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Aberfoyle Manufacturing Company of Canada: The Guelph Mercerizer

Although Aberfoyle is not far from Guelph, it had nothing to do with the origins or even the name of one Guelph business. This was the Aberfoyle Manufacturing Company. This was a small branch plant of the Aberfoyle Manufacturing Company – an American firm.

The American Parent

The Aberfoyle Manufacturing Company was established on 3rd Street and Morton Avenue in Chester Pennsylvania in 1883/8 by William T. Galey. It was a four-storey building that, according to the ads of the time, possessed the most modern and improved “dying, weaving and finishing machinery for the production of fine textile fabrics.” In short, the factory focused on textile research and production – more specifically cotton yarns.

The textile mill became the largest mill of its time in the city, employing many of its citizens. It grew and established factories/research laboratories not only in the United States but in Australia and Canada. Much of this expansion took place under the presidency of Charles Edward Lord (1865-1942). It was also Lord who, as part of the second committee formed by the National Retail Dry Goods Association of the United States in 1923, helped to give “false silk” the name it has today – Rayon.

The Guelph Division

Very little is known about the Guelph branch. It took over the facilities previously used by the Canadian Sprucolite Company on Metcalfe Street in 1930. Its name does not appear in the ads or articles of the expected trade magazines of the time in conjunction with the parent company, including Textile Records. That it was even a branch plant is attested to in at least one reference, a book by Victor Barber titled Mesure De Notre Taille published in 1936. It refers to the Aberfoyle Manufacturing Company as a “Filiale de la societe du meme nom (Pennsylvanie).”

Who exactly induced the Aberfoyle Manufacturing Company to locate in Guelph is unknown. However, during the 1932, municipal election, five city politicians made some claim to have brought the company to Guelph. During the Dirty Thirties, this would have been considered a politically- positive action.

In the end, this was irrelevant. The Guelph branch took over the facilities on Metcalfe (Huron) Street formerly occupied by the Canadian Sprucolite Company and FE Partridge Rubber. In 1932, the Guelph branch took over the facilities on Metcalfe (Huron) Street formerly occupied by the Canadian Sprucolite Company and FE Partridge Rubber. The building had to undergo “considerable alteration” before it was suitable. An article in the February 1, 1933 Guelph Mercury remarked how it was essential to install the right machinery to transform the raw product into the sleek, glossy threads demanded by its clients.

Like the parent company, the Guelph branch focused on durene and other cotton yarns. Yarn mercerizing was done on-site. This is a process applied typically to cotton fibres to increase their lustre. Mercerized cotton absorbs more water. It, therefore, is perfect for improving the colour of the dyes. This treated cloth is stronger, brighter and more resistant to any fading resulting from repeated washing.

The yarns employed by the company came from one of two sources:

  1. England
  2. United States

They arrived in various thicknesses as “ball ware.” In 1933 Judson Holt described the process to the reporter of the Guelph Mercury. He explained how it moved from the mercerizing machine to winders and then dying vats. Holt also emphasized how the company hired only highly skilled and trained workers, initially employing 60 but hoping to increase the workforce to 100.

The End of a Yarn

The Aberfoyle Manufacturing Company advertised in local yearbooks and events. It was also a subject of visits by students of the Provincial Institute of Textiles (Hamilton, Ontario). During the 1950s, the company was only one of two mercerizers in Canada. The other one was the Wabasso Cotton Company, Three Rivers.

Guelph’s factory, usually referred to as a lab by the American parent company, and a research laboratory in the Industrial Research Laboratories of the United States in 1946, remained active in Guelph until it was liquidated around June 30, 1960. The building later became home to several companies, including the Guelph Paper Box Factory and WC Wood.


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