Barber Woollen Factory

Barber’s Woollen Factories

Daily LeaderToronto, 1 September 1853

This place, which is to be a station of the Toronto and Sarnia railroad, has naturally caught the speculation infection, though it does not appear that enormous fortunes have been realized by operations in village lots. Two streets from the main Street, lots containing one-fifth of an acre, sell for $100 pounds. In the main street it seems that there is nothing in the market; though it is said that one owner of 110 acres in and adjoining the village, would part with his property for $60,000, if the offer were made.

The grading of the railroad is progressing near the village. The grade is heavy at this point.

The branch of the Credit, which runs through this place, is a feeble stream. It is, however, the seat of an important woollen factory; which is owned by Wm. Barber & Bros., — four in all, men of indomitable energy and perseverance. The establishment and success of this factory, and its Streetsville offshoot, already larger, in some respects than the parent stem, go far to solve an important question of political economy. The history of these two establishments shows that a certain degree of perfection in woollen manufacturers is possible in this Province, under the operation of a free trade tariff; a tariff of 12.5 per cent. on the importation of such articles as are manufactured here, and at Streetsville by the Brothers Barbers. These comprise Canadian Greys, Satinetts, Tweeds, Flannels, Blankets, and Carpeting; which latter articles is however, now almost entirely neglected by the firm. It is only necessary to trace the history of the establishments under the control of these four brothers to prove that the successful manufacture of the several woollen articles enumerated is quite compatible with our present free trade tariff. Sixteen years ago, last June, the four brothers located in this place, buying out a small concern that was then in existence. Their united capital was less than $3,000; the capital invested in the two concerns is now about $80,000, the reward of their industry and perseverance. This single fact is sufficient to confute the arguments of less disinterested manufacturers and old school economists that manufacture cannot exist in Canada under the operation of a free trade tariff. They not only exist but exceed well, when carried on by men of energy, … and perseverance. The concern here began with 10 spindles. It now contains 12 looms and the establishment at Streetsville, 16. The latter establishment is not yet in full operation. It is calculated to hold 60 looms; which will render it quite equal in capacity to McKechnie’s at Cobourg. The reason for going to Streetsville was the partial failure of the water power here; the machinery being too heavy for the water at a season of the year when the creek is lowest, which is generally about September. At such times it is necessary to use steam power in conjunction with that of water. The steam engine used is of about 15 horse power. It consumes about three cords of soft wood daily to keep up the stream; the cost, at this point, being a dollar a cord. To avoid this cost is a sufficient inducement to remove where water-power is accessible. If it were not for the absence of water-power, there is no reason why woollen manufactories should not be established in Toronto as well as anywhere else. The aggregate product of the factory at this place is about 50,000 yards a year that at Streetville will ultimately have a capacity equal to the production of 1,500 yards a day. The labour employed in woollen manufactures requires some … but it does not bear a large price. The average wages of the men employed is only about $1 a day; which, as things go now, is very moderate. The weaving is done by women. Of the 70 hands employed in the two establishments of the Barber Bros., about half are males and half females. They females who work by the pricemake from $10 to $16 a month, and board themselves. The Barber Bros. are no common men. They can themselves make all the machinery requisite in their manufacturing establishment; and what is possible to them is not possible to everybody else. There is no doubt, however, that any industrious and intelligent persons who understand the business and apply themselves energetically to it can make the manufacture of certain woollen fabrics in Canada profitable. Of the quality of the articles produced in these establishments we have yet said nothing. The blankets are excellent, and the flannels superior, especially in point of durability, to most of those imported. For the tweeds it is impossible to claim a equal to the best imported; and the reason of it is that the wool necessary to produce this article is a first degree of excellence is wanting. It might be had by recourse to importation, and this course is pursued by the establishment in Cobourg. The best wool is Sarcoug; but this is scarcely grown at all in Canada. Merino the next in quality, is produced in this Province to only a limited extent: some is grown in the township of Esquesing. The wool produced to the greatest extent in Canada is Leicester, or a cross between that breed and some of the others. This does very well for the manufacture of blankets; but it will make no other than a very coarse cloth. Pure Leicester is scarcely fit material for the manufacture of Canadian grey. The comparatively inferior qualities of Canadian wool operates against the extension of the manufacture of woollen fabrics of other descriptions than those now produced; and, on the other hand, it is quite probable that the absence of a local demand for finer descriptions of wool tends to prevent their cultivation here. But this demand is beginning to spring up; and there is believed to be no insuperable barrier in the climate to prevent its being supplied. Whatever woollen fabrics are produced here are able to compete with the foreign articles of the same description. This successful competition, while is proves the compatibility of establishing certain manufactures of woollen articles, encourages the hope of their future extension and still greater success under the operation of that free trade tariff which certain old fashioned persons hold to be incompatible with the success of manufacturing industry.

One of the Messrs. Barbers is anxious to get up a company for the manufacture of cotton fabrics. He contends that the 12.5 per cent. import duty is a sufficient guarantee of success. And why not?

The Grand Trunk railway party did not get beyond Acton on Saturday night.

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