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.