Jim and Lynette Taylor bought an old fly-fishing club in 1986 with a spring-fed creek, ninety acres of land, and a big dream. After two decades in the aquaculture business, they wanted to build their own fish farm.
Although it took them eight years of permits (and another three years to afford bathroom doors on their house!) Jim and Lynette opened Cedar Crest Trout Farm in 1995.
If you ever feel too old to start something new, you can think of Jim at age 52 pulling open the flood gates to his brand-new farm. That day we couldn’t have predicted how big Cedar Crest would grow, and that he would eventually be passing it on to his children Arlen and RJ, who were only 7 and 9 at the time.
The early years of Cedar Crest brought many challenges as Jim learned to tame a new farm, but by 2000 the farm was doing well enough that Lynette could retire from her job in the city.
Arlen and RJ grew up working on the farm. After many early mornings loading fish and many late nights cleaning screens, each left the farm in the mid-2000s. Arlen spent a decade working in international development in post-conflicts areas like Angola, Mozambique and Iraq. RJ built a career in science communication that saw him move to Waterloo, Toronto, and then travel to every corner of the country for Canada 150.
Our first expansions
In 2011, the opportunity arose for the Taylors to buy Blue Springs Trout Farm, which added a small hatchery and large grow-out site to the Cedar Crest portfolio. It was desperately needed, as the expanding net-pen farms in northern Ontario were buying more fingerlings than ever before.
By 2013, more orders were flowing in than they could fill. Jim asked Arlen to come back to Canada and help run the business. Together they bought another farm to hold their growing breeding stocks. Seemingly unimportant at the time, that farm had a small filleting plant and smokehouse on it.
It was called Springhills Trout Farm. And it provided the perfect opportunity for the Taylors to try their hand at processing trout.
The acquisition of Springhills now made Cedar Crest one of the largest fully integrated trout farms in central Canada. Cedar Crest now housed the country’s largest rainbow trout breeding program, grew over 5 million fingerlings a year, and could now fillet and smoke fish for a growing community of customers.
This time also coincided with Arlen’s partner Mike joining the farm and the birth of their son Ivo, who to this day loves fishing more than anybody can understand (because he has several farms of fish that are only a net away!).
25+ years in business
With the business growing, RJ joined Arlen at the helm in 2017. In true Taylor fashion, they marked his arrival by acquiring a new farm south of Owen Sound. After a few too many Coronas and a staff-wide vote, they named it Williamsford Trout Farm (or WTF for short!).
By 2018, Cedar Crest became the first land-based farm in central Canada to get certified by the Best Aquaculture Practices program. This held the Taylors and their team to the highest international standard for environmental impact, fish welfare, and social responsibility. It was followed by Cedar Crest being recommended by Ocean Wise for sustainability, too.
This recognition only helped grow the brand Springhills Fish. Thanks to Arlen’s ingenuity, they started selling fish through fun pop-up shops in surrounding communities. Sell-outs were common, and every one of our staff family knows what it is like to be asked “do you have more fish yet?” multiple times as they travel around town.
A fish delivery service was born
Like many small businesses, the Covid-19 pandemic hit us hard. In less than a week, we lost a big part of our year’s orders and had more fish than we knew what to do with.
So our team got together at the Springhills plant and started filleting as much trout as we could. We had a dozen people packed into a space no bigger than your bedroom working long into the night. The world may have been shutting down, but we were gearing up for the most transformational change our business has ever seen.
None of us can remember whose idea it was, but we started to load up our pick-ups trucks and deliver trout to homes in our local towns. Soon more requests flooded in from towns farther out, so we expanded, and then expanded again. Just in time for the hot summer days, we invested in several refrigerated vans to make sure our tasty and frozen fish arrived safely to homes.
Very quickly we outgrew the plant at Springhills and accelerated our plans to get a much bigger plant at the Williamsford Trout Farm up and running. When we weren’t filleting fish, we were knocking down walls and investing in new equipment to fillet fish even faster. By summer we were up and running, and already planning the next expansion!
After seeing how excited people got over local fish, we started branching out with new types thanks to other farmers and fisherfolk with extra fish. First it was Arctic char, and then Lake Erie pickerel, and recently barramundi (Australian sea bass). We even got in new batches of coho salmon in the farm for dinner plates in late 2021.
Arlen and RJ had a dream of filleting our own fish and delivering it since before we could remember. We just didn’t expect to make our two-year plan happen in two months, and we could only do that thanks to our team and the incredible communities we live in.
On every doorstep we deliver fish, you share words of encouragement and praise. You keep our hearts high, our bodies moving, and our lights on. You’re a part of the next Cedar Crest chapter, and we cannot do it without you!
The Springhills family
Throughout all this change and experimentation, family has remained the beating heart of Cedar Crest. That family includes every one of our loyal crew that continues to be with us through up and downs.
It is the “beaver” Ken — also known as Papa Purdy — whose been throwing around 60lb nets of fish with us for 30+ years. And Jeremy who keeps our freezers full of lamb and beef while maintaining his petting zoo that seems to have a new animal every time you visit.
It is Gustavo who always knows the perfect joke or parlour trick (and don’t forget he introduced us to Corona!). And it’s Aaron and Heather who taunt us during long spawning days and “put up with our crazy”.
It is Nich, who grew up with us and can always be counted on to fix a broken truck part or give a sassy remark. And it’s Evan, who seems to spend every moment away from the farm engaged in some other fishing activity!
It is Brad, Dar and Derek, who were the first to jump into our new plant with both feet and keep it running to this day. And it is everybody else who keep us all going on long days.
Last but not least, it is the families of all our staff who put up with many late night phone calls, long shipping seasons, and “the lifestyle” that is fish farming.