A Rich History
At the centre of Paris for over 125 years.
The original Wincey Mills building is 125 years old, and distributed its high-grade, all-wool wares, at one time, from Halifax to Victoria. Built on the site of an old planing factory, there is evidence that there was a small foundry across the road from the current site, and a tannery next door.
Once built, Wincey Mills opened with 25 employees, quickly growing to a company of 125, and adding an additional mill to the original site in 1916. During the Great Depression, when other businesses were suffering, Wincey Mills and Penmans operated at capacity, running, in one report, both day and night. It was because of these textile mills that the town of Paris as a whole suffered less during the Great Depression, and this is a testament to the Mill’s importance to the community at that time.
In 1934, when the depression was at its worst, Paris Wincey Mills and Co even increased the wages of its workers. One author describes the mills as "an integral part of life in Paris” calling “many of its employees, especially executives... prominent in town affairs".
In 1959, after the end of World War II, the orders for cloth goods had sufficiently diminished that the local newspaper published an article about the Mills possible closure. This closure was prevented by Listowel Industrialist & Associates, who bought the mills in order to continue producing yarn for the company Spinrite Yarns and Dyers.
The Mills location, at the apex of the Nith and Grand River, is an important aspect of the history of the site. Not only was Paris one of the first towns to develop a dedicated water works (using 124 gallons of water per day, six times as much as surrounding areas), but much of its production was owed to its location near these two rivers. We know there were at least three mill-races produced in order to to power production plants such as Wincey Mills.
Owing to the amount of water needed for the manufacturing process known as "scouring", whereby oil was removed from wool by steam. The Wincey Mills at one time also had a dam, and there is evidence that employees and residents would use the dam as an impromptu ice rink.
Water was not only a useful and necessary ingredient of the Mill’s production process, but also impacted the form of the building: the floor of the building was raised to minimize the impact of historic flooding, since the building stands only 100m from the shore of the river. In this way, a basement space with large, bricked in windows stands as a testament to the Mills complicated but vital relationship with water.
It was only in the 1850’s and 1860’s that the woollen industry became important in Canada, with cotton becoming a focus of the textile producers only later in 1870. The Wincey Mills seems to have been built according to traditional approaches to mill architecture of the time, with large windows to provide natural light for workers spinning and weaving, which was preferred for safety reasons over artificial light.
Even though by 1810 Britain had developed a fireproof mill style, Wincey Mills still had wooden joists, wooden posts and wooden beams – all of which had been replaced by non-flammable materials such as cast iron by builders in Britain at the time. We find evidence in The History of the County of Brant, Ontario, that manufacturers of wool in Brant County, which would have included The Paris Wincey Mills, got much of their raw materials from England, Scotland and the Cape of Good Hope, as Canadian wool was at that time too coarse for the manufacturing process.
Although there is no direct evidence of this fact, it is interesting to consider The Paris Wincey Mills Co. as having very much taken part in the international trade of goods and services, linking Paris, through textiles, to places far outside of Canada- all the way to the Cape of Good Hope.