Thanks for your comments about the elastic on the Windsor Wear post.
This photo is for you Roger Weir! I took it last year while standing on tiptoe peeking through a window into the plant floor area.
Thanks for your comments about the elastic on the Windsor Wear post.
Windsor is a small town in rural Nova Scotia, situated at the extreme eastern end of the Annapolis Valley. From the settlement by Empire Loyalists in the late 18th century, after the US War of Independence from Britain, until the 3rd quarter of the 19th century, shipbuilding, agriculture and shipping created its wealth, held in the hands of about half a dozen families. In 1897 the town burned down almost completely. It was rebuilt largely on the basis of the established wealth. Its population grew to about 4,000 where it still is today.
On the initiative of local investors, a Windsor architect, E. P. Butler, built a cotton processing plant in 1884 following a design called “Standard English Mill Construction”. It was designed for carding, spinning and weaving basic cotton fabrics. As these local investors knew nothing of cotton processing they recruited experienced people from England, both for management and for the actual operations.
In 1891, after some difficult economic years, the factory was sold to the Dominion Cotton Mills Company. Because of its location outside the town limits the factory escaped the big fire. The factory closed due to economic conditions from 1912 until 1916.
In 1916 the mill was bought by the Nova Scotia Underwear Company. In 1922 the company was reorganized, modernized and consolidated with a complete range of underwear for men, women and children. In the 1960s serious competition from Asia and other low wage countries began to influence the company. Initiatives were taken for diversification of the product line into high quality winter underwear and sweat wear. Flame Resistant Safety Knit Garments were developed in the 1990s.
In 1977 the then Nova Scotia Textiles, Limited began producing specialized sports wear for Roots Canada. This mutually productive relationship lasted until 2003 when Roots could no longer compete in its markets without outsourcing its manufacturing to lower wage countries. This left only a small unit of about 25 staff at the Windsor plant producing the fire resistant fabrics and products and it was closed finally in the Fall of 2005.
The Nova Scotia Textiles mill never employed more than 200 people. Hence in a town of 4,000 people it directly supported about 200 families or with a multiplier of 5 to 7 that would be about 25-30% of the population.
The building was sold to developers who proposed to change its purpose while retaining the unique architectural exterior and interior highlights. The upper floor would include luxury condominiums; the second floor high-end business offices and art gallery spaces. The ground floor would have a day market and specialty shops, restaurant as well as a microbrewery and pub. (www.millisland.ca)
When I took the photography in November 2006 almost all of the machinery had been taken out of the building and a start had been made with the restoration and modifications. Fortunately the exterior was still in its old state while the typical spaces of a textile factory were still in place. A lot of old equipment was still lying around giving the impression of a past glory and a place in transition. I profited from the very low sunlight of a late November afternoon, which produced fine light inside as well as outside the building.
The Windsor Wear Mill (Mill Island) project was discontinued for financial reasons and the building and site are now in bad shape. The intended renovations required the removal of the heating plant and the chimney as well as some external tanks and buildings that were sitting at the foot of the chimney. Of all the small buildings and the heating plant/chimney only the pump house and some kind of general storage shed are left, standing somewhat forlorn by themselves, rotting away. I took some images of the pump house interior and was struck by the green shiny glazed tiles that are a kind of wainscoting. The heating plant left a huge spotty white scar and the drain piping running above the scar has become a roost for pigeons. The pump intake was connected to a large pond that stored water in case of fire. The pictures below show one of 2006 and the current one. There is no longer a reflection in the pond of the architecture of this Standard English Mill that dates from the 1884, or from a design point of view probably from the early 19th century.
I could not enter the building but could see through the windows of the ground floor that all the pillars had been sandblasted, a job that was started when I photographed the interior in 2006. I believe they are all solid maple. The building probably holds a few hundred of those pillars, as there are very few internal bearing walls in textile plants. The developers have made a great effort to put them in their original state. They also replaced all old windows with modern insulated ones. I saw that the ground floor was mostly empty except for a lonely “bolt car”. The mill is not unique in the province as there is a similar one in Yarmouth. Yet there remains a nobility and beauty in the architecture and interior spaces that echo the prosperity, pride and progress these factories symbolized for the people who worked there. It would be a crying shame if the Windsor Wear Mill would be left to fall apart.
