History of Yarn in St. Thomas
In 1908, Monarch Knitting Ltd. opened a 72,000 square foot, four-storey manufacturing plant at 49 Metcalfe St. in St. Thomas where it spun worsted yarns for both the machine-knitting and hand-knitting trades. Between World War l and ll, it was the largest manufacturer of yarns in Canada, and largest employer of female labour in St. Thomas.
After the second World War, intense competition from other Canadian manufacturers forced Monarch to consolidate its manufacturing operations at its Dunnville, Ontario facility, and close the St. Thomas plant. To take advantage of this, Canadian Worsted Manufacturing Ltd., in 1949, opened a worsted spinning mill on Talbot St.
In 1957, George Gruber, President of Canadian Worsted, suffered a near fatal heart attack. In fear the manufacturing operation would close down if Gruber passed away, George Parkinson, the plant manager, secured backing from silent partners, Norman Inman and some English wool merchants, to start a new worsted spinning mill to be located in the vacant Monarch Knit Building on Metcalfe St., called Parkspin Ltd., which commenced operations in December of 1958.
Gruber immediately closed down Canadian Worsted and entered into an agreement with Parkinson to have Parkspin commission-spin all of Canadian Worsted’s yarn requirements.
Instead of Gruber dying of a heart attack, it was Parkinson who passed in 1960, forcing Inman to take over operation of Parkspin to protect his investments.
In 1964, Earl and Lavina Shaw, whose family was the founder of the Mary Maxim company, moved to St. Thomas to purchase Inman’s shares in Parkspin and take over operation of the company. The establishment of the Ford Assembly plant in Talbotville seemed to have an adverse effect on the textile labour market making things difficult.
In order to ensure continuity of supply, it was necessary in 1969 for Parkspin to build a modern worsted spinning mill in Scarborough for machine-knitting yarns, leaving the St. Thomas plant for the hand-knitting trade.
During the 1970’s, more of the St. Thomas production was transferred to Scarborough, and in 1980, the Metcalfe plant ceased operation, and was demolished in 1981. Shaw continued to operate Parkspin Ltd. as a retail factory yarn outlet.
In 1998, the Shaws sold it to Sharlene Moran who moved the location to 217 Talbot St. and ran it until September, 2008.
Welcome to St. Thomas’s newest yarn shop, LITTLE RED MITTEN. We are housed in an 1842 building which was built following St. Thomas’s first disastrous fire on Sept. 17, 1841. The fire burned all buildings on both sides of Talbot St. from Stanley St. to King St.
Our building, at 86 Talbot St. was home to some of the city’s earliest settlers – Murdoch McKenzie, Benjamin Drake, John Merry and John T. Merry. In 1986, Wayne and Melody McKinnon opened it as the Talbot Trail General Store and Tea Room.
Thank you to Earl and Lavina Shaw for their help with this brief history of yarn in St. Thomas. Much of this article is from the book, “Memories of St. Thomas and Elgin” – to the memory of George Thorman. Other interesting sources were, “Down the Street to Yesterday” and “St. Thomas: 100 Years a City 1881-1981”, all available at the St. Thomas Public Library.