The Mill – revisited 25 years later

by Jun 14, 2024Community1 comment

by Bruce McLaughlin
April 2024

A few months ago I came across the DWW “throwback” website .

I found this interesting, particularly the photographs, as my father, Pat McLaughlin, worked at DWW from the early 30s until November 1957 when it was heading towards receivership. Dad’s father also worked there, as well as most of Dad’s brothers and sisters. I found references and photos of them on the website.

Looking at some of the photos also brought back memories of my own time at “the mill”. The building and the machinery looked to me in the late 60s no different than they do in the photos from the early 40s.

After DWW went into receivership the building was taken over largely by Silknit Ltd. But I worked for a smaller company called Waterloo Textiles which had the second floor of the first two buildings past the office. I worked there every Saturday for over three years starting in 1968.

DWW 1930s

Dominion Woollens 1930 – Front View

DWW undated

Dominion Woollens undated – Rear View

In the photos above, the red arrows show where Waterloo Textiles was located. The blue line goes to the entrance, and the green arrow shows where the back office was located.

All of the photos are on the DWW website.

In the rightmost building (see front picture), where I worked, there was a centre aisle with banks of machinery on each side. On the rear side of the aisle there were four banks of spinning machines, 6 rows in each bank. The front side was similar but with different types of machinery.

My Job

Spinning MachineThere were 4 of us, all high school students, who cleaned the fluff off of the machines every week. I cleaned 2 of the 4 banks of spinning machines. We cleaned the machines using compressed air. We used what looked like industrial strength black rubber garden hoses. These connected to shut off valves on pipes which went up to the ceiling. The pipe system eventually went to an air compressor in the basement. The end of the hose had a ¼” metal pipe attached to it as a nozzle. To stop the air flow we used a cone shaped fibre bobbin. We bent the hose in half and shoved the bobbin over it to hold it shut.

(photo: Spinning machine)

To clean the spinning machines I held the hose at about 45 degrees and worked from the top to the bottom of the machine being very careful to not aim at the yarn as the blast of air would break it. I was essentially blowing all of the fluff which had accumulated during the week down towards the floor. I would do the rear of the first machine, then the front. Then I would blow the fluff, etc. underneath the machine. Finally I would walk down the row between that machine and the next one to sweep it up; although initially I would shuffle down the row and pick up the knee high fluff at the end before sweeping the last of it. I would continue this for the second row and all the way through to the sixth row. After lunch I moved on to the second bank of machines and did this all over again.

The pay rate for cleaners was $1.32 / hr. Pay cheques were handed out on Thursdays for the previous week. I’d get off the school bus and walk through both buildings to the back office, where our cheques were held. Unlike Saturday, it was very noisy and very hot with all of the machinery running.

Old Machinery

The spinning machines we cleaned looked similar, but not identical, to the picture above.

Dominion Woollens air compressorMost Saturdays the air compressor was already on. If it was not however we had to go down to the basement to turn it on. Our compressor looked older than the one in the picture. Even though the basement had windows it was dark and the compressor made a lot of noise when starting up. It was a bit frightening to do it and I was always glad when it was already running!

While we could take the stairs to the compressor, there was also an old elevator which ran from the 3rd floor to the basement.

Dominion Woollens elevatorThe elevator shaft and the elevator cage both had gates which looked like the side of a wooden baby crib. Each gate was about 5’ high and slid up to the ceiling. To enter the elevator, you would pull the shaft gate up past your head, then again with the cage gate. One side of the cage had an opening at the front about 6” wide. In that opening, between the cage and the shaft wall, there was a ½” wire rope with an egg shaped metal ball connected to it at chest level.

There are no elevator photos on the DWW site.

However, the Hespeler Heritage Centre have kindly provided a photo (see right). 

Watch a video of a similar elevator below.

Compared to this video, in the mill’s elevator cage:

  • the gap for the rope was much narrower
  • there was a full wooden ceiling
  • there was no rear entrance
  • there was no auto-stop mechanism.

To go up, you would reach in and pull the egg down about six inches. The elevator would start moving. When you were at the next level and ready to stop, you would reach in and pull the egg up. With practice, you could stop with the cage aligned to the floor. But, if there were no carts to move, you could be a few inches off and just step up or down once you had opened both gates.

If the elevator was not at your floor, there was a similar opening to the side of the shaft and the wire rope worked the same way. To go down, rather than up, simply reverse the pull instructions. Needless to say, this was frightening to operate, at least at first!

The Mill in the 50’s

My brother remembers going into the mill in the 50’s: I often recall the times I went to the Mill to take Dad’s lunch to him if he worked on Saturdays. I did see and hear the spinning mules and I have always remembered the smell of the wool. I got lost sometimes and had to ask for help finding the Mule Spinning room. I even recall the names of the men who directed me there. I rode in the elevator you mentioned with Dad and remember that it rarely stopped level with the floor. I saw the foreman’s desk and, at the end, I was in the main office when Dad was the Department Head.

1 Comment

  1. Ford Goodburn

    There were a few elevators that had pull rope or cables in the mill, I know because I worked in the maintenance shop and repaired some of them.


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