I am including some interior pictures I made in 2006 when there was still quite a bit of old machinery.
I travelled to Hantsport first to see what has happened to the Fundy Gypsum
terminal since it closed in November 2011 and what the current status of the
Minas Basin Pulp and Power company is now. Hantsport is a small town of about
2,000 people at the eastern end of the Annapolis Valley. In the 18th century it
had a strong economy based on shipbuilding, agriculture and shipping with some
mining (gypsum). The town has been hit by the closure of Fundy Gypsum and
Minas Basin Pulp and Power in 2011 and 2012 resp. Losing almost 200 jobs.
The Fundy Gypsum Company started in Windsor, Nova Scotia in 1924 and
shut down operations in November 2011. http://thechronicleherald.ca/business/
32929-windsor-area-gypsum-mine-closes The main reason for the closure was
the dreadful condition of the USA housing market from 2008 onwards. The
business was a year-round operation, with approximately 150 employees in three
locations: Miller's Creek, Wentworth and Hantsport. The quarries in Wentworth
and Miller's Creek are located within 15 kilometers of the Hantsport shiploading
facilities (Fundy Gypsum Terminal). All rock produced at Wentworth and Miller's
Creek was transported by rail to Hantsport where it was stockpiled in a massive
storage shed. The unique aspect of the Hantsport operation was that cargo ships
could dock on the rising tide and sail at the following high tide. With an average
loading time of less than three hours for 40,000 tons of cargo, the Hantsport
facility was one of the fastest shiploading operations in the world. Ships were
specially designed to a size and draft that would allow the loading within the time
window given by the tidal regime. The closure was bad news for the Town of
Hantsport that lost $750,000/year in tax revenue.
I photographed the loading facility as well as the storage shed, which truly is
I took some photographs of the exterior of the Minas Basin Pulp and Power plant.
The mill began operations in 1927. When it closed in the Fall of 2012, it produced
100% recycled paperboard products--liner board and core board. It operated
under the holding company Scotia Investments Ltd, which also owns CKF, a
paper plate manufacturer that operates in the same location. About 40 of the 135
workers that were affected by the closure are being transferred to CKF. I have
an interview scheduled for January with one of the directors and hope to make
some interior photos in the old plant.
Since the last contribution to the blog Hannah and I have been busy with other projects, which allowed us to gain experience and test the audience waters for some of the approaches we had in mind for the various presentations of Ribbon to the Future.
Hannah developed the notion of “community engagement” as stated in our project summary with Portraits on Portland, the main street in Downtown Dartmouth where gentrification is becoming a fact of life. She photographed shopkeepers, small business owners and characters of this street for the exhibition she held in September at Alderney Landing in Dartmouth. She also organized community conversations around a wall-sized, handmade map of the street hanging with the photography in the gallery. It contained all its interesting detail and annotated perceptions of the future of this street as explored in these conversations. The map became an integral part of the show for its duration.
Meanwhile I experimented with the making of a book on a project I completed with a solo show at ViewPoint Gallery in Halifax: Come from Away, Artists of Minas Basin (2004). I wanted to know about costs, time to print, necessary quality for best printing of colour and black and white photography. I first produced a hard copy book with a wrap cover and uncoated fibre paper, which I thought to be best for printing the black and white photography. I printed a limited, numbered edition of 50 which was well received but could not be commercially successful because of the small local audience and the high cost ($52). I then experimented with a soft cover edition and found that combined with coated matte paper this delivered good results for the printing the photographs. I had editorial help from author Susan Haley who taught me that putting a photographic show between two covers does not make a book. You need some kind of story line for that. It took me quite a while to think one up but I believe I succeeded thanks to her encouragement. With a run of about 20 copies the unit price was $26 including tax and shipping.
The experience over the last 6 months took us away from field work but it was essential for the longer term success of the project as we are in a much better position to assess the public impact as well as costs of the approaches we can take in presenting the results of the Ribbon to the Future project.
