside materials were needed to supplement the clay to make the finest pottery and table dishes. Other tests proved that it could be made into pony insulators for high voltage electrical power wires, thousands of which are imported into the country every year. Still further tests at New York con- vinced her that, granted the deposit was of sufficient extent, she had discovered a rich china clay deposit. “Returning from New York, she stopped off for several weeks In New Brunswick and Quebec to do further prospecting, and in the latter province found quantities of feldspar and asbestos, the only minerals needed to fuse with the clay to make a perfect china body. Securing mining rights to these discoveries, she went back to Saskatchewan and made another trip to the hills where she discovered the valuable sample of clay. There, according to her report, extensive excavation operations proved that this clay was a thick stratum extending over a wide area and in sufficient quantity to last a great Industry for many years. ” Miss Pachal Is reported to be engaged at the present time in preparations to commercially exploit her discovery by erecting a plant for the manufacture of dishes and Insulators. Whether this enterprise Is success fully launched and the years of effort brought to successful termination, there exists little doubt that, in the near future, Saskatchewan will possess such an Industry, for the survey and tests of the past few years have proven It to be the wealthiest clay area of Canada, with every advantage for the establishment of clay Industries.*********************************************************************

This story of discovery appeared in many newspapers. I found online versions of it in the Scottish Aberdeen Journal  on 27 Dec 1922, another story in the Evening Review of East Liverpool, Ohio on 23 Oct 1923 and one in the Northern Advocate, a New Zealand newspaper in 17 Nov 1923, among others.  This lady was world famous by 1923 when, as they say, her story had gone viral. I think the CPR Bulletin referred to in the Winnipeg article must have come out in 1922.

But her international fame was obviously fleeting.  The last story I found about her discovery adventure was in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1925 where the story had deteriorated to a couple of sentences.  I have done quite a bit of digging to reconstruct what details of her life are online.

Helene (usually spelled Helen) Pachal (often spelled Paschal) was born in Winnipeg on Oct. 23, 1889 to Russian émigré parents.  Her large family moved to the Yorkton area of Saskatchewan to farm before 1891 so Helene really was a Saskatchewan girl.  There was a Doukhobor clay brick factory in Yorkton in the early part of the twentieth century and it would certainly have been in operation there when Pachal was a child.  Read about it here.

From what I can infer from news stories, she left Yorkton behind and went to the New York State School of Ceramics in 1907 where she must have earned a 4 year B.Sci. degree in Ceramic Engineering.  The New York State School of Ceramics and Clay Design (now known as Alfred University) was established in 1900 joining engineering with art and design.  Charles Fergus Binns was appointed as its founding director and an online journal article outlining its early history lists W.G. Worcester as a lab assistant and instructor at the school from 1907-1911, precisely the same time when Helene Pachal attended.  It was the premiere institution of its kind in North America. (note you cannot read the full article unless you are using an academic library database)

What Pachal did after her graduation is sketchy.  She married Jean Renneaux-Kich in Winnipeg in 1911 and had a daughter LaVere who was born in Coal City, Illinois in 1914.  I have not been able to find out what happened to her first husband but by 1919 she had established herself in a ceramic studio in Regina as Miss Helene Pachal. There, she taught ceramic painting classes and spent the summers prospecting for clay, it seems. However, in 1919 she announced that she had recently taken a course at the Art Institute of Chicago and was offering painting lessons as well as china painting classes. Regina audiences appear to have been impressed by her work but she didn’t advertise as an instructor there after 1921.

The early 1920s seem to have been a busy time for Pachal, as outlined in the newspaper article from the Winnipeg Tribune. Helene was a resident of East Liverpool, Ohio* when she married Martin Boudreau Midland of Grand Forks on 11 Oct. 1926 in Glasgow Valley, Montana . They had a son named Gordon Midland who was born 21 Jul 1927 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.  She must have moved to Montana shortly after and ceased to be a resident of Canada.

*East Liverpool, Ohio was the pottery capital of the United States from the early 19th Century until the 1930s with many clay-related companies based there.

Helene Midland’s husband Martin died in Glasgow Vallery, Montana in 1940 and I did find one further news article that gives more information about her later life, again in OCR**************************************************************************

Montana Standard 21 July 1940 › Page 5

WOMAN ENGINEER PAYS VISIT HERE Mrs. Helene Midland of Hot Springs was a Butte visitor the past few days. Mrs. Midland is a ceramic engineer, possibly one of two in the United States. She owns mining property near Hot Springs. Mrs. Midland is a graduate of the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred. N. Y. Her daughter followed in the same profession and recently graduated as a ceramic engineer at Ohio State University. Mrs. Midland has had almost a lifetime of experience in the minerals industry, including leading an expedition to Labrador In search of placer gold. She owns land in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan that is said to contain “China clay” deposits.

And I found her obituary: ******************************************************

The Daily Inter Lake
Tuesday, August 24, 1954
page five

Mrs. Helene Midland, 64, died in Kalispell last night. Mrs. Midland was a former resident of Perma, where she lived 25 years before moving to the Flathead two years ago.
She was a ceramic engineer and geologist. Mrs. Midland is survived by one son, Gordon Midland, Kalispell; a daughter, Mrs. LaVere Ives, Pensacola, Fla.; five grandchildren and several brothers and sisters.

Service arrangements will be announced by Waggener and Campbell Funeral Home.


She is buried in Conrad Memorial Cemetery, Kalispell, Flathead county, Montana

Lavere Ives died on Oct. 10, 1982. A U.S. Navy veteran, she is buried in Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.

