The phrase “long drive” is a relative term. Smiths Falls may not be a part of our local community in the geographical sense, but many people who grew up in this area likely considered the former Hershey’s chocolate factory to be a “local” attraction when visiting there as a child – or with their children. For a kid, 30 or 40 or 50 minutes can be quite a long drive, but the promise of chocolate at the end surely made it shorter!
When the company announced the closure of the Smiths Falls chocolate factory in 2007, many people in the local area were both sad and angry. The “buzz” at the time consisted largely of an outcry against sourcing the company’s labour from cheaper labour markets such as Mexico rather than supporting local. There were campaigns to save the factory and campaigns to boycott Hershey’s. It was quite a lot of drama for such a small town.
Smiths Falls residents had a right to be angry at the closure. The Town had been a gracious host of the company’s operations since 1961, providing a serviced area, plenty of eager workers, and a fitting street address – “1 Hershey Drive”. The Town’s water tower was even prominently painted with a Hershey bar, and a slogan reading “Chocolate capital of Ontario”.
The factory sat vacant for years after the departure of Hershey’s, until it was bought by Tweed Marijuana – now known as Canopy Growth Corporation – in 2013. The return of hundreds of jobs to the area as the 700,000 square foot factory came back to life was welcome, but a decade later, industry has screeched to a halt once more.
Canopy Growth is reported to have never made a profit, with almost $6 billion in losses suffered to date. This is not necessarily indicative of poor management – the marijuana industry in general in Canada is failing. The law permits the growing of one’s own marijuana, within set limits, and it would appear that not enough consumers are willing to pay government taxed retail prices.
Just last week, it was announced that Hershey Canada has bought back its former chocolate factory in Smiths Falls. Canopy Growth invested a massive amount of money in upgrades to the factory over the years, and it appears that Hershey Canada now sees it as an ideal place – a familiar place – to expand its operations.
“This project is a strategic acquisition and is another step in our continuing investment in our supply chain network to enable our leading snacking powerhouse vision,” said Todd Scott, Hershey’s senior communications manager.
Smith Falls Mayor, Shawn Pankow, said in a recent radio interview: “Hershey, they told us, they recognize an opportunity, they have a growth plan and they see that facility in Smiths Falls as an opportunity to fulfill that growth plan.” The Town’s reaction will be less of a welcome and more of a “welcome back”. “Hershey’s, I think, simply recognized Smiths Falls is a big part of their history, they’re a big part of our history and the facility was available for the right price and they know our workforce will be here to support the operations,” added Mayor Pankow.
While Hershey’s is not commenting at this time on future production or hiring plans for Smiths Falls (given that it is too early to speculate, it stands to reason that the chocolate will once again be flowing in the “Chocolate Capital of Ontario” in the years ahead.