We Cover The Floor: Guelph Carpet

Sold: Not Once but Thrice

When Kloepfer had died in 1913, he left the now elderly Dodds with the company to manage, although Kloepfer’s estate was involved. However, in 1918, the company was bought by a rather intriguing individual – Mr. W.C. Gaunt of Bradford England. William “Willie” Clifford Gaunt was, by this time, in the middle of expanding his empire. He owned mills in and around Bradford. Before his fortune exploded in the economic disaster of the 1930s, he had businesses in Yorkshire, France, Belgium, the United States, Germany and Canada. He was also a theatrical magnate, gaining control of several theatres including:

1.   The Gaiety

2.   The Apollo

3.   His Majesty’s (Aberdeen)

4.   Adelphi

5.   Wintergarden

6.   Shaftesbury

 His life style was flamboyant. Not only did he retain a permanent suite at London’s famous Savoy, he also interacted with famous socialites and personalities. He knew Fred Astaire and, at one point, had even been engaged to his sister, Adelle.

Gaunt had a bigger image of Guelph Carpet. He amalgamated Guelph Carpet with Guelph Worsted and Spinning Mills. The company became officially known as the Guelph Carpet and Worsted Spinning Mill, although it was also locally referred to as the Spinning Mills and the Carpet Mills.

He was also more than a little acquainted with Dodds and the latest super at the company – Gethins. Dodds had communicated with Gaunt at least once in 1916. Gethins is also mentioned in the same letter dated July 17, which requests Gaunt to receive the bearer of this letter (Gethins) and help him by supplying him with a ticket to Guelph as well as cheque for immigration department for someone Gethins had hired to “take charge of [the] Axminster looms.”

Under Gaunt, the company grew in stature and production. During this period, he retained Harry Quarmby, a former City Alderman and one who had experience in the industry in England. Quarmby became GM in 1917, and went on to become President as well as GM of the company. Under Gaunt, WH Towle was secretary and treasurer. W. Laidlaw was superintendent. For the only time since he had become involved in the mill in 1871, Robert Dodds was no longer listed as an active participant in the company he had helped to build.

In 1922, Guelph Carpet and Worsted was providing a local textile company – Samuel Carter’s Royal Knitting Co, with yarns, but in the years to follow it steadily increased its presence in the Ontario and Canadian markets. This all came to a shrieking halt with the global crash of the markets in the 1930s. Once again Guelph Carpet found itself up for sale. When exactly in the 1930s this occurred is not yet known. However, the new owner, a James M. Clancy, retained much of the same management structure. Harry Quarmsby remained with the company and is listed as the general manager over several years including 1938 with a Benjamin F Briggs as the secretary treasurer in 1941.

Guelph Carpet and Worsted continued to move ahead, doing well during World War II and following its conclusion. It made products for the military and increased its production capability. However, along the way, Clancy lost sight of who held the most stocks in Guelph Carpet and Worsted. In 1944, Clancy discovered he was no longer the majority stock holder. This title now belonged to Harding Inc. – a carpet company with headquarters in Brantford. It was now in control of 90% of the stock.

Initially, Harding made no changes. In 1944, Harry Quarmby was president and managing director. Briggs continued as secretary-treasurer. However, in 1948, perhaps responding to the growing needs of the company, a new position appeared. This was assistant general manager. It was held by Douglas Keefe, who had been with the firm since around 1922. Keefe was later to become VP for the company, mainly for the worsted division, appointed to this position starting in 1948. This was also the year when Guelph Carpet and Worsted was renamed Guelph Yarns, Ltd.

Strikes: Harding Carpet

Guelph Carpet and Worsted became one of the largest employers in the city, providing (at its peak) work for around 600 Guelphites and the second largest worsted spinning mills in the country. It had agents in Quebec and sold its yarns and carpets across Canada. The company provided Canadian with a variety of carpets including the Sherbrooke Seamless Axminster and the patterned Worsted Wilton available in Oriental designs. The worsted division made plain and fancy hand knitting yarns for retail stores across the country under the brand name of Guelph Yarns as well as plain and fancy machine knitting yarns for mechanized companies.

Yet, being successful and a major local employer did not grant immunity from strikes. Workers went out five times under Harding management. These took place in the following years:

·        1941, May 31- June 2: 35 workers “unofficially” went on strike. The Guelph Trades and Labour Council aced as intermediary to end the dispute on the promise the Council would negotiate for increased wages

·        1953, June 17-July 13: This struck both factories owned by Harding in Guelph with 429 workers out. Douglas Keefe announced on July 14 that the workers would receive a wage increase as part of a two-year contract

·        1954, February 16-19: 92 workers struck at Guelph and Brantford

·        1968, September 12: This was a wild-cat strike by approximately 166 employees, all members of Local 741. It lasted a single day before union officials had workers return to their job

·        1971, April 12-June 14: This was a legal action rejecting the latest contract in spite of the recommendation of the negotiating committee

The strike in 1971 was the last to hit Guelph Yarn/Harding Carpet. Relations remained relatively peaceful until the company finally ceased to operate.

The Building Outlasts All Owners

The company, which locals, between 1918 and 1939 called “Queen Street College” referring to those who left school without planning to go further, closed its doors in 1975. It then became Dobbie Industries, with its last occupant being Lens Mills. This was the final business to occupy the building before being it was converted into condos under the name Mill Lofts. Yet, its durability as a continuous functioning industry is indicative of the tenacity and determination of its diverse owners. Overall, they were trying to live up to a slogan once sported on a Guelph Carpet 1918 Armistice Parade float: “THE BOYS KHAKI COVER THE EARTH. WE COVER THE FLOORS.”

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