The Royal Carpet Factory operated in Guelph in a few locations starting off with 15 employees in a shop at the corner of Gordon and Essex Streets. At least two Burrows were involved at this time: Alvin and Harry. The company relocated later that year to part of Allan’s Mill. However, the factory location best remembered was at the corner of Norfolk and Paisley where Market Fresh currently stands.
The Burrows factory offers a classic case study of a company that attempted to abuse what has always been a dubious practise – the bonus system. This involved petitioning the city for various concessions such as annual taxes, water, hydro, etc. Accompanying these “requests” was often the stated or implied threat to relocate the business elsewhere.
The Burrows Brothers petitioned and pressured the city several times during its existence. In 1891, they asked for tax concessions. If they did not receive them, they said they would relocate to St. Catharines. In 1893, they sought free water from the city, citing they needed it for dying purposes. The free water was denied.
In 1895, the city came up with its own demand. They told at least three businesses to install the proper drainage system for sediment. This meant they had to design and put into place a series of tanks. While L. H. Gemmell (who had a dye works on Wyndham Street) and Lee Wing (laundry) complied to this request after receiving it in June, the Burrow Brothers were still without tanks and were actually seeking help from the city in July of that year to design and install them.
The Strike of 1897
In June 1897, the Burrow Brothers were beginning to introduce a wage reduction. They said it was essential to combat the threat from American companies and other firms using power looms. This would reduce, according to the company and a local reporter, the workers’ wages by 2 cents across the board.
While this does not seem much, it was a significant amount for workers in this era. Weavers made between seven and 12 cents a yard. The take home pay was between $7 and $9 a week. While the company thought this was sufficient recompense, the workers disagreed. They disputed these figures, pointing out that they were valid only if a weaver was employed in daily work all year round. This was not the case at Burrows factory. There were recurring “slack times,” making it impossible for employees to make the optimal amount. As a result, most weavers were barely getting by on the old wage.
On June 15, 1897, 15 weavers went on strike when they discovered the latest apprentice was starting on the new scale. The men intended to hold out as long as possible. The strike dragged on for months. As the company chose to ignore their demands, most workers never returned.
The Galt Fiasco
Although Royal Carpet did not move to St. Catharine’s – nor Breslau as they threatened in 1897, nor Owen Sound, it did briefly leave the city for Galt. In 1901, they became the Galt Carpet Factory under the management of H.H. Burrows. This operation was not a success. In 1902, the paper notes the Galt Carpet Company was sold by the Galt council to Mr. George Forbes.
Never Can Day Goodbye
Although the Burrows closed their Carpet Factory, they did not completely exit manufacturing. In 1917, Alvin R. Burrows and his son, M were involved with the Canadian Textile and Weaving Company located first on the West Side of Huskisson and later on Crawford. AR Burrows was the manager while ME Burrows was a bookkeeper for the firm. They continued association with this company and its variations – Canadian Textile Weaving Company, Lt. and AR Burrows and Sons, textile goods – until at least 1946. In that year, their plans for expansion including the production of towelling, towels and narrow fibres.
The Paisley Street building has since been the home for a number of industries including, in the mid to late 20th century, a warehouse for a wholesale grocery company – the Simpson Company (Robert Simpson) and National Grocers (1968). The Burrow’s building was eventually torn down and rebuilt as a Red Barn in 1968. It is now a shopping plaza.