It was a beautiful day as we headed north on the highway to meet up with other relations; my Auntie Ruth, cousin Rob and his wife Deb; to share an adventure at the Custom Woolen Mills Ltd., located near Carstairs, Alberta. There was quite a haze covering the landscape due to forest fires blazing in northern Alberta and British Columbia, but still the canola fields were golden and the undulating hills rich summer green.
I look back to the years I attended the University of Lethbridge and meeting Fen Roessingh and husband Bill Purves-Smith for the first time.
These portraits are borrowed from the company information booklet, professionally produced to inform visitors to the mill of the process from the collection of the wool until its creation as a beautiful wool product.
Back in the 70s, these two young folk were ‘learning the ropes’, working along side my Grandfather John Moors, at the Magrath Wool Card and Spinning Mill, this, after developing an interest in fibre arts and weaving out at the Leighton Center near Calgary. They had a truck load of raw wool and were seeking out some guidance about how they might turn it into yarn…something that my grandfather was generously able to do.
The equipment at the custom mill dates back as far as the 1860s, some of it, coming directly from the Magrath business when grandpa, in his 70s, decided to sell it and support this new adventure outside of Carstairs. Interestingly enough, I found equipment yesterday that was manufactured in Sherbrooke, Quebec, my mother’s home from the time she was twelve.
From the time that any member of my family enters a woolen mill, a flood of memories returns with the warm smell of raw wool. This isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, but I suppose that the sense of smell really DOES inform memory and for this family the smell of wool is very nostalgic.
We proceeded to enjoy a tour and lively conversation with all of the staff, our friends, although this was a day when all of them were ‘running their feet off’, being short-staffed and filling lots of orders. It was lovely to see how gracious and respectful all were with Dad and Ruth, giving their intimate connection with this story. In fact, my Aunties Eleanor and Ruth spent a lot of time as women, working for my grandfather in the mill, so this was even more special for Ruth.
Fen, Ruth, John (my Dad) and Garry Swanson. (The following short bio is about Garry and the reasons he is viewed as such an asset. He was also very welcoming and informative on our visit. Thanks, Gary!)
Following, an archive of images snapped throughout our visit, a magical afternoon that took us through all aspects of the processing of raw wool; washing, dyeing, carding, spinning, producing skeins of wool, quilts and socks. The summer’s day ended with Dad’s purchase of a pair of wool socks, a lunch time visit on the front porch and a beautiful drive home.