WINCHESTER — The Winchester hockey arena has been rechristened the “Sam Ault Arena,” and the building is now adorned with a new mural celebrating the late local Ault Foods boss, an important figure in the modernization of Ontario’s dairy industry. Part of Winchester’s Main Street in front of the arena will be renamed “Ault Way” as well.
But who was Sam Ault?
Still remembered by many locals, Sam Ault was the last member of the family to manage the large cheese plant in downtown Winchester, where the Lactalis factory smokestack still bears the Ault family name to this day.
He was the son of Jack Ault — and it was 19-year-old Jack who founded the first cheese factory in Dundas County, at Cass Bridge, direct forerunner to today’s Lactalis plant in Winchester, largest cheese factory in Canada.
Sam Ault returned from the Second World War to assume the reins as general manager but by that point, the company was owned by Ogilvie Flour Mills, later part of John Labatt Ltd., having been sold out of the family for $250,000 in 1940, after the death of Jack Ault in the 1930s. Sam Ault, however, “always treated the operation as his own,” Winchester lawyer Stephen Ault, Sam’s son, once said.
Sam Ault pushed the Ontario dairy industry forward in his day. In the 1960s, he closed the little, seasonal cheese factories that Ault’s had acquired around the Dundas County countryside and consolidated production at the Winchester plant site, encouraging farmers to produce milk year round.
He ensured that milk cans became extinct as a shipping method in 1979. On his orders, can-receiving equipment was cut out with torches at the factory after the last cans arrived on Oct. 31. Half a dozen dairy farmers still showed up the next day to deliver milk in cans, hoping in vain they might catch a break on the provincially-imposed deadline. But Sam wasn’t having it. By that time, many farmers were already transporting milk in bulk tanks.
He developed a vacuum process that was added to the cheesemaking process, a key innovation that he even shared with his competitor, Kraft.
While he was at the helm, the company’s cheeses won numerous international awards, and he helped rebuild sales of Ontario Aged Cheddar into the British market.
He served as president of the Ontario Concentrated Milk Producers Association, the Ontario Dairy Council, the National Dairy Council and was a member of the advisory committee of the Canadian Dairy Commission.
Sam Ault and his wife had three children. He died at age 98 in 2014.