Metalex Products Ltd. has been in business for over 50 years. But we weren’t always a lead smelting and recycling company. Like many longstanding Canadian companies, Metalex was founded by an ambitious entrepreneur who came to a land of opportunity, always adapting the business to suit economic needs.
Metalex was incorporated by Mr. Carl Alston, a refugee escaping Germany before the outbreak of the Second World War. Carl initially started building outboard motors for the weekend fisherman in Richmond and Steveston area. He also started a sign painting business.
But Carl had bigger plans and recognized the need for someone to recycle the old car batteries that were being discarded in ditches, along roadways and the local landfills. Even back then, the benefits of a green business were clear to this plucky entrepreneur.
Building a lead battery recycling business from the ground up was an ambitious enterprise. It was important to have the right kind of equipment, but just as important to hire the right kind of people. Carl set up the battery breaker (guillotine), blast smelting furnace, and lead refining kettles, dust collectors, buildings and laboratory, with John Klassen and August Matjasec as his foreman, and Kenneth Ingram as Office Manager. Batteries were smelted and the lead refined into ingots and sold for ballast, keels, fishing weights, clips, cannon balls (to weigh down fishing nets), and various sized lead rings that fitted over hemp rope. Surplus lead blocks were sold to RSR Corporation in Seattle, Washington.
This was all done on a very limited budget, re-using scrap materials whenever possible. Core principles to reduce, re-use and recycle were already a part of the business model before environmental consciousness became widespread.
In 1968, Carl knew it was time to re-focus on the core of the business. He shut down the Spintail and Spartan motor division and sold the sign painting business.
He installed a new battery processing system experimenting with different processes until finally settling using a hammermill and shaking table to process batteries.
Metalex had to respond to market conditions. The fishing rope industry was changing, nylon braided lead wire was replacing hemp rope. During that time Carl setup a wire extrusion press to make lead wire for Canada Rope Ltd and Herzog Rope Ltd.
During the late 60’s and early 70’s, Varta Batteries Inc., Giant Battery (Canadian Battery Corporation) and Magnacharge Battery Corporation (C & B Batteries) were manufacturing lead acid batteries in Richmond/Delta BC. To supply lead to these companies, Metalex needed tighter quality control. Carl hired Bill Holdyk as its new metallurgist/chemist to oversee production and quality control.
Carl had built Metalex into a large and successful business, but he was now looking to retire. Samson Ocean Systems, based in Boston, bought out Canada Ropes Limited in1970 and they approached Carl to buy out Metalex. This move would also secure the company’s lead supply. The buy-out went ahead.
The company invested in modernization, replacing the blast furnace for a cleaner Short Rotary Reverbatory Furnace. It also installed a lead oxide mill machine to manufacture litharge for the three battery companies.
Metalex ventured into the Nuclear Waste shielding business. Our biggest job involved casting 75 tons of lead shielding into three casks (The stainless steel casks alone weighed 25 tons each). We developed many other nuclear casks for General Electric and Westinghouse.
Another part of Metalex’s business was providing lead keels for the sailing boat industry. One project we’re particularly proud of was producing the 25-ton Canada One winged keel.
In the 1990’s the North American Free Trade agreement decimated battery manufacturing in Canada. As well, tighter environmental regulations focused on removing lead from gasoline and consumer products. Tough restrictions were imposed on industry for air and water emissions and waste transportation methods.
In this new operating environment, Metalex needed to ensure that customers, the public and government understood that the company was still focused on saving the environment from lead pollution.
Under the leadership of Metalex president, Melvin J. Davis, and Bill Holdyk and Rob Kamphuis, the company met the challenge head on. We installed more air filtering systems and a waste water treatment plant. We also found customers for our byproducts instead of sending these materials to the landfill. Metalex’s highly-trained staff using best practices helps our company remain part of Canada’s green economy, keeping unionized jobs in Canada.