Lanark Sweaters: Soft as a Kitten

Each year, in the late summer, thoughts at our house turned to all the rituals associated with going back to school.  This included inspecting last year’s clothing, shoes and boots, gathering up pencils and erasers for the inevitable homework that would take place at the big kitchen table, and checking to see if the old lunch pails were still intact.  Some articles would be passed down to younger members of the family, and some things would have to be purchased new.

 

kitten logo

Glenayr Kitten Logo

It was usually on a Saturday, the first or second week in September, that we made the annual trip to Lanark, to buy a couple of new sweaters at the Kitten factory outlet, and a new pair of shoes, maybe some new snow boots, at Gus Quinn’s store.

 

We drove down the Third Line, turned at Glen Tay, and headed up Highway 7, toward Lanark. The village of Lanark was a nice easy drive from our house – about twenty minutes or so.  I suppose we could have done it in a bit less time, but Mother was never one to let Dad go over the speed limit; she was very strict about that and said that the laws were there for a reason.  Dad would sometimes say that  he ‘had’ to speed a bit, to burn the carbon off of his spark plugs, but Mother never fell for that, and she’d just give him ‘the look’, and he’d be back under the speed limit in no time.

 

After about ten minutes had passed, we’d be driving into Balderson.  Sometimes Mother would stop and get some curd for us kids, and some old sharp cheese for Dad, but that was usually on the way back home from Lanark, so it wouldn’t spoil in the heat.   We all knew the story of the giant cheese, made in Balderson, in 1893, for the World’s Fair in Chicago.  The old timers said that it was six feet high, and weighed over 22,000 lbs.  It was mostly butter and cheese that was produced there, when we were kids, and people would drive for miles around, even up from the States, because it was so good.

Kitten mill along the Clyde

The former buildings of the Glenayr Kitten Mill, along the Clyde River, Lanark, Ontario

Another ten minutes or so and we’d be driving into Lanark.  It was a pretty little village, built along the Clyde River.  Mother said that it had been named for Lanarkshire in Scotland, and had been settled back in the 1820s, mostly by Scottish weavers and farmers.

Dad grew up on the family homestead, on the 11th concession of Drummond Township, not far from Lanark, and he often visited his Aunt Stacia, who owned a home in Lanark Village, right along the Clyde.  Dad said that the Caldwell Woollen Mill, in Lanark, was a big employer back in the early days, but the building had been destroyed by fire.   He said that there had been another huge fire in the late fifties, that destroyed many of the old original buildings in Lanark, and over 100 people had lost their homes.

 

Caldwell mills Lanark Ontario

Caldwell Woollen Mills, Lanark – Perth Remembered

After passing many of the homes and businesses along the main street, we finally arrived at 44 George Street, at the Glenayr Kitten Outlet.   The business was started in 1944, by the Markle family, from Toronto, and Derek, son of the founder worked there as the superintendent of the mill.  Some of the wool was already spun onto cones when it arrived from Scotland, and was knitted by circular machines. In 1951 they began to produce sweaters under the ‘Kitten’ label.

new industry

‘The Ottawa Citizen’, 1953

 

All kinds of sweaters were made at the Kitten mill, knitted with orlon, angora, mohair, lamb’s wool, or pure cashmere.  There were a number of different styles– pullovers, cadet style, cardigans, ski styles, crew necks many different colours, zip front, turtleneck, six button, eight button cardigans, and alpine styles.

Glenayr Kitten also manufactured pantsuits, skirts, blazers, blouses and slacks.

Kitten 1953 photo Mary Graham

Mary Graham, Lanark, Ontario

 

kitten yellow sweater

Buttercup yellow cardigan sweater from the Glenayr Kitten Mill, c.1970s

kitten yellow sweater tag

Label from the yellow sweater

 

Kitten ad Ottawa Citizen Aug 4 1977 p 67

Ad, 1978, ‘The Ottawa Citizen’

Kitten suit 1970s

kitten suit 1970s tag

Blue sweater suit, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark, Ontario

Kitten photo assembling sweater July 11 1978 p 19

Workers at the Glenayr Kitten Mill stitch sweater pieces together

kitten 1960s sweater orange

kitten 1960s orange sweater tag

Terra-cotta orange short-sleeved sweater, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark

 

Kitten bus trip 1982 Oct. 19 1982 p 63

The Kitten Mill stores were a popular tourist attraction, and visitors traveled by motor-coach from Ottawa, Kingston, and the U.S.

