The Housing Crisis

by Jun 8, 2023Turner Tales0 comments

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by Lary Turner

It seems each day the mainstream media features a story on the need for more housing. Indeed, due to the increasing population in our region there definitely is high demand for all types of accommodation. Solutions to this crisis have been proposed by many levels of government, developers and other vested interests; but this is not just a current problem.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, tens of thousands were without adequate housing, having lost their jobs, their homes and were forced to relocate to other areas seeking work. As the economy recovered, companies and businesses began to expand and by the 1940s, they required workers to staff vacancies and actively began recruiting.

Housing in Hespeler was very limited during the period when the Second World War began. Our largest company, Dominion Woollens & Worsted Co. Ltd., was awarded large contracts from the Department of Supply & Services to manufacture cloth for military uniforms. This would require staffing up to operate 24/6 (still observing the Sabbath). In order to recruit the necessary workers, housing would have to be found as quickly as possible.

The solution for the company, was to purchase housing for their employees. D.W.& W. first purchased the former Lester Weaver house, across Queen St. West, which was renamed “Gordon Hall” and renovated to house 70 young women who were employed on the night shift.

The next purchase was “Nelson House”, followed by “Hillside” (the former Lewis Kribs house on Guelph Avenue). Then the company purchased land on Cedar St. (now Winston Blvd.) and constructed a large dormitory-style building named “Whitehall” (later renamed “Winston Hall”) that could house 145 young women.

But this wasn’t the”Big Mill’s” first venture into providing housing for its employees. The Robt. Forbes Co. (predecessor of D.W.& W.) had six houses built on company property just to the east of the main building. Other houses were provided in other areas of town mainly for the use of management and supervisory staff and their families.

These ventures into the housing market continued during the war years as  the company purchased land from the former Solomon Bechtel farm and developed new housing subdivisions to sell to its employees. This had the effect of tying the employee to the company as D.W.& W. held their mortgages. D.W.&W. Co. housing developments were constructed on Woodsdale St., Cedar St., Oak St., Weaver St., Millvue St., Walnut St., Edward St. And Beech St.

From 1949 and December 1955, the company was faced with stiff competition from imported textiles and their workforce shank from a high of 1,357 to a low of 552 employees. Over 200 employees owned or had mortgages on homes purchased from D.W.&.W.

Could this be a solution to our current housing crisis?


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