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 in, in 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 marked the beginning of a company that became 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, but it also employed a small number of people. 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:
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, after splitting from Wootton, with his partner, the now sole-owner of Royal Knitting was once again prepared to make changes. In 1900, Carter moved the facilities up the street slightly to 41 Norwich Street. These premises were newly constructed and larger – ideal for expansion.
The substantial brick building rose three stories and featured a connected dye house. 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 yarn. Carter had found the perfect place for his business. Royal Knitting was to remain in this location even after Carter was gone.
Yet, the basic product of this knitting mill 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:
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. An indication of this is clear in the following statement in the article, “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, Employees turnover appears to have been low.
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 products, it did much of its buying locally. 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 shelves 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.
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 many actions that helped to further the development and improvement of the city and all its residents. One of the most groundbreaking occurred 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.
The co-op’s initial intent was to decrease the cost of bread for Guelph workers. It had been increasing at a rate not commiserate with wages. Toward this aim, the Co-op purchased a bakery shop. The goal changed as the organization grew in membership. It expanded its products to include groceries. Eventually, the Guelph Co-op was operating 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, Samuel Carter, 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, despite his major contributions to the cooperative movement in Canada, he was not inducted into the Canadian Co-op Hall of Fame until 2010.
Carter also became involved in other enterprises that would benefit the citizens of Guelph. He sat on 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. This turned out 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 became involved in provincial politics. While he retained his Mayoral position, he ran for MPP for Wellington South as a Liberal-Prohibitionist member. He was successful and held a seat in the provincial parliament from 1914-1919.
In Federal politics, Carter was not as lucky. He tried to win a seat in 1921 but failed by a small number of votes against Hugh Guthrie. Carter also lost in his bid in 1926.
In his religion, Carter was a 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. A man of principles man, it was reflected in more than his business and politics.
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 the 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 Carter’s $25,000 endowment to the Evangelical Church for the Deaf (United) located at 56 Wellesley Street, Toronto.
Carter’s concern for matters that touched him personally also explains 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, faithful and mindful of 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. Evans 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, under Evans, the company slowly reduced its workforce 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 Coordination 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.
Royal Knitting Closes
In 1985, the company announced it was closing. By then, the company had shrunk in output and workforce. The closure displaced 25 employees. The move was first stated as being only temporary. However, the doors never opened again.
The now-former Royal Knitting factory was renovated into apartment buildings. Everlasting Valve, another of Evan’s and Grierson’s other operations, did not shut down at that time. It operated for a while out of a small building on Duke Street.