Home canners rejoice: Gem jar lids return to shelves this spring

Marla Rauser has a victory.

The home canner from Lloydminster, Sask., who led a campaign for the return of gem lids has been told they will be back this spring.

And two companies will be vying for canners’ dollars this time: Bernardin, the original manufacturer that stopped making them; and a new company headed by a former employee of Bernardin Canada.

The 78 millimetre lids disappeared from store shelves last summer, leaving thousands of Canadian canners holding useless pint, quart and gallon-sized glass jars. It hit rural women in the West especially hard because they preserve more than others, canning the produce from large vegetable gardens, berry patches and wild and tame meat. Often their gem jars were passed down from their mothers and grandmothers.

Bernardin phased out that line of lids in 2001, saying there was not enough demand. It closed the Canadian factory that made the gem line and centralized manufacturing of lids and jars at a factory in Muncie, Indiana. The only lines the American plant makes for home canning are the standard and wide mouth jars.

Rauser was not happy with the company’s action. She and other angry prairie canners started a letter-writing campaign and petitions last summer.

The 9,000 people who signed the petition said they needed a million lids a year for their home canning. The petitions were delivered to the Indiana factory in the fall.

A media campaign that included Western Producer articles, CBC radio and television reports and a Jan. 21 story on the front of the American business newspaper, The Wall St. Journal, seemed to bring action.

On Jan. 22, Rauser received a phone call from New York. It was Martin Franklin, chief executive officer of Jarden Corp., the parent company of Bernardin.

He promised Rauser that he would set up the machinery to produce a one-time volume of millions of lids. He asked her to get the word out to home canners so they will buy their lifetime supply this summer.

Rauser is happy there will be lids available and she said she will buy whatever is available come canning time in July.

But other prairie canners are not ready to be appeased.

“I have 3,000 jars and six kids at home,” said Paulette Lysyshyn of Leoville, Sask. “I’ll be canning for another 20 years. I can’t buy a 20 year supply.”

She said the standard jar is too small.

“What are you going to put in it? One chicken leg?”

The wide mouth jars seem more breakable and don’t always seal well, she said, which increases the risk of food poisoning.

She is skeptical of Franklin’s offer, saying he was unaware the lids need to be distributed in Western Canada and not just dropped off in Ontario.

Lori Blight of Winnipeg, who runs the gem lids petition website, said “it’s a little too late” for Bernardin to jump in. She said postings to the website show that people are going to support the new Canadian company over the American one.

Gordon Tirebuck, president of Canadian Home Canning Inc. of Toronto, said his company will start making the gem lids in March and intends to have them in grocery and hardware stores across Canada by April.

“I’m going to be there for the long term,” said Tirebuck, who was general manager of the Canadian factory that Bernardin closed.

He has a staff of 10, many of whom worked at the Bernardin factory.

Tirebuck said his firm also has access to the mould for making the gem jars and will produce those if needed. The Toronto company was started with help from a federal government grant.

“It’s quite an investment,” he said.

“It cost $6 million to get into the gem lids.”

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