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Samuel Carter And The Royal Knitting Company
Bonnie Durtnall

Samuel Carter And The Royal Knitting Company

Samuel Carter (1860 – 1944) arrived in Guelph in 1882 after spending about a year-and-a-half in Philadelphia. He had been born in Ruddington in Nottinghamshire, England, a village where the main industry was hosiery. After a brief time boarding in a hotel, he settled on a cottage on 60 Manitoba Street in St. Patrick’s Ward joining forces with a partner whose name may have been Greenside or Grenside. This stone building was to act as a small-scale hosiery knitting mill from 1883 until around 1894/95. This was the start of what was to become known as the Royal Knitting Company.

The First Knitting Mill – 80 Manitoba

The knitting mill on Manitoba Street was clearly a cottage industry. Not only was it located in an actual cottage, it also employed a small number of people. Altogether, only seven or eight people initially worked there - including Walter Copeland and Peter Hesslen. The number grew to as many as 18 employees in 1891.

The products the knitting company produced were typical for hosiery knitting shops of the time. They included:

·        Gloves

·        Mitts

·        Hosiery

However, the demand for the products was to outgrow the ability of the premises and employees to deliver them. A change was needed.

The Royal Knitting Company

In around 1894, Carter, now in partnership with Thomas Wootton, who later returned to take over the business on Manitoba St, relocated his small cottage industry to a stone building at Norwich Street on the south-west corner of Cardigan Street. Unlike the cottage knitting mill on Manitoba, this was a factory. However, it was not to be the lasting home of what was now called the Royal Knitting Company.

In 1897, having split with his partner, the now sole-owner of Royal knitting was once again prepared to make a change. This involved moving to a new factory. In 1900, Carter moved the facilities up the street slightly to 41 Norwich Street into larger and newly constructed premises. The substantial brick building rose three stories with a dye house connected. By 1922, its modern equipment consisted of 110 latch needle knitting machines, 90 ribbers and 6 sewing machines. The power was electric and the company dyed its own yarn. Royal Knitting was to remain in this location even after Carter was gone.

Yet, the basic product remained the same. In a 1913 article, the Royal Knitting Company was touted as a maker of “warm knitted goods,” designed to address the demands of a Canadian winter. The company is said to supply the woollen knitted goods for men, women and children including:

·        Hats

·        Caps

·        Toques

·        Stockings

·        Hose

·        Gloves

·        Sashes

·        Mittens

The same author goes on to tout the modernity of the factory. He cites the cleanliness and light. What also is mentioned is the hours of labour. Unlike many companies of this era, Carter believed in treating his workers with respect. Reflecting this is the statement that “the hours of labor of their employees are shorter than say any other similar factory in Canada.”

In these new and modernized premises, Carter had more than his original 11 employees for which to provide safe working conditions. In 1908, Royal Knitting employed between 75 – 80 workers. These included many female operators including Misses A.J. and Henrietta Allen and Laura Walters, in 1901. The number, under Carter, remained consistent

Although the company never was a major employer for the city’s workers, it did play a part in the local economy. While it had an agent, GR Copping, in Toronto for selling product, it did much of its buying locally. In fact, it bought the yarns it needed for its production from the Guelph Worsted Spinning Company. The two industries had a mutually beneficial working arrangement by 1922.

However, Carter was to fail in one crucial area of marketing. The products produced by Royal Knitting were unbranded. Carter did not seem to think a “Royal Knitting Company” label would have been advantageous to a company’s success. As a result, the products made their way onto the shelf of retailers and wholesalers without any indication of their actual origin. In the end, this resulted in the company’s inability to secure a recognizable and profitable market share under any of the owners, including Sam Carter.

Samuel Carter

Carter has long been considered one of Guelph’s most progressive businessmen. He rose from relative obscurity to establishing a local and national reputation in politics and business. He was politically active, becoming a councillor in 1900 and retained this position until 1905.

During this time, he was responsible for a number of actions that helped to further the development and improvement of the city and all its residents. In 1904, working in conjunction with Joseph Dandeno of the Guelph Trade and Labour Council, he helped to create what was to become the Guelph Co-operative Association. Its initial intent was to decrease the cost of bread for Guelph workers. Toward this aim, the Co-op purchased a bakery shop. This was later to expand into an organization that ran not one but two grocery stores – one located in the downtown core, the other in St. Patrick’s Ward.

