Do You Remember the Horse Drawn Milk Wagons?

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Before the explosion of large grocery stores that sell a wide variety of foods, the people of Oshawa enjoyed home delivery of local-made milk.  Some of these “mom and pop” dairies grew to become large and profitable businesses that incorporated the latest technology to produce their dairy products.

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Small family dairies such as Gimbletts Dairy and Henderson/Cedardale Dairy began as an almost single person operation with milk being delivered straight from the farm to the local houses.  Milk would be delivered to homes using horse drawn wagons.

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Milk delivery started with the scoop and pail method.  The delivery wagon carried large containers of milk, and the delivery man had a convenient carrying container and a quart and pint measure.  He would deliver to the home, or housewives and children would take their own container to the wagon.  Milk would come directly from the cow and it was delivered to the customer.  In some cases these early dairies operated from a residence or farm of the delivery man.  The milk man either bought the milk from the farmer or had his own cow.  There were several small dairies that used the scoop and pail method.  Dairies such as the Cedardale Dairy, Cameron Dairy and the Harmony Dairy are examples of scoop and pail dairies.

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Many older homes had a little cabinet built into the exterior of the home.  Each week they would leave a sign out stating whether milk was needed or not.  If milk was needed the empty bottles would be left in this cabinet, that was accessed both from inside and outside of the house.  The milkman would take the empty milk bottles and exchange them for bottles filled with fresh milk.

It wasn’t until the 1950s Oshawa’s dairies made the switch from horse drawn wagons to trucks.  However, some dairies began this move a bit earlier.  Riordan’s Dairy appears to have had the earliest mechanized delivery service in Oshawa as it purchased three trucks to replace the horses in 1942.

The era of home delivery began to end in the 1960s.  It was during this decade that the quintessential glass milk bottle was replaced with cardboard cartons.  These cartons were only sold in stores.

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In 2011, the Oshawa Museum had an exhibit which featured the history of Oshawa’s dairies.  Milk Stories: Remembering the Oshawa Dairies showcased different artefacts, photos and memories of our local dairies.

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