In 1823, Major Long of the Hudson’s Bay Company first noticed an exposure of limestone along the banks of the Red River near Selkirk, Manitoba.  This stone, unique due to its mottled appearance, was used to build the walls and warehouses of Lower Fort Garry in 1832 and, in 1845, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church; the oldest stone church in Western Canada.  Both buildings remain today, in a perfect state of preservation along the picturesque Red River Drive through St. Andrews, situated 18 kilometres north of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Around 1894, farmer John Gunn encountered a deposit of this same limestone while digging a well on his land approximately 30 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. Gunn, and other area farmers, kept small quarries, but it is not clear whether they actually quarried themselves.  It is known that Gunn did lease his land on royalty to other companies, and people in the area have suggested that Gunn was responsible for the building of the historic lime kilns still standing at the Gillis quarries in Garson, Manitoba.

William Garson opened the first large quarry in 1898.  Even in its infancy, the quarry produced 9/10 of the stone used by the building industry.  A small community grew out of the stoneworkers and their families who settled in the area to work at the quarry.  The village, known previously as “The Hill” due to the great mounds of ground that were scraped off to expose the limestone bed, renamed itself Garson, after their employer. William Garson ran the quarry until his death in 1911.

Peter Lyall bought the company after William Garson’s death and in 1912 reopened the quarry under the name Wallace Sandstone Company.  A grateful community dropped the name of its founder, Garson, and adopted the name Lyall (and so it remained until 1927 when it was changed back to Garson). By 1914, three large quarries were in operation in the Garson area: The Wallace Sandstone Company, which employed 250 workers; The G. W. Murray Quarry, which employed 60 workers; and the Tyndall Quarry Company, which had 62 workers.  

August Gillis, with his sons Charles and Joseph, started cutting Tyndall Stone® in a small shop in Winnipeg in 1910.   In 1915 he purchased quarry property just 1000 feet west of the Western Stone Company in Garson.  The company incorporated in 1922 and officially became Gillis Quarries Limited.  Tyndall Stone® continued to be cut in Winnipeg until a new plant was built at the quarry in 1968.

Charles Gillis, who continued to run the business when his father died, was succeeded by his three sons, Charles, Bruce and Frank; they were later joined by their brother in-law Ivan Bickell.  Today Bruce’s sons Keith and Doug, with their sister Donna, are the fourth generation of the Gillis family to operate Gillis Quarries Limited.

THE QUARRYING PROCESS: Then

In 1914, channeling machines run by steam boilers were used to cut the Tyndall Stone® from the quarry beds.  During channeling, the men sprayed water on the blades to keep the saws cool while also keeping the dust under control. The cut stone was lifted by crane, carted by horse cart onto a bench, measured, then cut to size with a diamond blade saw.  Stone was also hand carved by master carvers.  “Roughers” (as they were called) “roughed in” the general shape of the object with hammer and points, then the master carvers went to work with their chisels to add the delicate details.

Once completed, the stone was carefully packed and loaded onto carts then sent by small locomotives, or “dinkies”, two miles east to the Canadian Pacific Railway depot in Tyndall for shipment.  With the name Tyndall on the bills of lading, the stone shipped from Tyndall, Manitoba came to be known as Tyndall Stone®.

Lime, for use in mortar, became the first by-product of Tyndall Stone®.  Men with picks and shovels broke the unusable limestone from the top beds and shoveled it into dump carts which were then pulled by horses uphill to the kilns that burned steadily day and night. Thousands of cords of wood were needed to keep the fire burning.

As the other quarry owners retired or moved on to other business ventures, Gillis Quarries continued to extend their quarry holdings by acquiring those properties that came up for sale. Gillis Quarries is the sole supplier of Tyndall Stone® to the building industry and owns all of the quarry property in Garson. Of the 1600 acre cover of Gillis Quarries’ holdings, only 200 acres has been actively quarried to date.

THE QUARRYING PROCESS: Now

Today eight-foot diamond tipped quarry saws run on 100-foot tracks cut three feet into the Tyndall Stone® beds. After the saw cuts are made, the stone in the divided strips is raised from the deposit with wedges and then split into six or eight tonne blocks by drilling and wedging. Front end loaders are used for removal, storage and delivery of the blocks to the processing plant.

In the plant, the quarry blocks are sawn to the desired proportions with circular diamond-toothed saws. Blade diameters vary from fourteen inches to eight feet; saws cutting three foot thicknesses can cut up to twelve inches of stone per minute. Finishes are ground on the stone by rotating carborundum drums or diamond discs. All cut stone panels and pieces are cut and finished to exact dimensions from shop tickets prepared from architectural drawings. The saws and grinders require vast quantities of water for cooling and dust control; where possible the water is re-circulated, with grindings and cuttings settling out in a sediment pond.

Shapes and mouldings are applied to the stone by planers and lathes similar to those used in working metal or wood. For “split face” finishes, stone slabs are run through a hydraulic shear known as, “the guillotine”, which does not cut stone but breaks it with pressure producing the desired irregular rock-like face. Slabs and blocks in the mill are handled by conveyors and traveling overhead cranes. Trucks fitted with special “unit-lift” equipment deliver the finished Tyndall Stone® to local jobsites. Out of town shipments are made possible through the use of long distance trucks, rail facilities and specially constructed shipping containers.