Dairy industry leader ‘made things happen’

by Matthew Uhrig
Press staff

WINCHESTER – When Sam Ault was struck with an idea, he did more than jot it down in a notebook, he didn’t stop until it was implemented.

“That was his gift, the ability to make it happen,” his son, Stephen, said. “He always made things happen.”

Whether it was playing a part in the ultimate construction of a new high school, the 100 Club Park or the village’s arena, Ault didn’t shy away from sharing his vision, or grumble about how something should be, he got involved.

Ault, who died in Ottawa on Wed., Oct. 1 at age 98, was a former soldier who returned home from the ravages of war to streamline the country’s dairy production operation and lead a Canadian empire.

The family story begins with Ault’s father, Jack, who founded a creamery at Cass Bridge in 1891, employing 25 local farmers in the production of cheddar cheese. It was the farmers that got the business off the ground, as they sold fresh milk in 30-gallon drums to the factory.

Ault was born at the family homestead in February 1916. Although the original architectural outline of the business is no longer, the site is today home to the Cass Bridge Cheese House.

Ultimately, Jack purchased the bankrupt Ellis Creamery in Winchester, moving his business to the village in the early 1930s, christening the land just north of Main Street as the prime location of Ault Creamery.

Ault studied at Queen’s University, first working for Borden’s upon graduation, and then joined the family business. 

Before the end of the decade, however, the firm was sold to Ogilvie Flour Mills following Jack’s sudden death. Despite the abrupt change in ownership, Stephen said his father continued to treat the Winchester operation “as a family.”

Family was what remained important to Ault, taking precedence above all else.

While pursuing post-secondary education he met the woman who would become his wife of 57 years, Betty. 

The world was a much different place then, however, and while at Queen’s Ault volunteered for military service in the Second World War. He would go on to see action throughout five years with stops in France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany. As well, Ault rose up the ranks to become captain of the transport company of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps’ 4th Canadian Armoured Division. 

It was no doubt painful to see the things he did while overseas, Stephen said, but it is those things and the fact he came home alive and uninjured that steered his future.

“He didn’t talk much about the war, but he always said it was far, far, far, far worse than you could ever imagine,” Stephen added. “But I think he said to himself that ‘there has got to be a greater purpose to this.’”

By 1968, Ault was president of the village business, which was recently purchased by John Labatt Limited. During these years, Ault was part of an empire that became Canada’s largest dairy operation, acquiring countless other firms, including Sealtest and Balderson Cheese.

“Ogilvie was a British company and they were never in fast forward, but John Labatt was a younger group and they were always in fast forward,” Stephen said. “Everything basically started in 1968… The big jump.”

Ault was an industry pioneer, at the forefront of production changes and alterations, making the job more efficient and ensuring modernization was always key.

“That was one of his trademarks,” Stephen said.

Ault helped expand the business holdings further in the 70s and 80s, purchasing additional facilities throughout Ontario and Quebec. This led to the Ault Foods brand name, and many of its products being sold to major Canadian retailers and fast food businesses, and exported worldwide.

When he retired in 1984, Ault had become one of the most successful individuals to ever work in the Canadian dairy industry.

While Parmalat purchased the Ault site in 1997, the family’s last vestige remains in the form of the familiar smokestack towering above the village’s downtown core. 

In 2004, Ault was named an honorary companion of the University of Guelph, and in 2012 received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

He leaves behind his three children, four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. A celebration of Ault’s life has been planned for Fri., Nov. 7 from 2 to 4 pm at Winchester United Church.

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