Friday, September 16, 2022

Industry Profile: DuPont's Whitby Facility

The DuPont of Canada polyethylene film facility in Whitby was built in 1958 at 201 South Blair Street. Served by CN, the facility always caught my eye from aboard VIA Rail - after passing through CN's Oshawa yard with its panoply of paint schemes adorning hi-cube boxcars and open auto racks, then the LASCO steel plant and a wetland, there was always the hope of seeing a Sclair covered hopper or two there. Today, passengers would likely have their attention grabbed by the GO Transit/Metrolinx East Rail Maintenance Facility on the north side of the CN Kingston Sub, its 500,000 sq.ft. dwarfing the discretely diminutive ex-DuPont facility!

Switch points face west, diverging from the Whitby south service track. Several spurs' worth of covered hoppers were visible, as in this June, 2016 view from aboard VIA (top photo). Note fresh excavation and ballast on the newest spur at right. I am no performance films expert, nor chemist. The exact nature of the manufacturing processes and product lines and uses are well beyond the scope of this blog. But the fact that it was rail-served makes it of special interest. The plant sat in 160 acres in the Port Whitby district, expanding 11 times in its first 28 years. 

Due to increased use of plastics in daily life, the plant continued to add new product lines (product name and type, initial year of production, end uses):
  • Sclair Film linear low-density polyethylene film, named for its Sarnia production site along the St. Clair River (for coffee, cheese, medical instrument and paper packaging)
  • Vexar plastic netting (1960 - for produce packaging and fencing)
  • Herox nylon monofilament (1967 - for brush bristles and thread)
  • Dartek nylon film (1972 - for meat and cheese packaging, industrial applications)
Up to 25% of the facility's production was exported. New product lines at the facility were often the result of work done at the Kingston Research & Business Development Centre, built in 1955. Sclair, developed by Du Pont's research facility here, was the base product for several other products. Sclair was shipped to the Whitby facility where it was extruded into a film and then formed into flexible plastic tubing. Some employees also came from Kingston to staff expansions.
Two July, 2017 views from aboard VIA Rail (above and below). I usually made a point of noting the number of cars present on the various tracks. These are all plain-jane grey covered hoppers, though -  these notes don't go as far back as the Sclair car era, unfortunately:
  • Aug 19/10 7 total
  • Dec 16/10 2-2-1
  • Mar 8/11 2-2, 1 off-spot
  • Aug xx/11 2-2, 5 off-spot
  • Sep 22/11 1-2-2-4
  • May 15/12 2-2-2-0
  • Jul 17/12 3-2-1-2
  • Sep 27/12 1-2-2-2
  • Feb 25/13 2-2-2
  • Sep 18/14 1-2-2-3
  • Nov 1/15 2-1-1-3
  • Jun 5/16 3-2-2-4
  • Mar 28/17 2-2-1
  • Jul 21/17 1-3-2-2
  • Oct 30/17 2-3-2-3
  • Dec 12/17 2-1-2-3
  • Jul 6/18 2-2-2-2-4
  • Oct 2/18 1-1-2-3-4
With modern technology, we can explore the site from the comfort of home, without wandering about on private property or booking a VIA ticket! A Googlemaps view shows the CN main at left with Whitby south service track, the lead at centre and the facility's five spurs and silos at right. The covered hopper car unloading tracks from bottom to top in the image below (west to east):
  • WS34 - 250' added <2014
  • WS32 - 393'
  • WS31 - 570'
  • WS30 lead - 1220'
  • WS33 - 710'
CN 1329 was in charge of No 546 at Whitby in September, 1986 (below) including three covered hoppers for DuPont. The switcher appears to be on the switch to the DuPont facility, with the photo taken looking east near the South Blair Street level crossing. The crossing was replaced with a multi-track underpass begun in 2014-15 and completed in 2016.
CN 1232 has a Sclair covered hopper in tow at Pickering, about seven miles to the west, circa 1980 (below - kindly shared by Mike Lindsay). Perhaps this is a transfer heading to Don Yard.

Some significant dates in this facility's history:
  • 1958 - construction of the DuPont of Canada plant begins.
  • 1981 - $3 million expansion for polyethylene film production.
  • 1983 - $2 million expansion for a new plastic film line.
  • 1984 - 43,000 sq.ft. warehouse was added on the plant's 25th anniversary. Employment had grown from an initial 75 to 300, with 14 original employees still on staff.
  • 1986 - $4 million expansion included a packaging technical centre, offices and laboratories.
  • 1987 - the plant's footprint was 215,000 square feet.
  • 1994 - DuPont's Sclair technology and polyethylene business was acquired by Novacor, though the Whitby plant was not part of the deal.
  • 2001 - the Whitby operation is rebranded Enhance Packaging Technologies Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of DuPont Canada producing performance films.
  • 2002 - Enhance Packaging Technologies acquired US-based bag-in-box manufacturer Liqui-box, thereafter a DuPont Canada company Liqui-Box Canada, Inc.
  • 2007 - DuPont Liquid Packaging Systems sold the Whitby facility to South Carolina-based Exopack Performance Films. At the time of sale, Sclairfilm and Dartek were the main product lines and employment stood at 129. Exopack continued to supply Liqui-Box with products from Whitby.
  • 2013 - Exopack is rebranded as Coveris High Performance Packaging.
  • 2018 - the age of consolidation sees Montreal-based Transcontinental Packaging acquire Coveris, owner of 21 packaging plants, with Whitby its sole Canadian property employing 140.
The photographer just missed the CN spurs, just to the left of this 1964 photo :
Before and after Metrolinx views of South Blair Street at CN:

Lots o' links:
  • Throwback! This 2018 photo taken at Whitby, ironically shows a Sclair car on CN No 376, likely destined for Brockville, not Whitby.
  • CN 4601 at the South Blair Street crossing in 1988, with the DuPont lead to right.
  • There are several albums of 2014-15 photos posted to Metrolinx' Flickr page, the first one showing the closing up of the South Blair Street level crossing.
  • A pre-overpass 2010 Thomas Blampied photo showing the switch to the DuPont lead.

Running extra:

A fascinating blog post about this long-forgotten stamp collection reads like a thriller! The author takes us through his family history, wartime service, and back to the true value of this long-lost philatelic find.
Best wishes to CN engineer and loyal Trackside Treasure reader Steve Lucas as he makes his last trip of a 35-year career with CN and VIA this weekend. Steve put it well when he posted, "Money + not working for it can = happiness."

Stop the presses! Rapido Trains Inc. is releasing a new run of VIA coaches, including the "D&H" scheme. Stop stopping the presses! Rapido has released their final pre-production sample of the CPR D-10. All that's missing is the "Spirit of Sir John A." lettering. Stop talking about nothing about Rapido! But first, read this Q&A where Jason admits that Kingston is his greatest modelling success! (Fortunately, the necessary amputation of part of the completed model is not mentioned!)

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