H. Imbleau and Sons

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Not much information online, but a well written news article about the company closing. Real shame, 150 years old.
They did make 19″ skillets later in the companies life.

H. Imbleau and Son foundry to close

H. Imbleau and Son is one of Canada’s oldest family-owned businesses, but not for much longer. The foundry will cease operations in late January when the remaining staff are let go, says owner Lucy Imbleau.

The owner admits it’s hard to pinpoint how old the company is, but it appears Renfrew’s oldest business is nearly as old as the Town of Renfrew, which was incorporated in 1858.

A stove front that hangs on the wall in the foundry’s office displays an image of a deer and the date, 1858. It’s from one of the Forest Beauty stoves the foundry developed. Other sources indicate its first letterhead was dated 1867.

Fifth-generation Imbleau family members Joshua and Michael work for the foundry, which was founded by French-born Luc Imbleau following his arrival in Renfrew, perhaps in the early 1860s.

Unable to read or write, he started the business, after working at the St. Maurice Ironworks foundry in Trois Rivieres, Que., with the help of his convent-educated wife, Henrietta, who handled translations and business transactions.

Nearly 150 years later, the writing is on the wall for the company whose cast-iron manhole covers have found their way around North America and overseas.

But times have changed.

“I think a lot of it is the economy,” said Lucy Imbleau. “A lot of castings are coming from offshore …They have most of Toronto (manholes) tied up.”  One of her customers recently noted other countries are providing cast-iron products for less, but haven’t yet realized they’ll have to replace them in short order.

But the time has come to close up shop, says the 55-year-old Imbleau. That realization heightened in the past year.  “Usually our summers are fairly busy, and it was a slow summer. And the (last) winter wasn’t much better.”  For the last four or five years, staff has been down to 12 employees, in sharp contrast to a double shift and probably more than 40 workers when Lucy and Bob Imbleau tied the marital knot more than 30 years ago. “When Bob and I were married, we had two shifts on and we poured (for cast iron covers) every day. Now the company pours every second day.

Manhole covers aren’t the only thing the company makes. Other items include rectangular cooking pans for barbecues and 19-inch diameter frying pans that have been the rage in local hunt camps for years.  “The word’s out (on the street), so everyone’s coming in for frying pans,” she says of the $80 items.  Over the years, other castings were also popular, including the clod crusher that was developed by the local foundry to work the farmers’ clay flatlands of the former Admaston Township.

VETERAN EMPLOYEES

Several employees have been with the company a long time. They include Frank St. Michael, who was hired in November 1971, while Garnet St. Michael started with the foundry in June 1973. Now the hard part starts, says Lucy Imbleau, referring to where to go from here. “They’ve all been notified, with three months’ notice. Technically all are being laid off,” she said.  The office will remain open with sons Joshua and Michael and herself in the office for a while, in the New Year, to redirect customers and do accounts receivable and accounts payable.  “The book end of it, that’s the scary part,” says Imbleau. “I don’t know what to do. It’s been mind-boggling, just to decide what to do with the (two) houses (on the property) and with the stock.” However, she’s hopeful negotiations with Founderie Laperle, near Montreal, will help tie up some loose ends in the business.

In recent years, she says sales have tumbled, dropping to around $500,000 a year. About 16 years ago, Lucy’s husband Bob died of a massive heart attack at the young age of 42. That left Lucy sharing ownership with Bob’s mom, Cecile. About four years ago, Lucy bought out Cecile’s shares in the business.  “When I got married, I never thought I’d be doing this,” says Lucy while sitting in the foundry’s office.  “I never thought I would be managing a business, but I’ve had lots of help.”