A look at Windsor’s old textile plant
“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.)