Our County – Empire Woolen Mills

Originally Appeared Whitby Chronicle, 18 Jan 1884

Our County

‘Travelers’ visits and describes the Empire Woolen Mills at Columbus – labouring under disadvantages which Whitby can and would wish to do away with.

(Special Correspondence of the Chronicle).

Empire Woolen Mills near Columbus, c. 1883 (AX995.169.1)

Columbus, Jan 12., 1884 – After leaving friend Liddle’s, as referred to in my last, I proceeded in a sort of zig-zag fashion, among the fine farms in the section, making many friendly calls, and having a good time generally. By the way, I seldom think of going around by the regular roads now. I have got so used to climbing fences for the sake of a short cut, that it would almost take a Chinese wall turn me. I finally drew up towards evening at the “Empire Woolen Mills” and having unearthed Mr. Robt. Gemmel, the courteous and intelligent Manager, I proceed it to interrogate him as to various matters of interest, to which he not only kindly responded, but showed me through the establishment from bottom to top. If you feel any special interest in seeing through a Woolen Mill, just step into our shadow and get as good a view as you can as it is getting dusky.

The factory is owned by Messrs. Bryce, McMurrich & Co., of Toronto, and went in full blast gives employment to about 40 hands, at wages ranging from 1 to 2 dollars a day. Mr. Gemmel informs me that he has very much difficulty in this out of the way place both in getting and keeping sufficient hands to properly run the mill. Owing mainly to the difficulty there is not more than half the work done and hands employed at present that there might be; a state of affairs that might of course must have its effect on the financial result. Tweeds and blankets are the staple productions, and are produced in great variety of texture and pattern. The goods are mainly sent to the wholesale house of the owners in Toronto, and distributed in all directions from that point.

The machinery in all departments is said to be first-class. That in the main building is run by water-power, but that in the winding and twisting and drying departments (conducted in separate building) is driven by steam. The main building is a wooden structure, in good condition, and consisting of four flats.

Perhaps, instead of taking you either from bottom to top, or from top to bottom, I had better follow the course of the manufacturing process from the wool to the finished bale of cloth. To do this we will have to strike in at the third flat, which is devoted to carding in all its phases. The machinery in operation evidently plays its cards well. When this primary operation of preparing the wool for being spun into yarn is performed, the material is sent up to the fourth flat, or spinning department, where it is converted into yarn of various grades, according to the purpose for which it is intended. The next department may be called the winding and twisting department. This work (as before stated) is done in a separate building, immediately east of the main building. The machinery here seems very complete, and is driven by steam, and the operations performed seem to the uninitiated eye to be both mysterious and marvelous. A 16 horse-power double eccentric engine is used. The twisting machine is a fine piece of mechanism manufactured by Sykes of Hudderford, England. The winding machine is made by McGee, of Paisley, Scotland. I understand that Mr. Gemmel, having a natural taste for machinery, and a quick perception of what is needed to accomplish certain ends, has added some important improvements of his own invention, in different departments of the factory. But I must hasten, as it is getting quite dusky. We will go back to the main building, up to the second flat, which we will call the weaving department. There are eleven looms at work, and the operations of spooling, warping and weaving are all very interesting; but to give a full description of the ins and outs is beyond my power, unused as I am to such operations. Let us return for a minute to the other building and take a look into the Drying department. This is a long room in which the blanketing and other cloth is kept revolving rapidly by a powerful machine said to be unsurpassed if not unequalled in this country. The Drying agent is hot air ingeniously admitted between the folds of revolving cloth, and with such effect that 1000 yards of flannel can be dried in an hour. We will not return to the basement or first flat of No. 1 which is called the finishing department. In this various goods manufactured in the establishment are sorted, finished, marked and put up in cases for shipment; to Toronto or elsewhere. The dye-house is at one end of the finishing room, where dying (sic) in all its branches is carried on. All this is done at various stages of the work, either in the wool, the yarn or the cloth, I need not more fully describe it.

I must now take my leave of the Factory and my friend Mr. Gemmel, as the sun has set, and I have a mile of rough walking ere I reach Columbus. I am well aware that in many respects my account of the Factory is very defective. It is in fact several weeks since my visit, and my notes are now hard to decipher, and my limited acquaintance with machinery would at best be a great hindrance to my giving a good description of it. Just take my sketch for what it is worth, and if you wish for more go and see for yourselves.

There is a store kept in an adjoining building; also kept by Bryce McMurrich & Co. in which goods are sold not only to employees of the Factory but to the inhabitants generally. The store is under the very efficient care of Miss Lawrence, into whose eyes one has only to look to feel fully assured both of her integrity and kindness of heart.

Now it is quite dark, and as my only way of going on is to stop, I will stop accordingly.

Traveller.

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