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Claybank historical site in need of public support

“If nobody hears that we're having difficulty, everybody thinks things are fine,” said Frank Korvemaker, of the current situation at the Claybank Brick Plant historical site

The Claybank Brick Plant churned out bricks from 1914 to 1989 and now claims the title of North America’s most well-preserved brick-making site, but it’s future may be up in the air in the next few months.

Since it's opening, the plant has supplied product for some recognizable local buildings such as the Natatorium, St. Joseph’s Church, parts of Sask Polytech’s facade, Capitol Theatre, and even the ovens at Maple Leaf Bakery. 

claybank plant foundersThe founders of Claybank Brick Plant, all of which were from Moose Jaw, from L-R: J.H. Kearn, Edward Matthews, Arthur Hitchcock, Charles Turnbull, and J. McCulloch. (supplied)
Bricks from Claybank make up part of the Delta Bessborough in Saskatoon, and they have even traveled as far as Quebec for the famous Château Frontenac hotel.

These days, the historic plant is struggling with a lack of funding and is in need of support to keep its doors open and its buildings from succumbing to the wear and tear of nature.

“We do have Mother Nature fighting, doing her best to thwart us at every turn,” said Frank Korvemaker, historian for the Claybank Brick Plant Historical Society.

The site no longer functions as a brick plant but rather as a heritage site, offering tours and information about the plant’s brick-making and the original equipment that was used — some of which is still on site.

Due to funding cuts from the provincial government, Claybank Brick Plant is looking at potentially having to close early this summer if they cannot raise the funds needed.

“We don't even have enough money to make it all the way through the summer,” said Korvemaker. “Unless we can find more money sometime in July or August, we're going to have to let the paid staff go and work entirely with volunteers.”

If their accounts empty this summer, the Claybank Brick Plant will try and continue it’s programming with a volunteer staff, although Korvemaker has doubts about how easy that task will be. 

The Claybank Brick Plant currently has a GoFundMe page set up to raise the $20,000 they need to finish their summer season with paid staff, but there is also a number of other issues the plant is facing on a more long-term stage that will require monetary attention as well.

defco sm brickThe plant produced mostly firebricks and face bricks, like this soft mud firebrick. (photo credit: Frank Korvemaker)
“Maintenance is something that is an ongoing concern at any historic site, Claybank is not unique in that regard,” said Korvemaker. 

A number of buildings have leaking roofs, threatening damage to historical items and electrical panels. Part of the plant, which is made out of bricks itself, sits on land plagued with alkali — which eats away at masonry. 

“We have at least a dozen buildings that we have to look after, and some are more complex than others,” said Korvemaker. “We've invested well over $3 or $4 million in this. And to just watch it go, it doesn't make sense at all.”

The plant site is a heritage site, and although the society is working with heritage funding from the government, they are seeking help from the public as well.

“We need volunteers, we need donations,” said Korvemaker. “We also need people to talk to their government representatives, both provincial and federal, to say Claybank needs additional support.”

The result, Korvemaker hopes, is the site can keep its staff members and its doors open for a while.

Donations are welcome through the GoFundMe page, or by calling the site office at (306) 868-4474 for more information on how to help. 

The site will also be taking donations during their annual Heritage Day event, which will be held on June 30 from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.