A look at Wind­sor’s old tex­tile plant

Valley Journal Advertiser - - OPINION - Ed Coleman

“The for­mal open­ing of the Nova Sco­tia Un­der­wear Com­pany’s new plant yes­ter­day was an oc­ca­sion long to be re­mem­bered,” re­ported the Wind­sor Tri­bune in its edi­tion of June 9, 1916.

Read­ing about the open­ing in the June 1916 is­sue of The Busy East of Canada mag­a­zine, we find that the Nova Sco­tia Un­der­wear Com­pany had taken over the premises of the failed Do­min­ion Cot­ton Mills Com­pany, lo­cated just in­side the Wind­sor town lim­its. In turn, in 1891, the Do­min­ion Cot­ton Mills Com­pany had pur­chased a cot­ton pro­cess­ing plant on the site that was built in 1884. This plant, which was de­signed for card­ing, spin­ning and weav­ing cot­ton fab­rics, and the Do­min­ion Cot­ton Mills both failed due to what the Busy East de­scribed as “chal­leng­ing eco­nomic con­di­tions.”

De­spite these early set­backs, the Nova Sco­tia Un­der­wear Com­pany’s pres­i­dent, J. E. Wood, was op­ti­mistic about his firm’s fu­ture in Wind­sor. While these were “times of na­tional stress,” Wood said (a ref­er­ence to the First World War rag­ing in Europe) his com­pany ex­pected to be pros­per by con­tribut­ing “di­rectly through the sup­ply of un­der­wear for the use of men in the trenches and al­ready had done so to the ex­tent of many thou­sands of dozens.”

The plant’s gen­eral man­ager, A. Bal­lan­tyne, was also op­ti­mistic about the plant’s fu­ture. From Bal­lan­tyne, we learn that the Pic­tou-based Eu­reka Brand Un­der­wear Com­pany was be­hind pur­chas­ing the Do­min­ion Cot­ton Mills prop­erty. In­ter­est­ing about Bal­lan­tyne’s speech is an ap­peal he made to the “fe­males of Wind­sor,” of­fer­ing them a min­i­mum wage of $5.10 a week for work on “per­fectly clean (wool) ma­te­rial.” In con­trast, Bal­lan­tyne said that ma­chin­ists, sup­pos­edly all males, re­ceived from $40 to $100 a month.

When the plant opened, it con­sisted of the main floor with a wool wash­ing ma­chine (“the largest of its kind in Canada”), a wool dryer, a bur­ring ma­chine (which re­moved burrs and other un­wanted ma­te­rial from the wool) and a scour­ing and dry­ing ma­chine. The card­ing, spin­ning, wind­ing and knit­ting of wool would be done on the sec­ond floor.

“The card­ing and spin­ning is done by male la­bor, the wind­ing and fit­ting by fe­male,” the Busy East noted.

The third floor con­tained the fin­ish­ing depart­ment and held eight rows of sewing ma­chines which, when fully op­er­a­tional, would em­ploy “up­wards of 100 girls.”

Less than a decade af­ter it opened — with the mar­ket for Cana­dian sol­dier’s un­der­wear gone — the Nova Sco­tia Un­der­wear Com­pany was forced to re­or­ga­nize and mod­ern­ize. In 1922, the com­pany started to pro­duce a range of un­der­wear for men, women and chil­dren. It ap­par­ently also changed its name at the time to the Nova Sco­tia Tex­tile Com­pany and be­gan us­ing the brand name “Wind­sor Wear” for its un­der­wear line.

In the 1970s, the com­pany started to pro­duce sports­wear, but by 2005, it was out of busi­ness. At­tempts were later made to de­velop the prop­erty but noth­ing came of it. In 2016, the tex­tile plant went up for tax sale and was pur­chased by the Town of Wind­sor.

Long saluted as a Wind­sor land­mark, the old tex­tile plant stands to­day (as one writer re­cently put it) for­lorn and rot­ting away.

The Nova Sco­tia Un­der­wear Com­pany plant as it ap­peared when it opened in 1916. (From the Busy East of Canada mag­a­zine.)

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