Gordon B. Midland’s obituary appeared without a source on Google but I suspect it was in the same newspaper where his mother’s death was announced:

Gordon B. Midland, 84, died April 10, 2012.

He was born July 21, 1927, in Moosejaw, Sask., Canada, to Martin Midland and Helen Pashal Midland. He was a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Navy. Gordon was preceded in death by his parents; his sister LaVere Ives; and his son Gordon Midland Jr.

 He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Marjorie Grimm Midland; sons Tharon Midland, of Kamiah, Idaho, Phillip Midland, of Hermiston, Ore., and Martin Midland, of Littleton, Colo.; daughters Sandra Fletcher, of San Jose, Calif., Darlane Lovell, of Hermiston, Ore., Patricia Counsell, of Columbia Falls, Kathy Tindol, of Aurora, Ill., and Maggie Halbert, of Hermiston, Ore.; 18 grandchildren; and 13 great grandchildren.

A private service was held April 14, 2012.

Memorials can be made to Frontier Hospice, 29 Second St., Kalispell MT 59901 or Vange John Memorial Hospice, 645 West Orchard Ave. Suite 600, Hermiston OR 97838.


I hope the information I’ve gathered here will be enough to get someone started on a research project.  If anyone deserves a study, it is this lady. I would love to know more about her.

I would especially like to know more about her sojourn in Saskatchewan clay.  Apart from the one Leader article from 1921 which links her with Saskatchewan clay discoveries, and a press release she sent to the Leader in 1926 from Readlyn, Saskatchewan, a tiny place just north of Willow Bunch, her name never comes up in articles about new clay discoveries in Saskatchewan in the 1920s and I wonder if there is some kind of reason for this. What was her relationship to W.G. Worcester, the official tester of clay in the province? Did she own a company in Saskatchewan? This report from the Star-Phoenix in Nov. 28,1927 allows one to speculate that she may have owned Canadian Clay Products but her name is not mentioned. It may be a completely unrelated entity.  Can examples of her Saskatchewan china painting be found? So many questions.

Here are some examples of announcements of clay discoveries from the early 1920s. Jan. 19, 1920 ML; July 6, 1923 ML and a detailed editorial on the subject of Saskatchewan clay from the Morning Leader in 1927. The Phoenix had at least a couple of articles which might be informative, but beyond the headlines, they are unreadable Nov. 21, 1923 & May 3, 1924. On Dec. 31, 1929 a large spread in the Star-Phoenix featured a map and discussion about Saskatchewan’s natural resources. I’ve reproduced a segment here to situate the area where clays were found to be most valuable.

1929 Page segment dealing with clay areas cropped

On July 30, 1929 there was a report in the Morning Leader on an exhibit at the Regina fair sponsored by the railways department which focused on clay and minerals of Saskatchewan. Later that year the development of Saskatchewan clay was still a hot topic. But the Great Depression changed everything. The outflow of capital and people and the collapse of agricultural production in the province meant that no new industries had a chance.  In 1930 International Clay Products of Estevan could not even supply raw clay for planned terracotta decoration on  Saskatchewan’s provincial war memorial. (see my link on the Albert Street Bridge in World Wars and Saskatchewan art post)


Another possible industrial/artsy use for Saskatchewan’s clay was proposed as early as 1906 and as late as 1943. A few artists who mixed their own pigmented oil paint must have tried it but the only mention I’ve seen is Regina artist Ethel Barr mixing her own paints for her Saskatchewan landscapes from clay pigments and poppy seed oil, all native Saskatchewan products.  She demonstrated this method at the Emma Lake Art Camp in 1937. Although Barr could probably afford tubed paint in the 1930s, many other artists in Saskatchewan could not. The ladies of the Women’s Art Association heard a talk on the general and artistic uses of Saskatchewan clay reported on Oct. 10, 1931 in Regina.

In the early 1940s, with the rise of the CCF as a viable political party, the truth about the state of Saskatchewan’s mineral and clay resources was being revealed. eg) July 27,1942 RLP in a special jubilee feature which also contained on the same page an ad for Medalta pottery and Jun 25, 1943 RLP. The CCF came to power in Saskatchewan in 1944 and started to develop policies and procedures that would protect the province and ordinary citizens from financial exploitation.  This editorial from the Leader Post dates from that era.

In 1947 the Leader Post contains a spate of articles on Saskatchewan clay which shows what happens when you try to change the rules. Jun 14,  Sep. 5; Oct.10; Oct. 15; Oct. 31 & May 14, 1948.

For another interesting clay story of a different kind see Judith Silverthorne’s illustrated article on the SNAC website on Peter Rupchan (1883-1944).  Silverthorne is an expert on the subject, having written a book on him.

To complement Silverthorne’s story I have links to a couple of newspaper articles I found mentioning Ukrainian born Peter Rupchan’s activities. Jun 24, 1939 RLP. This rustic potter was active in the Preeceville area and sold his pots in cities beginning in the 1920s. This latter article on the Saskatoon Arts & Crafts Society doesn’t use his name but the description of the potter fits.

Rupchan’s work also appears in a Mackenzie Gallery online exhibit called Fine Form: Saskatchewan Ceramics

While we may not know much about Saskatchewan’s early artists who worked with clay and the long dreamed of ceramic industry never did come to pass, the ceramic sculptors of the 1960s and 1970s and beyond are more well known.  The Mackenzie Gallery has an online exhibit of this too called Regina Clay: Worlds in the Making (link may be broken) featuring such luminaries as Joe Fafard and Vic Cicansky.

I wonder if they bought their clay from Alberta?

©Lisa G. Henderson

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