This small association was to spark the founding of a national organization. In 1909, he, together with George Keen, met to form a union to be known as The Co-operative Union of Canada. Carter became President, a position he held for 12 years. Yet, he did not forget the Guelph Association. He consistently took part in the annual Guelph Co-Op Banquet. In fact, at the 1907 celebration of another successful year, Dandeno resigned as president and Carter assumed the position. However, in spite of his major contributions to the co-operative movement in Canada, he was not inducted into the Canadian Co-op Hall of Fame until 2010.

Carter also became involved in Guelph’s Light and Power Commission while on Council. He was Chairman in 1903 and remained on this committee for 25 years.  It was under his watch that Guelph Council made the move to purchase the light and power plant. It was to be a smart and money-saving action for the City.

Carter became Mayor of Guelph in 1913. He was re-elected in 1914 by what the Guelph Mercury referred to as a “Record Maj. Of 775.” But, 1914 was also the year, Carter also became involved in provincial politics. While he retained his Mayoral position, he also ran for MPP for Wellington South as a Liberal-Prohibitionist member. He was successful and held a seat in the provincial parliament for 1914-1919. In a bid in 1921 in federal politics, Carter failed by a small number of votes against Hugh Guthrie. Carter also lost again in 1926.

In his religion, Carter was staunch member of the Methodist (United) Church. For him, it was not merely show. He once claimed his stand on prohibition cost him the mayoral election and, probably the 1926 federal vote. He was a principled man and it showed in his business and actions. When the Paisley Street Primitive Methodist Church burned down in 1907, Carter was behind a group who favoured rebuilding it on another site. He worked with other committee members to ensure it was a true “Mission Church.” This is how Paisley Memorial Church came to be not on Paisley Street but on Howitt Street in a predominantly Catholic and working-class St. Patrick’s Ward.

Carter left a legacy behind in other areas of his life that mattered. His daughter, Elizabeth Carter, was deaf. According to Cameron Shelley in a “Guelph in Postcards” Blog, she attended the Ontario Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb from 1909 to at least 1917. This in all likelihood explains his $25,000 to endowment for the Evangelical Church for the Deaf (United) located at 56 Wellesley Street, Toronto. 

His concern for matters that touched him personally also explain his donation of a 10-acre playing field in Ruddington, the village of his birth. He also donated toward the conversion of the Wesleyan Chapel in Ruddington into the Methodist Hall and Institute. Their library also benefitted through the addition of 1,000 books. The village band all received a set of new instruments. Samuel Carter was, if nothing else, civic-minded and faithful to those who needed his help.

Carter Leaves but Royal Knitting Company Continues

Royal Knitting was sold by Samuel Carter to S. Craig Evans in 1923. He expanded the buildings in 1948. During the 1940s, his factory manager was Gordon Grierson. Grierson was in charge of continuing the legacy of Royal Knitting but people such as floor manager, Gordon MacPhail ensured the directives were carried out.  As a result, the company continued to produce the proven products Royal Knitting was known for, but they also began to manufacture these same items in the colours of the NHL. These replica sweaters, toques and scarves were available in the colours of any of the hockey teams of the period.

However, the company slowly reduce its work force until a small staff of between 25 and 30 remained. At fault was, perhaps, the lack of branding. Another contributing factor may well have been the involvement of Craig and Grierson in other enterprises.

In 1929, a few years after purchasing Royal Knitting, Evans joined the management of Taylor-Forbes. In the 1930s, as vice-president and managing director, he was part of a re-organization of this hardware supplier under President George A. Faber. During the 1940s, he continued to hold these positions, but also headed the Guelph Zone for Co-ordination of Industrial War Production. By 1948, both he and Grierson owned another company on Norwich Street – the Everlasting Valve Company.

Eventually, both Grierson and Evans decided to make a change – or to get out while the getting was good. In 1975, Evans sold both the valve company and Royal Knitting. The new owners were the Baukham Family.

In 1985, the company announced it was closing. The move was originally announced as a temporary one. By then, the company had shrunk in output and workforce. The closure displaced 25 employees. However, the doors never opened again. It was renovated into apartment buildings. Everlasting Valve, however, did not shut down. Today, it operates out of a small building on Duke Street.

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