The Clark Brother’s Blanket Factory, Greensville, West Flamborough Township

Originally Published in Heritage Happenings, April 2007
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Today there is little evidence of the once important industrial sites that were located along the banks of the Spencer Creek in West Flamborough Township during much of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Spencer Creek, once known as Flamboro’ or Morden’s Creek provided the power that fuelled an amazing array of industrial buildings located between Crook’s Hollow and Greensville-Bullock’s Corners. Although never as important as the industrial complex of Crook’s Hollow, several of the mills and factories of the Greensville-Bullock’s Corners area continued to operate into the twentieth century before disappearing from the landscape.

Correspondence from William Clark to the Wanzer Soap Co., Hamilton. Clark requested scouring soap, cotton seed oil and tallow in the correspondence, all used in the dyeing and washing process of wool cloth and blankets.

In 1841, William Bullock Sr. from Staffordshire, England who had arrived in West Flamborough Township almost a decade earlier and established a hotel on the Brock Road, purchased property from Peter Van Every, which included land on both sides of the Spencer Creek and water rights. A small industrial complex consisting of a warehouse and a large grist and sawmill were erected by Bullock in 1850 to serve the incoming settlers.

For much of the next decade, William Bullock was involved in township politics and the day-to-day operation of the mills was left to Bullock’s sons, William Jr. and Joseph. There was a steady decline in water power and steam engines were introduced and installed in the warehouse. At the same time, William Sr. invited his older sister Mary Ann and her husband Joseph Jackson to come to Canada to assist with the family’s mills, possibly because of Jackson’s skills as a millwright. For much of the decade, the mills continued to experience problems, so the steam engines were removed and the property and water rights leased to Andrew, James and William Clark and their partner, Matthew Langley on 10 April 1866.

The Clark brothers were described as “progressive young Scots who came to Canada in 1855.” Their lease agreement included the use of the mill and water rights, the right to convert the mill from grist and saw mill to a woollen mill and the right to house it with woollen machinery. They immediately installed machinery for the manufacture of blankets and cloth which they sold “throughout the newly settled countryside.”

A year later, their business suffered a serious setback when the buildings were completely destroyed by fire and there was no insurance on either the machinery or contents. The Clark brothers agreed to sign another lease for five years, “to commence when a new stone building was erected by the Bullock brothers.” A three storey high, rectangular factory of coursed rubble stone with a unique sand and iron mortar was built, with the interior partitions also of stone construction. The Clarks, as operators agreed to assume the insurance on the building, maintain the property, including water rights and the dam – the rent for the first two years was $200, rising to $300 for the fourth and fifth years.

The new building withstood the serious floods of 19 April 1869, when “a torrent of rain and melting snow partly destroyed Clark and Langley’s Dam across Spencer Creek and much of the building’s foundations.” On 27 July 1871, before their lease expired, the Clarks purchased the building, water rights and factory property from the Bullock family for $7,000.

William Clark and Matthew Langley left the partnership soon after, but the other two brothers, James and Andrew Clark, continued to operate a blanket factory, installing “new looms, mules, spinners, driers and dyeing tanks” and making it one of the most successful textile mills in Ontario, providing employment to many in the area for over sixty years. The brothers were regarded as excellent employers and there was always a waiting list of local inhabitants seeking work.

During the 1880s, additional buildings were added to the original structure to house huge boilers and steam engines that were installed as the water power of the Spencer Creek declined. Gordon Jackson, a grandson of Mary Ann and Joseph Jackson who had settled at Bullock’s Corners in the 1850s, recalled the Clark factory in an article he wrote that appeared in the Dundas Star on 11 March 1953. “I can remember walking through the aisles of the building. On the first floor and the entire length were the spinning machines. To the left upstairs was a long line of looms and all the busy weavers. Downstairs were the dying vats and driers of yarn, the latter used when the weather was unsuitable outside. And finally the finishing room, where huge spools of woollen blankets were cut to length and edged with a brilliant red or yellow yarn and then taken upstairs and baled for shipment.”

Andrew Clark retired from the partnership in 1900, leaving James and his son-in-law, Fred Thornton to run the business under the name of the Clark Blanket Company, until his death in 1921. During the period between the war years, the millpond was a favourite swimming area for the local teenagers, much to the concern of the owners who often released a batch of blue indigo dye into the pond as a deterrent.

Clark’s Blanket Factory prior to floods of 1938 – from our collection.

John and Gilbert Clark, sons of James, continued production until 1938, when a severe Spring flood washed away the dam, destroyed part of the mills foundation and caused the death of John Clark. The damage to the factory from the Spring flooding was so severe and coupled with John Clark’s death, it spelt the demise of the company. The remaining structure was abandoned, and the building gradually dismantled.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 2007, 2024.


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