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Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site, situated just an hour’s drive from Saskatchewan’s capital city, Regina, is a day trip full of things to do. History lovers and museum goers will find a brick making plant little changed from when it opened in 1914. Indeed, stepping into the plant is a trip back in time as there are still pallets of bricks wrapped for shipping! And for hikers and wildlife enthusiasts looking for an authentic Saskatchewan experience, there are 250 acres of land untouched since the glaciers receded some 10 centuries ago.

While it’s a challenge, volunteers work hard to keep the historic site open to visitors.

Table of Contents

Hiking Massold Clay Canyon
Exploring the Clay Pits
Importance of Clay in Saskatchewan
History of Brick Making at Claybank Brick National Historic Site Museum
Inside the Claybank Brick Plant
Claybank Brick Plant Heritage Day Annual Event
Ride the Lil’ Jigger railway on the Claybank Historic Spur line
Bunk House Cafe & Gift Shop
Plan Your Visit to the Claybank Brick Plant
References

Hiking Massold Clay Canyon

Hikers in the canyons at the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic site.

Hikers in the canyons at the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic site.

The Massold Clay Canyon has the same plant and wildlife as it did at the end of the Wisconsin Glacial Age. Never broke up and used for grain crops, this landscape is remarkable. You may catch the scent of wild sage, taste a tiny wild strawberry you’ve picked out of the grass, or toss a cloud of dust-like spores from a puffball into the air with your shoe as you hike the Claybank Brick Plant trail through the canyon.

Wagon ride taking people to the canyons and pits at the Claybank Brick National Historic site.

Wagon ride taking people to the canyons and pits at the Claybank Brick National Historic site.

The 3.1 km Claybank Brick Plant trail is a loop that leaves from the historic site following a wagon trail up into the hills, which were once mined for their clay. With an elevation gain of 77 meters — unless you decide to climb even higher — the trail is rated as moderate in difficulty by AllTrails.com.

I found the hike fascinating, although I must admit I took the easy “road,” since I enjoyed a wagon ride to the top during the annual heritage day event. The wild prairie grass, which covers everything but the mud pits themselves, hides wild flowers that have all but disappeared from the prairies. If you’re not careful, you could find tiny spears of spear grass in your stockings or thorns from a prickly pear cactus. And if you keep your eyes and ears open, you’ll hear lots of songbirds and see wild animals such as foxes and deer.

Exploring the Clay Pits at the Claybank Brick National Historic Site

Old equipment used to mine the clay at the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic site.

Old equipment used to mine the clay at the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic site.

As you walk along the trail out to the clay pits, you’ll find various pieces of old equipment used in the early clay mining operations. Years ago, extracting clay was a tedious process. Workers dug the clay using plows and scrapers. Then, they loaded it into wagons that horses pulled back to the plant.

The clay at Claybank is part of Saskatchewan’s Whitemud formation. Formed during the cretaceous period, Claybank’s clay has specific properties that make it suited to heat and pressure bearing purposes. Called high-refractory clay, the mud from Claybank’s pits was used to make fire brick, insulating brick, and even fire boxes for steam engines.

Linda Aksomitis hiking in the Claybank Mud Pits

Linda Aksomitis hiking in the Claybank Mud Pits

In the pits, you’ll see various layers — or striations — of mud uncovered by the mining process. Little grows in clay soils, since roots can’t penetrate it. So, you’ll only see plant growth where there’s some dirt or soil covering it.

On a rainy day, you’ll really know you’re walking on clay, not dirt! It will stick to your shoes and feel slippery beneath your feet. As you explore the clay in the pits, you’ll also see how easily the formation is eroded by heavy rain, as you’ll see large grooves and cracks on the side hills.

Importance of Clay in Saskatchewan

Bricks of different colors are produced by the different types of clay.

Bricks of different colors are produced by the different types of clay.


Early settlers quickly discovered Saskatchewan’s clay resources, particularly in the Southern portions. Why? Well, without the forested areas common to Saskathewan’s central and northern regions, clay was an important building material.

In fact, Saskatchewan has a number of different types of clay. They include: bentonite, brick and ceramic clays and kaolinite. If you’ve ever wondered when you look at historical brick buildings around North America why they’re not the same color everywhere, it’s because of the clay. Bricks from bentonite clays range from white through cream, reddish brown and blue, turning yellow upon exposure to air.

As you might guess, China clay, or kaolin from the Kaolinite mineral, produces opaque white coloured bricks. It does, however, range a lot in composition and properties, so brick color may vary depending where the clay originated. Saskatchewan’s kaolin reserves have been estimated around 2 million tons!

In Saskatchewan, clay falls under mining regulations. So, by provincial law, when clay deposits are mined out today, the land must be reclaimed. That means the surface must be returned to its original, or better condition, to make it suitable for plant and animal habitats.

History of Brick Making at Claybank Brick National Historic Site

Display of different bricks produced by the Claybank Brick Plant.

Display of different bricks produced by the Claybank Brick Plant.

Tom McWilliams, a homesteader, applied to the Federal government for a permit to mine clay from the area in 1886. However, before trains, clay was hauled by horse and wagon from the Claybank area to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. And that was around 50 km!

