Dynamite’s Successor Tested at the Copper Cliff Elsie Mine – Gary Peck

It combines all the elements of dynamite as an explosive as well as many other laudable features. It is safe to handle and needs the action of heat, flame and concussion to ignite it. One can even pound it with a hammer or rub it with sandpaper without fear. As well, it will not freeze under 25 degrees below zero nor is it affected by water or weather.

 Finally, no noxious gases will be emitted underground to slow down work and perhaps overcome the miner.  Such were the claims of a company in 1901 developing a new explosive to replace dynamite. Of interest is the little-known fact that the first Canadian plant was built in Sudbury.

The new explosive was of Russian origin, having been invented by Count Sergius Smollinoff.

Twenty years of research had preceded the announcement of cerberite, named after Cerberus, the three-headed dog of mythology.
Apparently demands for the new explosive could not be met at the first factory located in Washington, D.C.

Hence, a Canadian company, anticipating similar success, was formed in Toronto with a provisional board of five members. The board consisted of four Toronto residents – Dr. Beattie Nesbitt, MPP; Dr. John Noble, James Pearson, Jas. K. Paisley and Hugh Mann, of Winnipeg. Two local men may also have been added to the board. A Mr. Harry Dreany was to represent the company in Sudbury until a superintendent arrived.


 The Cerberite Company of Canada Limited was incorporated with a capitalization of half a million dollars. The object of the new company was “to manufacture and deal in chemicals and chemical compounds, and dynamite, cerberite and all other explosives. The head office of the Company (was) in Toronto, and the manufactory at Sudbury.

Of course, the “official word” was one of optimism. Some hoped the plant would be only “the beginning of an industrial activity which (would) make Sudbury the second at least of the big towns of New Ontario.” According to H. Dreany, the plant, when completed, would present the appearance of a little village along the banks of Junction Creek, one and a half miles from Town, on the Soo line.

By mid 1902, four of the seven buildings had been completed along with excavations for the engine house. Two thousand dollars worth of machinery had arrived from Toronto and at the time were only awaiting the arrival of specialized parts from New York. The plant’s capacity was to be five tons per day with a daily requirement of between seven and eight hundred dollars worth of chemicals. Twenty would be employed at the Sudbury operation. For the plant, competition would be minimal, coming only from the original plant in Washington and another being built in Duluth.


The initial optimism appeared to have had some justification. Before the plant was operating, inquiries regarding the new explosive had been received from Rat Portgage, Winnipeg, Kamloops and many points in eastern Canada.

Once in operation, local citizens had an opportunity to share this optimism by becoming shareholders. Thirty shares were offered at$100 per share. At the time, it was announced this would be the only sale. Interested parties were requested to contact the company office.

In the fall of 1902, the first cerberite in Sudbury was manufactured. Shortly thereafter, it was tested at the Copper Cliff and Elsie mines. Among those present at the Copper Cliff testing were: Dr. Struthers, managing director of the company; Mr. G.A. Montgomery, superintendent of the Manitoulin and North Shore Railway; Capt. McBride; Mr. D. Balkie; Mr. M. Meehan; Mr. D.L. McKinnon and others.

Tests were made at the roast yards, with the new explosive being hailed as superior to that of dynamite. At the Elsie Mine test, attended by Mayor Cochrane, Dr. Arthur and others, similar results were experienced.

Soon the company was announcing an expected production of five tons per day. Also, plants were being planned on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

It would appear the Cerberite Company was a short-lived operation. Mr. Dreany, in 1903, was granted patents for a new explosive superior to cerberite called dreanite. The local operation was re-organized for the new dreanite and by 1904 one can find reference to the Dreanite Explosive Co. on Copper Cliff Road. The Cerberite Company’s operation in Sudbury was an interesting chapter in our early history and the explosives industry in general. 

Gary Peck is a retired Sudbury high-school teacher with a passion for history.