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Lakefield, Ont., rifle maker turns 50

Rifles waiting to be packaged at Savage Arms factory in Lakefield, Ont. Global Peterborough file

A small factory in Lakefield, Ont., is marking a major milestone as Savage Arms celebrates its 50th anniversary.

The rifle maker employs up to 240 people and is highly regarded among hunters and competitive shooters.

Brandi Gilbear has worked for Savage Arms for seven years.

“It’s one of those jobs you don’t come across very often. Not too many people know what we do here in Lakefield,” Gilbear said.

Vice-president and general manager Terry McCullough says the plant builds 700 rifles a day and can make 370,000 units per year.

“The majority of our customers are target shooters. A lot of our rim-fired models are used in competition target shooting, our centre-fire line in the hunting field,” he said.

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Ernie Barriage has worked at the plant for 49 years.

“Way back then, it was strictly for the Canadian market; we didn’t know export at all. Now, it’s about 90 per cent American, 10 per cent to Canada, five to 10 (per cent) internationally,” Barriage said.

In 2015, Savage Arms won a contract for the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense to supply rifles for its cadets. McCullough said that contract was worth about $6.6 million.

“We’ve got some great vendor partners here in the Peterborough area. We think of Merritt Precision, we think of Stag in Belleville. We source within about 100 miles of the plant so, really, when Savage is being successful, it really generates regional prosperity, ” said McCullough.

Barriage says he enjoys working for the company, which was founded in 1894 by Arthur Savage in Utica, N.Y.

“I think the people here make the difference. There have been people here a long, long time, and they enjoy working here. Right from management down to the bottom, everybody’s sort of like a big family.”

“It’s nice to be able to say ‘I build guns for a living.’ You get a lot of questions. A lot of people think that’s really cool,” said Gilbear.

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