Kitten ad Oct 15 1988 p 192

Kitten Mill ad, ‘The Ottawa Citizen’, 1980s

 

kitten 1960s purple sweater

kitten purple sweater tag

Violet, long-sleeve, collared sweater, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark

Kitten 1993 ad with model

Blazer and matching slacks, Glenayr Kitten Mill, 1990s

 

Kitten Glenayr sweater 1

Peach popcorn knit, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark

 

Kitten label

Rumours of Closure – 1992

Kitten article part 1 closing 1992

Kitten closing article 1992 part 2

‘The Ottawa Citizen” – 1992Kitten David Markle 1992 photo plant closing

 

 

kitten pale blue sweater

Aqua, fine, combed-wool, long-sleeve Glenayr Kitten sweater, Lanark, Ontario

kitten pale blue tag

The Kitten Mill Remained Open

Kitten 1993 mill stays open article

1993, ‘The Ottawa Citizen” – Kitten Mill Stays Open

 

Kitten 1996 customers flock article part 1

Kitten 1996 customers flock article part 2

 

kitten jpg

Kitten 2000 David Markle obit part 1

Kitten 2000 David Markle obit part 2

 

 

Kitten Mill Lanark Museum 1

Display at the Lanark Museum, Lanark, Ontario

 

Kitten Mill Lanark Museum 2

Storyboard display highlighting some of the former staff of the Glenayr Kitten Mill,
(Lanark Museum)

 

Kitten Mill Lanark Museum 3

Many items from the glory days of the Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark Museum

 

I think one of the things that attracted my frugal Mother to the Kitten outlet, was the fact that they sold ‘seconds’.  They sold some sweaters that had small defects – without labels, and sold discontinued colours, ends-of-lines, and clearance items.  The ‘seconds’ usually sold for between $4.50 and $12.00 at that time, so was very appealing when you were buying back-to-school clothing for a large family.

 

After a busy afternoon in Lanark, we’d head back home, with our  new sweater ‘seconds’, ready for the new school year.  Looking back, we were lucky to live such a short drive from the Kitten Mill, because the sweaters there really were lovely.  Mother always found a way to add on the missing button, or to mend the seam that was beginning to unravel, so that you couldn’t tell that it was a second.  Most of my Kitten sweaters lasted for years, because they were so well made, and were knitted with such high-quality yarns.

 

Sometimes during our visits to Lanark, I’d see huge, sleek, modern buses, pull up out front, and forty or fifty people got off the motor-coach, to shop at the outlets.  I think many of them came all the way from Kingston or Ottawa. We didn’t realize it at the time, but people in the cities had already figured out that in our little corner of the world, folks had crafted their products with skills, passed down over generations, and they took great pride in what they manufactured.

 

Every spring, around the middle of March, we’d see city folks, suddenly appear around the Perth area, because they knew that the best tasting maple syrup came from Lanark County. It was also no secret that the finest tasting cheese in the world was made at the modest, little, factory in Balderson, and, if you wanted the highest quality sweaters, at a good price, and ‘soft as a kitten’, there was only one place to get them, and that was the village of Lanark.

 

(This story is dedicated to the people who worked at the Glenayr Kitten Mill.  Many families had more than one member working at the Mill, and some worked for two or three decades, or more. Thank-you for producing the beautiful, cozy, sweaters, that kept us warm on those chilly days. You won’t be forgotten.

Thanks also to the Markle family, who provided work for the village of Lanark, and who kept their prices fair, so even those with a modest income could afford to purchase one of their high quality sweaters.)

 

 

Kitten reunion 2018

A reunion for former staff at the Glenayr Kitten Mill, was held in 2017 at the Lanark Museum

 

 

This story is an excerpt from – ‘Lanark Sweaters – Soft as a Kitten’  – from the book, “Lanark County Kid: My Travels up and down the Third Line”  ISBN: 978-0-9877026-16

LC Kid

http://www.staffordwilson.com

Lanark Museum – Our Visit to the Past

Lanark sign

Just a short drive from the pretty town of Perth, along the Lanark Road, lush, green, farmers fields welcome us into the Township of Lanark Highlands.  We follow the blue skies, and warm, summer winds, into the village of Lanark, and pull up near our destination –  the Lanark and District Museum.

Ann and Arlene in front of museum

Greeted warmly by Anne Graham, we make our way up the well-worn steps, into a very special place, where the caretakers and guardians of our history, preserve our memories, our stories, and our heritage.

 

Events board Lanark Museum

 

If you walk along George Street in Lanark, you will see a sign out front, greeting visitors,  listing upcoming events, and welcoming all, with no charge for admission, and donations accepted.  Anyone seeking knowledge, or in search of their history, is assured that they’ve come to the right place.

Not far from the front entrance, a plaque displays the names of those who went above and beyond, volunteering their time and expertise, throughout the decades, to keep the museum running smoothly.

 

volunteers Lanark Museum

 

A photo on the wall reminds us of those who played key roles in the earliest days of the museum.  Their foresight and dedication to preserving our local history leaves a lasting legacy, that will be enjoyed for many generations to come.

 

Key players Lanark Museum

 

Many of us have ancestors from the area who served in the military, and the Lanark Museum has many displays highlighting our local heroes.  Perhaps your ancestor is one of these soldiers who has been featured in the museum’s display cases.

War memorials Lanark Museum

 

The museum also features a number of Rolls of Honour, listing the names of soldiers from the area who fought bravely for our country.

 

Roll of Honour case

 

There are a tremendous number of local photographs.   It’s great fun to see the old cars, some of the buildings no longer with us, and even recognize some of the smiling faces in these photos.

 

Local photos

 

The museum is fortunate to have the help of two students for the summer.  Meagan was kind enough to document our visit using her photography skills.