Kelly Marie Redcliffe
Kelly Marie Redcliffe is the Wolfville Farmer's Market manager. She has been the backbone of this weekly gathering of food producers, crafts people and eaters of good food since 2001, building the health and vibrancy of the community through sustainable partnerships. Kelly likes to make things happen, she feels the move to the deWolfe building has given her a real foundation to build on with a sense of permanence.
Check out the market website to find your favourite vendors, community events and lots more. I'm heading over there for the lunchtime yoga today, maybe I'll see you there?
Well summer breezed in with temperatures up to 27C, then was blasted out by a chill wind, just like it usually happens here in Nova Scotia. Except this time it only lasted for three days.... and it came somewhat early this year - in March! I'm really hoping that was a taste of what's to come later this year.
I'm in Wolfville for most of the month of March on a self-created artist retreat to work on Ribbon to the Future. In between things like shovelling the driveway at 6:30am and having supper on the deck overlooking the tidal flats, I have been meeting with and photographing some wonderful people in the area.
I decided to use the car as little as possible while I am here and have been walking everywhere in Wolfville, with short drives to Black River, Canning and Berwick. I thought I'd try out King's Transit (which now connects communities right through the Annapolis Valley!) on my way to see the roasting at T.A.N. Coffee in Coldbrook, but I have to admit a sudden reluctance to getting on the bus. Was it just because it was one more new thing to figure out? Or was it because I'd have to get on the bus at 7am for an 8am meeting? I'm up early every day, so that couldn't be the reason. At home (Dartmouth) we don't own a car, so I walk, take the bus and ferry regularly, you can imagine how this reluctance really surprised me. In the end I drove, my excuse being a gorgeous surprise visit from my husband and daughter which led to a slow morning with me running late. How lame is that?
In the next few posts I'll tell you a bit about the people I have met and most importantly, I'll share some of my favourite photographs.
Do you live in the Annapolis Valley? I'd like to hear from you - what are you doing that's innovative in the way of sustainable food production, transportation, energy, community or youth engagement? Leave a comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sponsor Ribbon to the Future
Dr Shiva looks at a book © John Hillis 2012
Everyone loves the books! Even Dr Shiva took a moment to complement me on them during the Valley Sustainability Showcase.
To sponsor Ribbon to the Future, you may purchase a hand made concertina book (3"x4"; $20 each) a signed, framed print (16"x20"; $175) or an unframed print (11"x15" or 11"x11"; $100).
Hannah working at our booth © John Hillis 2012
Over 200 members of the public attended the Valley Sustainability Showcase at the Wolfville Farmer's Market yesterday!
With small steps, people just like you and me are creating social and economically responsible communities in the Annapolis Valley: Donna at Kid's Action gardens with children, Peggy is working to save the planet, Joan lives sustainably on an old property near Minas Basin, Megan is studying environmental sustainability, by living more sustainably Jennine is trying to create a socially responsible world and Randall is a homesteader and artist living in a unique house.
Thank you for supporting Ribbon to the Future with such enthusiasm. Now it's your turn to tell me about what you're doing!
Summary of a conversation with Mr. Burt Messenger, retired Manager of Materials of Britex in Centerlea near Bridgetown.
Hannah and I have been photographing the exterior of the Britex plant, closed since 2004, in different seasons. It is not the first time I have photographed defunct factories and again, taking the Britex pictures gave me the same sense of unease, as if I were recording something surreal or too private to be recorded. Curious to know more about the history of the plant I recently had a conversation with Burt Messenger (Retired Manager of Materials).
The factory started out in 1960 in a one-story building as branch of United Elastic Limited based in New York. It manufactured elastic textiles used in a large variety of garments produced in other factories, at the time mostly in Canada. It expanded its operating area in 1964, 1968 and 1970 to reach a total of 144,000 square feet suggesting healthy growth and potential. In 1970 approximately 240 people were employed. An unintended effect of the employment opportunities was that many farmers stopped farming and worked in the factory sometimes with their wives and even children. The plant also employed the wives of fishermen from Port Lorne and Hampton on the Bay of Fundy. During the first decade the company continued as United Elastic Division of J. P. Stevens and Company Inc. a New York holding company.
