In the early 1950s, potato chips were quickly becoming a popular snack in the United States and Canada. Noticing the trend and discovering how profitable the sale of potato chips had become in New Brunswick, a handful of astute Valley entrepreneurs were convinced the snack had potential here and would find a ready market.
It turns out they were correct. As the story goes, in 1952 those businessmen somehow acquired a chip cooker and bagging machine from the States. Leasing an apple warehouse in Centreville they experimented with producing snack chips from various varieties of local potatoes. The entrepreneurs were M.W. Graves president John Shaffner (later to become lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia) Bridgetown businessmen Harry Smofsky, Dave Hicks and Raymond Bent and PEI potato broker Les Simmons.
Shaffner, it is said, came up with the idea to produce potato chips here after he observed how profitable it was becoming in New Brunswick. Not one of these gentlemen knew how to make or marketing potato chips but a total lack of experience didn’t stop them. The story of the five pioneering entrepreneurs, as taken from a brochure produced circa 1980, tells us that after a few setbacks, including a fire at the plant and some growing pains, they eventually were successful. “On a shoestring investment of $35,000 and a $20,000 government loan,” reads the brochure, Acadia Foods was founded (in 1952) and potato chips packaged in 5 cent bags, under the brand name Scotties, were soon rolling off the assembly line.
Scotties quickly became a snack staple and a household name in Nova Scotia. The chips were so popular that within a few years Acadia Foods found the Centreville plant wasn’t large enough to meet production demands. In 1959 a new plant was opened in New Minas. About a year later Acadia Foods was purchased by General Foods and Scotties was rebranded under Hostess Foods, a GF subsidiary. The Scotties brand eventually disappeared when Hostess Foods partnered with Frito-Lay (owned by PepsiCo) in 1987.
That’s the official version on the origin of Scotties potato chips, as spelled out in the 1980s brochure, but there may be more to the story. I’ve been told that a prominent farmer was the first to bring in the machinery required to manufacture and package potato chips in Kings County and his operation was eventually taken over by what was to become Acadia Foods. While I’ve been told this by several reliable sources, I’ve been unable to confirm it.
Meanwhile, there was another attempt to produce and market potato chips in Kings County. The company was called Glendale Foods and the product was Tom Thumb potato chips. I believe the business started in Sheffield Mills or in Canning. If any readers are familiar with the history of the company I’d like to hear from them.
I seem to remember when I was just a kid around the early 60’s there being a radio show that came from Halifax where you could save up Scotties potato chip bags and bid on different items using them as a form of money. I believe it was aired on Saturday mornings and for some reason I thinking Frank Cameron hosted it. Do you know if this was real or am I just imagining it?
I remember that….you cut out the star on the front of the Scotties bag and saved them up till you got the number of stars needed for the item you wanted. That was 1964-5 I think.
Yes, there was Tom Thumb potato chip plant in Sheffield Mills on the corner of Middle Dyke Rd and Centerville Rd. Its was in an old produce warehouse that was originally built along a DAR rail line that used to run between Canning/Kingsport and Centerville. There used to be several warehouses at that location. Others were converted into poultry barns by the Porscamp family. The plant was only there for a few years and burned down which ultimately led.to the demise of the business. My opa and oma lived on the farm directly across Middle Dyke Rd from the plant. They grew potatoes that they sold to the plant. It was one of my earliest sources of income as a child, helping harvest the potatoes–$.40 a barrel if my memory serves me correctly. I could earn about $4.20 in a day. I remember going with my opa to deliver the potatoes and watching the machinery that washed and then sliced the potatoes. The aroma inside the plant was heavenly with smell of.chips.being fried. Certainly the plant was doomed for the inferno from day one given the friers and the all wood structure of the old warehouse. I thought Tom Thumb chips tasted way better than Scotties, though the fact that I had picked some the potatoes they used probably had some influence on me.
As a child in the fifties, I remember vividly how we would head over to the factory in hopes that we would be given a box of chips, quickly scooped of the conveyor belts before the boss noticed. It made our day as we scarfed those chips down. Thanks for reminding me of my Tom Thumb
I think you just might find out Mr. Coleman, that the name of that farmer was Babe Sarsfield of Canning he started Glendale Foods. Babe was the first potato chip maker and he made kettle style potato chips. Sometime around 1959 is when they had the fire in Sheffield Mills I think but they had already started building the Hostess plant in New Minas before the fire. They sold out to Hostess Foods and in 1990 or there about Hostess was sold to GM and finally today it is owned by PepsiCo under the label Frito-Lay. The only reason I have this tidbit of useless information is, about 25 yrs ago I called John Schaffner and we had a long talk about the history of potatoe chips in the Valley and the fact that my Floyd’s father, Walter Woolaver, was one of the first to sell Babe potatoes. I’m doing this from memory and I’m old so I could be a little off the info but not that far off.
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i remember picking up used bags and cutting out stars. i don,t remember how many i collected but it was a lot. i got a small axe ….we called it a toma hawk ….i still have it. i am 72 now and i remember those friggin bags of chips like yesterday. They were so good. i wonder how many i had to collect for the axe.. Seemed like a million….Thanks to all for the memory.
Hi Ray. Good to hear from you and thanks for your recollections. It looks like you and I were hooked on those dang chips. When my kids came along they got hooked as well. Aren’t early day memories great!