 

Meghan Lanark County

 

There is a wonderful display of original telegrams, some sent, and some received, by the Lavant Station, many years ago.  These are real treasures, and give us some insight into the past and how different life was in those days!  There are lots of familiar surnames on these telegrams, and some even provide a window into our family histories!

 

Telegrams

 

Along with the countless documents displayed there are also some lovely artifacts.  The old wash bowl reminds us of the times before indoor plumbing was standard in our homes.  We can imagine how different our ancestor’s lives might have been, and how carrying water from an outside well into the home was a daily event for these pioneers.

 

wash bowl

 

If your ancestors lived in McDonald’s Corners there is a wonderful remembrance displayed, honoring those who served their country, so well, and so faithfully.

 

McDonald's Corners war memorial

 

There are also a number of displays listing those soldiers who attended specific area schools and the names of those who served.

 

SS8 War memorial

 

Another of the many area schools and their lists of those in service.

 

SS 12

 

The Lanark Museum has many, many of these displays, and this is only a small sampling of what is available to view.

 

SS13 Drummond

 

Being a history buff, it wasn’t easy to tear myself away from all of the exhibits in the museum, and get down to business, and read a couple of stories from my books.  I chose two stories from “Lanark County Kid – My Travels Up and Down the Third Line”.  I read one about a childhood visit to Lanark, and shopping for back-to-school clothing at the Kitten Mill.

My second story was “Balderson Cheese – Craving the Curd”.  Our family often went on Sunday drives, and a visit to Balderson for a bag of soft squeaky curd, was something not to be missed!  In the story, we go behind the counter, and watch the Master Cheesemaker, Omar Matte, and the others, while they stir the vats of heated milk, and then press the curds into big wooden circular presses.  Considering that the factory is no longer there, it is a precious memory to have witnessed this process.

 

book table Lanark Museum

 

There are some really wonderful displays highlighting the Kitten Mill, and those who worked there over the years.

 

Kitten Mill 1

 

The Museum has done a wonderful job of preserving the artifacts and documents from the days of the Glenayr Kitten mills, and reminding us of the impact to employment and the economic influence to the village.

Kitten Mill 2

I think that many of us remember visiting the factory outlets, and all of the wonderful knitted clothing produced locally.

 

Kitten 3

 

One of the special highlights for me was a visit with the Shamrock Quilt.  While we can’t be sure of the date of its origin, I recall seeing it displayed at the museum many, many years ago, and was delighted to see it once again.  This quilt is embroidered with the names of local families.  If your family lived in the area it would be worth the trip to see this marvelous quilt, and discover your ancestor’s name embroidered in green.

 

Shamrock quilt 1

 

The Shamrock Quilt holds a special connection for Doris Quinn and myself.   My Dad’s Aunt, Julia Stafford, married William Quinn, and both the Quinn and Stafford families are among the many, many, names on this precious artifact.  It was a wonderful moment to be able to stand beside Doris, and see those names from the past, those who are no longer with us, but remain forever in our hearts.

 

Shamrock 2

Photo below:   Julia Stafford and Bill Quinn, on their wedding day, Sept. 14, 1909.

Julia Stafford Bill Quinn

 

The following, are just a few squares, a small sample from the quilt, to show how the names have been stitched and displayed.

 

Shamrock 3

There are many other squares that were not photographed.  Anyone with ancestors from this area may want to visit the quilt themselves for a more in depth look.

 

Shamrock 4

 

Another square of the quilt, but the quilt is enormous, and would be best viewed in person.

 

Shamrock 5

 

A final square from this historic piece.  Hopefully the museum will photograph and digitize the entire quilt.  That might be an interesting and very worthwhile project for the summer students!

 

Shamrock 6

 

The late afternoon held a wonderful surprise – a visit from an old friend Susan Newberry Sarsfield.  It was a real delight to visit with Susan, her Mom, and her daughter!

Susan at the Museum

 

Like all good things, our visit to the Lanark Museum came to an end, and our host Anne Graham, kindly walked us out and into the sunny July afternoon.

It was a day filled with history, and the importance of preserving our past.  There are few tasks more essential than being the caretakers of our heritage.  The Lanark Museum is the proud custodian of our region’s artifacts, memories, stories, and treasures.

 

street in front of museum

Many thanks to the kind folks at the Lanark and District Museum for hosting us, and sharing their collection of priceless treasures.  Thanks also to the visitors who stopped by to share some stories and recollections.   Anne, Norma, Gene, Doris – it was so nice to spend time with you – thanks for helping to make our day special.

 

As we said goodbye, and headed down the highway,  we are struck by the pristine beauty of the Lanark Highlands, the clear waters, the fresh air, and the greenery as far as the eye can see, on this beautiful summer day.

 

Until we meet again…..

 

 

Country road summer

 

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com
Stories for the Lanark Museum readings from:
“Lanark County Kid:  My Travels Up and Down the Third Line”
‘Lanark Sweaters – Soft as a Kitten’
‘Balderson Cheese – Craving the Curd’
ISBN 978-0-9877026-16