We Cover The Floor: Guelph Carpet
The original owners and managers were Andrew and John Armstrong. They had both come from Scotland, with John arriving first and setting up a bakery on Macdonnell Street. In 1873, after the Armstrongs had left what was now essentially McCrae’s Woollen Mills, only Andrew is listed as operating the bakery. Moreover, although Alexander Knight had initially entered the venture with the Armstrong Brothers, he seems to have vanished. This remains until later in the 1870s with no other partner listed. This was to change by the 1880s when Robert Dodds appeared and increasingly became involved in the daily operation of the carpet mill.
Dodds was not unknown to the Armstrongs. His ties to the family were strong. He came from the same place in Scotland as they did – Hawick, Roxburghshire. Not only did he enter into business with them upon arrival in Guelph, he also married into the Armstrong family when he took as his bride Elizabeth “Bessie” Armstrong (1860-1929) on October 14, 1883. His son, Robert Roland Dodds, born in 1885 in Guelph, also became involved in the business in a minor fashion.
John Armstrong no longer was involved in the operation in the 1890s, although he lived until 190, Dodds’ importance increased even further. Following the death of Andrew Armstrong in 1894, Robert Dodds became the sole proprietor. In fact, in an 1897 directory, it is referred to as Dodd’ Carpet Company. A year later, this was to change.
In 1898, he is joined by George McPherson, after merging his carpet factory with one of their competitors – the McPherson Brothers carpet factory. The details of the merger remain unknown. However, while Dodds remained as President, Secretary and Manager, George McPherson became Vice President. George’s brother, Robert also became a part of the firm.
This arrangement altered further in 1899. The company’s management and management board grew out of a need to acquire a charter. According to a January 1899 America’s Textile Reporter the incorporators of the company were:
1. Robert Dodds
2. Robert E. McPherson
3. George McPherson
4. Christian Kloepfer
5. Robert Houte
The first four on the above list were provisional directors for the company. This was a reorganization of the company. It also involved officially naming it the Guelph Carpet Company. This made perfect sense since neither of the Armstrong Brothers currently involved in any aspect of the company.
While Christian Kloefer became company president, George McPherson remained VP and Robert Dodds retained his position as secretary-treasurer and general manager. It was not much of a reduction because, by this time, Dodds had firmly established his role in the textile industries in Guelph.
Mr. Dodds and the Carpet/Textile Industry in Guelph
Although the Armstrongs played a significant role in the operation of their carpet factory, the daily affairs were left frequently to a Robert Dodds. Robert signed on with the Armstrong’s but also had his fingers in many textile-related firms. By 1886, he was a partner with George Murray in a woolen mill. This was to move to Fergus. Dodds was also an owner of the Guelph Cotton Mill and a manager for the Guelph Worsted Spinning Company in the early 1900s. As a manager, he might have had some input into the establishing the close relationship between the various companies.
By 1908, Guelph Carpet had become one of the largest carpet manufacturers in Canada. It was to remain so until it closed. They had established their prominence in the business under the changing leadership and the management of Dodds by being innovative and considering means to integrate technology into their production. They also formed partnerships with companies in Guelph that would prove to be valuable suppliers or buyers for their product.
To reduce costs for purchasing wool, they were involved closely with the Guelph Worsted and Spinning Mills as well as the Cotton Mills. The former, conveniently managed by Dodds, supplied them with the woolen yarn they required to make their products; the latter sold them cotton thread. It was a symbiotic relationship with both companies benefiting.
When Kloepfer died in 1913, Dodds was still manager of the company. In fact, he remained in this position into the company was taken over once again – this time by non-Guelphites. However, by this time, he also had in place a superintendent of the factory who seems to have taken over much of the daily operations. This was Charles Henry Gethins who had previous experience in the T.F. Firth and Sons of Brighouse carpet and woolen mills in England. He had started work with them ca 1875 and left their employ around 1880 for a company in the United States. He was to end up working for the Guelph Carpet Company under Dodds in the early 1900s.
The earliest recorded accident for the Guelph Carpet Mill was in 1887. James Gow was working overnight. He was alone in the building when the pulley of some machinery caught the back of his clothing. It began to pull him upward towards the ceiling. Fortunately, for him, the clothing, combined with his weight, could not sustain the momentum. There was a tearing sound and Gow tumbled to the mill floor, sustaining only minor injuries.
Not all workplace incidents ended this “happily.” Several accidents occurred with varying degrees of severity between 1887 and 1946. In 1903, 16-year-old employee, Albert Beach was scalded as he scoured the yarn when the kettles supplying the intensely hot water boiled over. Mrs. White was badly bruised on her head and all over her body when a loom belt slipped off its pulley and struck her in 1905. Two years later, Agnes Sallow had several fingers crushed in a roller. In 1920, Edgar Hall slipped, fell and broke his arm. In 1930, Patrick Campbell lacerated two fingers on a shearing machine. They required amputation. The same occurred in 1946 when Jack Hebden lost three fingers to a shearing machine.
The working conditions, including the forbiddingly high temperatures in the dry house, the boiling process used to dye yarns, the unprotected sharp-edged equipment until the later 1900s, and pulleys and belts, all contributed to the potential for accidents to happen.
On Strike: Early Walkouts
By 1900, Guelph Carpet employed some 200 hands. Many of the better paying work was performed by skilled craftsmen, specifically weavers. They were the ones who became members of a union, in this case, Brussel Carpet Weavers were members of Brussel Carpet Weavers Union 271. The Guelph Union had formed in August of that year.
In 1900, the company decided to import 12 looms from Philadelphia. They also decided to hire 15 weavers from the same city to work the looms. The workers arrived and integrated with the Guelph weavers. However, the company had promised them the wages they would receive at the Guelph Carpet would be the same they had from their employers in Philadelphia. The company reneged. The weavers went on strike from August 31 to October 16. They accepted the reduction conditionally.
It was also the weavers who walked out four years later. This time, 7 men and 6 “girls” who were ingrain weavers were upset because they were receiving piece work pay for day work. Instead, they wanted Toronto prices. They were out from June 28 until August 8 before a settlement was reached.
These were both minor frays between the weavers and their employer. In 1909, on December 11, 28 Brussel Carpet weavers went on strike. They did not know they would be out for an entire year. The matter revolved around the request of one worker asking to receiving extra pay for the extra time he put in to finish off a carpet due to be sent to Toronto that same day. The company, through then supervisor CW Gethins, refused and the weavers walked. Unfortunately, as the strike dragged on, the company simply hired other men to fill their spots. Although, as the Industrial Banner wrote “Guelph Brussels Carpet Weavers Stand Firm,” it failed to garner them either support or sympathy. The company continued to produce carpets. After a year, with 11 men still out, the company rehired 7.
Apparently, this was not in the agreement struck between the United Textile Workers of America (UTWA) and the company. This is interesting because the Brussels Union was not affiliated with the UTWA. However, the UTWA did have union in place in Guelph Carpet. This was the Tapestry Weavers' Union, Local 585 formed in March 1907.
The UTWA had probably brokered the deal because they were considering amalgamation of the two unions. This happened in April 1911. Previous to this, on January 28, 1911, they sent Gethins a letter stating that it was the union’s understanding that after the settlement had been agreed upon, that there would be “no discrimination shown against any person for any act committed during the strike.” Gethins, while he had hired back many of the strikers, had not reinstated Mr. Hall and Mr. Perks. Hall had held positions in both the Brussels' Carpet Union and the Guelph Trade and Labour Council which is probably one reason why he became a target.