A Cambridge company that has been making ice hockey sticks for elite and amateur athletes for over 100 years moves to the birthplace of Canada’s most famous hockey player.
Heritage Hockey Sticks Inc., which has signed a deal to become the exclusive supplier of wooden hockey sticks to Canadian Tire Corporation, is opening an extensive, modernized facility in Wayne Gretzky’s hometown of Brantford.
The decision was not an easy one, said business owner W. Graeme Roustan.
“The building we are in now in Cambridge is over 100 years old. It’s an inefficient building, ”said Roustan. “To grow, to survive, to keep people in work and to keep doing what you do best, you have to move on at some point, so it’s bittersweet.”
The new 62,000-square-foot site in Brantford is twice the size of the existing plant and should allow for a 300 percent increase in production, Roustan said. He is investing $ 2 million in the new facility.
Heritage’s lease on the Cambridge facility will expire at the end of 2021. The company will relocate gradually in 2021.
“Relocating a factory of this size takes a lot of time and coordination. It won’t be ready in a week or a month, ”said Roustan. “We want to do it in such a way that it does not disrupt any production or delivery.”
Roustan expects its current workers to move to Brantford. “My current employees are highly skilled people, many of whom have spent their entire careers in this facility and for this company,” he said.
He expects his workforce to grow to 100 people thanks to the new commitment from Canadian Tire.
Heritage hockey sticks have their origins in Waterloo Region as far back as the 1880s. It is a complex family tree, filled with amalgamations, name changes and different owners such as the Seagram family, Cooper and Nike Bauer. Production at the current Sheffield Street facility in Cambridge dates back to 1905.
When Nike Bauer stepped out of the wooden hockey stick trade in 2004, closure was imminent. A handful of employees and another investor stepped in and saved the factory, calling it Heritage Wood Specialties Inc.
The name changed again in 2019 when Roustan – owner of several hockey-related companies, including The Hockey News, and a former CEO of Bauer – acquired Heritage.
The company has outlived its domestic competitors – it is the only mass producer of wood, ABS, foam core, and hybrid composite poles in Canada or the United States.
“They are certainly unique and become a bit of a unicorn,” said Geoff Sarjeant, assistant vice president of Canadian Tire Corporation, Sports & Pro Hockey Life.
Roustan said Brantford provided a welcoming corporate environment as well as a closer connection to the Canadian hockey line as it is the hometown of No. 99 Wayne Gretzky and the home of his father / game ambassador, Walter Gretzky.
Walter was a frequent visitor to the Cambridge factory and would leave with sticks intended for his charity projects.
“He’s part of our family, and we expect Walter to walk the factory floors again, but this time just a little closer to home,” said Roustan.
Heritage produces a wide range of sticks under different brands, from ball and street hockey sticks to foam core goalkeeper sticks. Wooden ice hockey sticks have long been a top product.
NHL teams purchase thousands of Heritage wooden sticks for promotional and signature use. Game-ready consumer wood sticks, such as the Sher-Wood 5030, are a popular seller at Canadian Tire. The Canadian retail icon is highlighting that pedigree with a renewed focus on Made in Canada products.
This push to buy Canadian products predates the pandemic shutdown, Sarjeant said, adding that overseas supply chain disruptions and rising shipping costs have reinforced that solution.
“It certainly helps to have a domestic manufacturer that can control some of that flow a little more easily,” Sarjeant said.
By the end of next year, Canadian Tire hopes to purchase all of its Heritage wooden hockey sticks, a move that will increase its current annual orders from 20,000 to 25,000 Heritage sticks to around 150,000.
Roustan called Canadian Tires’ decision a “patriotic” move. “It’s brave, it’s exciting and, for me, it shows the world that supporting your local economy, your local jobs and your country should be a priority in any organization.”
And it’s one that keeps Heritage keeping its stick in play.
“This is the last Canadian hockey stick manufacturer left,” Roustan said. “It’s iconic.”
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