Historical Plaque Properties


Harry White - Cheesemaker
5 Douglas Street
Stratford, ON

In September 1904 the northwest portion of Lot 62 at the corner of Huron and Douglas Street on the Canada Company Survey was severed to create the location at 5 Douglas Street where Henry (Harry) White built a house for his family.  In the early days of Stratford the section of Douglas Street between Huron and St Vincent Streets was known as Mill Street probably because Scrimgeour Brothers saw and planing mill was located there on the north bank of the Avon. Their business which produced the wood materials used in many of the city’s early houses, churches and other structures was also where George McLagan began his career in furniture manufacturing.  After a fire destroyed the mill in 1900, houses began to be built along the street and it became part of Douglas Street. At that time the city guaranteed financing for George McLagan’s four storey furniture factory on Trinity Street and Stratford’s renowned furniture industry was launched.

Harry White‘s parents, Nicholas and Harriet, emigrants from England, settled in East Zorra, Oxford County, where he and his 6 brothers and sisters were born. In 1871 the family was living near St Marys in Blanshard Township, in Perth County. When Nicholas died in 1884 they had moved on to Exeter in Huron County where Harry was working as a cheesemaker. This was to become his life’s work.

Harry was the first cheesemaker at Pine River Cheese, a farmer-owned co-operative established in 1885 on the banks of the Pine River in Huron Township, Bruce County, near Lake Huron. In 1888 the company built a new residence there for Harry and his wife, Martha Bird, and their daughter, Ethel Spray, was born. To-day, one hundred and twenty eight years, later the company is still in business and Pine River Cheese products are widely available across Ontario.

Martha died in 1897. Henry and his young daughter moved to Stratford, living on Mill Street. He worked as a traveller and later for 19 years as a buyer and inspector for Thomas Ballantyne and Sons, a very prominent area cheese manufacturer and exporter. Charlotte Eliza Johnston, known as Lottie, a school teacher born and raised in Huron County, became his second wife and their son, Oliver Henry Johnston White, was born in 1900.

Around the turn of the century not much cheese was consumed in Canada but, along with timber, it had become one of Canada’s most valuable export items produced by more than 1200 small, local cheese factories.  The majority of the export business was with Great Britain where cheese was an important ingredient of the very popular Ploughman’s Lunch.  Although it was expensive and quite scarce locally, Canada’s cheddar cheese was winning international awards. Harry White’s obituary in the Stratford Beacon Herald makes specific reference to his lengthy connection with the cheese industry in this part of the province.

Harry died at 5 Douglas Street in 1922 at age 64. His widow Lottie remained there for several years and continued her activities with local church groups and the YWCA. She also spent time with her son Oliver in Toronto and Montreal and finally in 1931, left Stratford to live with him and his wife Doris in Ottawa where she died in 1963. She is buried with Harry in St Marys, Ontario.

By 1916 Spray had moved to Calgary, Alberta where she met her future husband John McLure, a native of Scotland.  They married in Perth County in 1919 and returned to Calgary where John worked as an accountant and Spray as a stenographer. Both are buried there.

Oliver Henry White followed his father’s footsteps into the dairy industry. A graduate of the Ontario Agricultural College, now part of the University of Guelph, he authored several articles and publications on dairy equipment and held positions in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. The Oliver White Memorial Scholarship in Agriculture is offered annually to a student entering the MSc Program in Food Sciences at the University of Guelph. He died in 1988 and is buried, with his wife Doris, in Avondale Cemetery, Stratford.