Magdalene Lerch – A 1920s R. Forbes & Co. Employee

by Jan 4, 2024Hespeler1 comment

Magdalene Lerch

Magdalene and friends sitting behind the Mill at the lower dam

by Marty Lachance

Wayne Collens from British Columbia recently wrote us and filled us in on his mother’s life story in Hespeler and her time working at the R.Forbes Co. on Queen Street.

First a bit of Mill history:

After buying out his partner, Jonathan Schofield in 1880, Robert Forbes officially became the sole owner of the mill on the Speed River. He continued to build up his small textile mill, the R. Forbes Co, Ltd. In 1888, the company incorporated and his son George became the President. George and his brother James ran operations, however James died only 2 years into the venture. His father Robert, passed away in 1895.

George ran the company until 1928 when it was sold to Dominion Woollens and Worsteds.

One of George’s employees was Magdalene “Mag” Lerch.

R. Forbes Company

From her son, Wayne Collens:

“Mag was born March 21, 1903 on a farm in Mildmay, Ontario, a second generation Canadian of German grandparents. In 1912 the family moved to a new farm at 1066 Lerch Road, Breslau, Ontario.”

1066 Lerch Road

The Lerch family home at 1066 Lerch Road. Google 2023.

“After finishing grade 8 in a one-room rural school she worked on the farm until she was 18, circa 1921. She tells of working in the woollen mill in Hespeler and although we do not know what her job was, she was adept at sewing all of her life. We expect that she worked on the spinning machines. She talked of living near the mill, up the hill and of the lady who ran the ‘boarding house’ where the girls lived. Mother’s pay was forwarded to her parents by the boarding house lady who unknown to mom quietly held back some of her pay. One day on mom’s birthday the boarding house lady gave mom a new guitar, something mom had always wanted. She was proud of her job and although we do not know how long she worked there she was married in 1928.”
Magdalene Lerch

1922-24. Hespeler

Magdalene Lerch


Friend of Magdalene Lerch

Friend of Magdalene at the R.Forbes Company. standing in front of a high speed woollen spinning mule. c. 1920

Mag would go on to have 3 boys (Bernie, b. 1930, d. 1989, Wayne, b. 1944, and Richard, b. 1945). After the Mill, she would live in Preston, Guelph, Aylmer and finally Calgary with her two remaining sons. She would pass in 1996 at the age of 93.

Thanks, Mag, for your time spent with the community in Hespeler!

A big thanks to her son, Wayne, for bringing back her story and photos for all of us to enjoy.

1 Comment

  1. Wayne Mawhiney

    Very interesting. Really enjoyed reading this.


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