Sudbury's iconic Miner’s Lunchbox is back and ready to go to work

·5 min read

The Miner’s Lunchbox is such an iconic product. It is part of the collective memory of Sudbury.

The first pail was prototyped in 1957 as a one-off, but production began shortly because of its practicality and demand. Soon, everyone going underground, to the smelter, or any worksite was carrying one. The heritage and tradition continue.

Demand is global.

“We are going to restart in our community, then Canada,” shares the new manufacturers of the lunchbox Doug Patrick, Steve Patrick, and Scott Sprack.

They are building inventory for the inevitable uptick in demand.

It is almost indestructible and yes, even recyclable. Aluminum is lightweight and rust-proof, perfect for the underground’s damp conditions. Everyone knows the product. It was invented by Leo May.

Catherine Langin is Leo’s daughter. She has the first one still.

“The Dyno tape, my Dad’s name on it … that was pretty much the high-tech of the day. Me and the lunchboxes were invented at the same time,” she laughs.

“Leo used a leather strap for the handle from a discarded conveyor belt – my Dad invented recycling. His original thought process was to build something he could also sit on. Waiting for the cage and you were beat, so it just made sense.

"He built it and took it to his shift and others said ‘make me one’ so he did. I remember being five years old and at the kitchen table he was hand-cutting the components.”

Leo passed away in 2004 at 75. He would be amazed that there are actually close two million lunchboxes that have been sold. In the new workshop on Lasalle Boulevard, the machines are still working to cut, shape, and assemble. Hand-punching small parts continues.

“First the tools were mostly human-powered,” says Langin. “The machines were then built ad hoc, then custom-designed, and now I think we now use word bespoke.”

Langin retained the trademark and calls the 2021 rebirth a “kind of Phoenix project.”

“I am sort of the historian now. Having the original and holding it at trade shows starts many conversations. After 65 years it is a classic.”

Doug Patrick: “My Father had handed his lunch pail down to myself, and I handed mine down to one of my three children. I see it going four or five generations, maybe more.

“We are constructors, but like everyone in Sudbury, we are all connected to mining. Catherine and I had met a few years ago, she said the business was for sale, I spent some time looking at how the manufacturing was done, but at that time we couldn’t take it on. Timing is always everything in business. The business came available again so she reached out, and here we are.”

Gilles Bolduc designed the new logo as an homage to the brand, its story, its utility, and its robust character.

“The Canadian branding very apparent. I know about marketing from my past work. I come from a family of miners. As a boy, my job was to clean out my Dad’s lunch pail when he came home from work. You don’t see stuff that lasts like this.”

The new badge speaks of being “Canada Made and Canada Tough.”

Sue Lekun, in marketing and sales, knows this “is a piece of history. I remember seeing it on Dragon’s Den. It is an exciting time to bring it back.” Lekun acknowledges there are lots of ways to use it differently, including "sometimes as a container for cremated remains of the person who carried one.”

Gary McLean started working for Leo May when he was 14. He is now 71. “My parents were friends of Leo. I shovelled driveways and delivered newspapers, I guess I displayed perseverance and a work ethic.”

McLean also put in 41 years at Inco/Vale.

“We made thousands and thousands of pails. They’ve gone all over the world … Greenland, Australia, South America. The reason I stuck with it all these years, him being my friend, he set me up at my place, with a workshop underneath, lots of room. Our record with three people working was when we had a contract with Canadian Tire. We built 3,450 pails a month. For every million out there … I built 900,000.”

Right now there is only one size. You might call it “Large” but “Super Classic” is the description on the webpage. It’s 14 inches by 6 by 9 high. “Yes there will be the ‘Classic’ and we will get back to all the sizes, but we have to walk before we run,” offers Doug Patrick.

There are no colours today, but they will be reintroduced over time. The L. May stamp confirms the authenticity.

“My lunch pail went with me everywhere,” admits Steve Patrick. “Building this product is a bit different for us, but it brings back the history, and that’s important to us. It can be used in any industry, plumbing, gas fitting, by women, by men, by any worker. I had one myself when I started apprenticing. Tradition alone will take it around the world just like mining.

“I think it would also be a fantastic graduation gift for someone finishing the Underground Common Core, or a Diamond Drillers course. It just confirms you are officially ready for work.”

More info

The Miner’s Lunchbox: 'Built on the past, handcrafted for today!'

lmayminerslunchbox.ca

For purchasing information: sales@lmaymfg.ca or 705-690-8955

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

sud.editorial@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @SudburyStar

Hugh Kruzel , Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star

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