In the course of the second decade the plant slowly declined in productivity mostly as a consequence of limited investment in innovation and modernization as well as international marketing. The new owners, J. P. Stevens and Company Inc of New York, recognized the remote location of the plant from markets and suppliers as well as energy costs and were not interested in taking on the risks of making serious investments in innovation in production processes, marketing and new machinery. By 1980 the holding company declared that the enterprise was not sufficiently profitable and prepared for closure at the same time as closing similar plants in Belgium and Mexico thus concentrating exclusively on its United States operations.
However, the general manager of the factory, Sandy Archibald and his managers, developed a take-over proposal by managers and employees. They shared a conviction that the plant could be turned around by creating a sense of common purpose among all, by innovation in production methods, marketing, better labor-management relations and by taking advantage of government industrial assistance programs.
Archibald and his team developed a business plan and negotiated a $1.1 million incentive grant with the federal Department of Regional Economic Expansion (DREE) toward the acquisition of the plant and job retention as well as an initial 10 year loan of $1,7 million from Industrial Estates Limited. The remaining finances to secure a through start of the company came from personal loans by the managers mostly as mortgages on their homes. In August 1980 they were back in business with all of the old employees in their jobs after only 2 weeks having been shut down.
The ownership structure of the new company Britex Limited included that management hold 80% of stock and employees could buy 20%. In addition there was a profit sharing plan for all employees. Initially employees received in profit-sharing only 10% of pre-tax annual earnings to make sure that most profits were re invested in improving the plant’s profitability through innovation of production processes. About half the staff signed up as shareholders.
A joint labor-management committee was established to ensure input into policy from the employees. Initially the committee had equal representation of management and employees and was chaired by an independent chairman recommended by Canada Manpower. Later the committee was entirely made up of employees with an elected chairman. One of the first initiatives of the committee was the development of an income protection plan.
The company grew by significant improvements in productivity, profitability and labor relations. It became a shining example of how a company can be managed under a more democratic management system where respect for employees’ knowledge and experience is being tapped to improve production, think up innovations as they did for example in converting the heating systems from oil to wood chips.
In the first year of its existence it won the Nova Scotia Export Achievement Award for the greatest increase in exports in a year. It made the finals in the federal government’s Canada Awards for Excellence in Productivity, Innovation and Design. The company also became a significant benefactor for civic projects in Bridgetown and surrounding areas, these projects being recommended by the employees. Sandy Archibald also gave guest lectures on the company’s transformation at Acadia University Business School.
Yet against this very positive background, an attempt was nevertheless made by the United Steelworkers Union of America Local 9181 to unionize the factory. In June 1987 all of the 159 hourly paid workers voted but defeated the application. Newspaper articles reflect the surprise by management that there were employees who wanted a union They felt that there were adequate venues for serious employee input into the working conditions and innovation processes and that management was receptive to dealing with any issues. But “The Britex Concerned Workers Group” did not see it that way. They said that “they were not prepared to share their “many grievances” with the media but that they had lost confidence in management…..”
The company continued to be successful until:
1. the United States government created trade legislation that said only garments sewn outside the USA but made entirely of American produced parts and cloth could enter the country without duty
2. The rapidly growing imports of finished garments from Asia began to cause the closure of many Canadian garment factories.
The company thus lost many customers and it needed loan guarantees and other financial support to bridge a period in which it could develop new markets. These initiatives had promising success but the loan guarantees provided by governments did not hold out long enough to save the enterprise and it closed in 2004.
The Britex story illuminates the vulnerability of a branch plant economy in the force-field of globalization especially when it is the only major employer in the area. In a sense the story of Bri Tex could be the story of any of the many single industry communities in Canada. Yet it is different in that the initiative to take over the plant by management and employees in 1980 was successful for 20 years only to be undone by conditions entirely outside of its own control. I guess that my unease comes from the confirmation that communities are not abstractions but real people with very little apparent control over their livelihood.
Note: Burt Messenger loaned sources for this summary mostly as newspaper clippings to me. I am very grateful for that. Unfortunately there are gaps in the newspaper record and I especially missed Mr. Archibald’s “lament” mentioned in the letter “A question of trust” by the Britex concerned workers group to the editor of The Mirror in June 1987. My own sense is that the amazing story of this factory would be worthy of being published as a serious piece of history research.