Tag Archives: child labour

Babies in the Textile Mills





My name is Tom and I work in a woolen mill even though I am only 10 years-old. I tried to follow my Mother in service work, but I was sent to the woolen mills right after she died. Most mill owners see nothing wrong with children working and it is a very common practice to employ the very young. Children are cheap labour, and they like to use orphans, as they can be replaced quickly if an accident occurs. I start at 5 am and am not allowed to talk, sit or look out at the sunshine. At 9 pm I go back to one of the row houses and reside in damp filthy conditions. My late mother’s friends feel sorry for me and feed me scraps of food. They say in a few years I might be able to become a stable boy and leave the job I have now– which is like being in hell, to put it mildly. I pray to God a new job comes quickly.


The noise from the belts coming from the line shaft that drives the machinery is extremely deafening. Every single day I breathe air that is full of fabric fluff that fills my lungs. I long to wash dishes or carry wood instead of working as a piecer- leaning over machines and tying broken threads together. I am so lucky I am not like my friend John who has to crawl under the machines while they are still running to do his job. His friend lost some of his fingers last week, and a good friend of mine was crushed in one of the machines last year.

In my current position I work 72 hours a week– in good health or bad. I envy the rich sometimes. They all look down on us as the workers get poorer and the rich seem to get richer. I wonder how they would like a very short midday break and then rush to find food for breakfast and tea which are 15 minute breaks.

We are paid just over a shilling a week ($3) and the rumour is that they might cut costs if there is any government interference. The bosses have threatened many times of sending me to a hostel for children, and giving me just pocket money. If this happens I shall run and hide on the property of  some big house until I am old enough to work. I am able however to attend church on Sunday, and I visit the grave of two of my younger friends that died working at the mill. The owners of the mill believe hard work is good for children, and that living in poverty is natural.  I do beg to differ.


Text and Photos of some of the machines from the Rosamond Woolen Mill (Almonte, Ontario) now housed in the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum next door:


The Rosamond Woolen Mill 1857-1952

 A few months before the railroad reached Almonte, Ontario James Rosamond, a director of the company, and a local entrepreneur, resolved to venture additional capital to erect a woolen mill on a site beside No. 2 Falls.  It was a stone structure, five stories in height, and was the start of the Rosamond Woolen Company in 1867. Only a few years later it gave way to the great undertaking called No.1, the head office and manufacturing center for the next ninety years of the Rosamond Woolen Company at the end of Coleman’s Island. 

During those years Almonte was known to travelers on the trains as The Woolen Town, because the Rosamond Woolen Company, the Old Red Knitting Company, the Penman Woolen Mill, Campbell’s Woolen Mill, the Yorkshire Wool Stock Mill and Wm. Thoburn’s Woolen Mills all made the flat metallic clacking of the looms as familiar a sound of Almonte as the whistle of the CPR steam locomotive. (from roots.org)


                                                           McArthur Textile Mill in Carleton Place

The Exact Reason Rosamond Left Carleton Place

The Rosamond Woolen Company’s Constipation Blues

He Fired the Barn! The Orphans of Carleton Place



Lanark Steam Threshing Machine, about 1900. Photo by Robert J Stead 

“He Fired the Barn” was the Ottawa Jourmal Headline in 1895.

In October of 1895 the Children’s Aid Society was making inquiries in town about a lad with the last name of Allan. It seems the boy in a mindless minute of youth set fire to the outbuildings belonging to William Powell of Nepean. Last heard the boy had gone home to his father in Carleton Place.

A few weeks later young Frederick C. Allen, age 12, was arrested by County Constable McLaughlin for setting fire to a barn containing 86 tons of hay. Mr William Powell’s barn and contents were destroyed to a tune of over $600. Frederick pleaded guilty with his father from Carleton Place standing by his side. His Mother had passed, but he still had a brother and sister living.

The young boy had been working with a farmer in North Gower until recently and only been working for Mr. Powell for a few days. He would not give any reason for doing the deed. The boy was a bright intelligent fellow, but could not say anything about his religion. Magistrate Dawson remanded him in order to procure evidence after which he will be committed to stand trial.


Ontario society in those days depended upon religious or charitable organizations and volunteer community groups to care for neglected or abandoned children. Some children who had been neglected or abandoned entered apprenticeships, some were given a temporary or permanent home in return for their labour/domestic service, while others were placed in orphanages or shelters staffed by volunteers. Children who turned to crimes for survival were until the end of the 19th century placed with adults in the same prison.

Nineteenth century Canada was seen as a land of opportunity to many in Britain and Europe. New immigrant families who were unable to flourish in Canada faced harsh realities riddled with draught, disease and periods of economic depression. Children were abandoned to the streets, placed as apprentices or expected to work long hours in unsanitary factory conditions. Orphanages, infant homes and shelters provided some residential placements for homeless children who remained there until 12 or 13 with guardianship transferred by indenture or through apprenticeships.