Things changed quickly with the arrival of the Canadian Northern Railroad in the area in 1910. In 1912, a new company, Saskatchewan Clay Products, which consisted of Moose Jaw business men, bought McWilliams’ property in order to produce bricks where the clay was situated. Plant construction was completed in 1914, but with the war and economic conditions, Saskatchewan Clay Products didn’t really get rolling.

So, the company reorganized and began again under the new name, Dominion Fire Brick and Pottery Company, in 1916. They focused on the unique high-refractory clay properties at Claybank. Word of their brick’s quality spread, so when the Chateau Frontenac was built in Quebec City, the central tower was faced with Claybank brick. But times change. Reorganization of the brick market and changes in technology resulted in the decision by the owners at the time, A.P. Green Refractories Ltd., to close in 1989.

Inside the Claybank Brick Plant Museum

Storage area for finished bricks at Claybank Brick Plant.

Storage area for finished bricks at Claybank Brick Plant.


The Claybank Brick Plant provided a great example of efficiency. In fact, Parks Canada noted in giving the historical designation to the Claybank Brick plant, that “it’s representative of the way in which functional requirements and efficiency were primary drivers in the design and construction of industrial facilities.”

Covering 37 hectares, the plant buildings date from 1912 to 1937. The brick production process moved through this series of attached buildings from shaping to shipping and storage areas.

Exterior of a kiln at Claybank Brick Plant.

Exterior of a kiln at Claybank Brick Plant.

I found the buildings with the 10 kilns some of the most fascinating areas, and could only imagine how hot they would have been as the bricks were being baked. The drying tunnels were also intriguing. Long carts with bricks laid out on them stretched back into blackness further than we could even see.

For visitors interested in innovations, the area where repairs and innovations were made, would likely be a favorite. David certainly spent some time checking through the displays.

Claybank Brick Plant Heritage Day Annual Event

Volunteer demonstrating the sliding box form used to shape bricks from the clay.

Volunteer demonstrating the sliding box form used to shape bricks from the clay.


The Claybank Brick Plant is open through the summer season (mainly July until the end of August) for self-guided tours, plus some daily guided tours. However, once a year, they hold a Heritage Day. There, you can see former workers and trained volunteers running all the equipment and telling you about brick making as it happened in the last century.

Watching the equipment run brought a whole new dimension to thinking about brick making. Rather than the silence typically found in museums — or places like this long-since abandoned plant — sounds filled the areas. Indeed, thunks and thuds and the hum of motors permeated the buildings.

Demonstrator using a machine at Claybank Brick plant.

Demonstrator using a machine at Claybank Brick plant.

As we moved from building to building, we often found full demonstrations of a process. In others, with a single machine, the demonstrator explained the basics, then answered all kinds of questions from what it was like to work at the plant to the intricacies of the machine’s operation.

Ride the Lil’ Jigger railway on the Historic Spur line

Lil' Jigger railway on the Historic Spur line

Lil’ Jigger railway on the Historic Spur line

You can also ride on the Lil’ Jigger railway cars if you visit the historic site on Heritage Day. Once used to transport workers back and forth to the nearby town of Claybank, the little train gives visitors another sample of what life was like decades ago.

As you might expect, Lil’ Jigger moves pretty slowly along the historic spur line into town. Your ride though, only takes you out far enough for a full view of the farmland that’s in between the brick plant and town these days.

The brick plant, operating as it did without many technology innovations, required a lot of labor. While some men lived on site in the bunkhouse, others came from nearby farms and towns. Lil’ Jigger helped bring them.

Bunk House Cafe & Gift Shop at the Museum

Saskatoon pie at the Bunk House Cafe & Gift Shop

Saskatoon pie at the Bunk House Cafe & Gift Shop


The Bunk House looks much like a school from the early 1900s. Made of brick — of course! — it provided a place for workers to stay on site. There’s still a sense that working men called this place home as you walk through the spacious, high-ceilinged rooms. Now, however, visitors, not workers, can pull up a chair and get a meal.

What can you eat at the Bunk House Cafe? The local cooks pride themselves on their saskatoon pie, so it’s always in season. They also serve daily, home-cooked specials. Do make sure to sample the bread, baked in the original outdoor brick bread oven!

As well, be sure to check out the gift shop and its selection of Saskatchewan-made souvenirs and crafts. You never know what you’ll find. Keeping the historic site open is challenging for fundraisers and every dollar you spend when you visit helps!

Plan Your Visit to the Claybank Brick Plant

Visit the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site website for full details about the site’s history, open hours, and admission – https://claybankbrick.ca/

Check the date for the annual Heritage Day and other special events at – https://claybankbrick.ca/special-events/

Google Map for a Day Trip from Regina to Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site

References

Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site. (n.d.) Parks Canada: Government of Canada. Retrieved from https://www.pc.gc.ca/apps/dfhd/page_nhs_eng.aspx?id=822 [Webpage provides all of the details used to determine the site’s status as a National Historic site.]

MacKenzie, J. (2003). Saskatchewan’s clay resources. Saskatchewan: Western Development Museum. Retrieved from https://wdm.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/WDM-Saskatchewans-Clay-Resources-by-Janet-MacKenzie.pdf

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About the Photo

The photo in the header above was taken by Linda Aksomitis at the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site near Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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Visit & Hike Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site: A Great Regina Day Trip

Visit & Hike Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site: A Great Regina Day Trip

Visit & Hike Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site: A Great Regina Day Trip

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