Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

"We used to make things in this country"

The sentiments in the title, adapted from Frank Sobotka's classic line in the gritty HBO drama The Wire, sum up the feelings of many North Americans watching their industry move offshore. Admittedly, there is still some manufacturing going on in our country, large and small, and I salute those folk. I feel such a sense of pride when I pick up a 'made in Canada' item - our local Home Hardware is a great source for home-made items; we frequent their hardware store, which feels like the old-fashioned kind. They have everything, and know what it's for. But I digress.
We took a little road trip to Napanee this past weekend, to walk their superb Springside Park Trail, and browse local history at the numerous kiosks and interpretive panels (well done Napanee, waiting for Belleville to catch up!)

Napanee is very history minded, and provides some great online visits also. I particularly like this slide show of archival photos; slides 25-28 provide a peek at the old Gibbards factory. Also intriguing is the Lennox and Addington e-history project. I'll spend more time there, when the weather is less pleasant for walkabout.

At the end of Sunday's walk we made a little pilgrimage to the old Gibbard factory. We remember visiting there with mom and dad years ago - mom wistful about their fine quality furniture, as was many a lady of her generation. The firm's lustrous cherry and walnut furniture was sold by up-market Eatons in the 1920's; Gibbards was touted as "the aristocrat of cabinetmakers" in the store's advertising. The links in this post evoke the generations of Gibbards' influence better than I can. This Gibbard tribute was created by the Economic Development Department of Lennox and Addington township in 2008, the year the final owners announced the plant's closure; it contains some wonderful old photos, and the 'bird's eye map' of the early town with its mills.

The Gibbard Furniture Shops Ltd. at the time of its closure the oldest furniture manufacturer in the country, was established in 1835. It was "older than the telephone, the zipper and older than the country itself." Irishman John Gibbard arrived 32 years before Confederation, and started a cabinet making business using water passing through a canal on his leased property to propel the machinery. A history of fires, rebuilding and growing spanned 4 generations. Parts of the red brick factory date from the end of the 1800's.

In 1940 Jack MacPherson, former Gibbards sales manager took over, and with his son Bruce, modernized the plant. During WWII Gibbards turned its talents to supporting the war effort, building ships wheels, and shipping boxes for ammunition.

This Globe and Mail article about Bruce McPherson conveys the Gibbards impact and its legacy. Here is the Star's account of the 2008 closure announcement.

During our walk, Denis began to long for an opportunity to tour the old factory, but we recognized that this likely wouldn't be possible. Later I found the Jermalism blog, an account of a 'visit' to the old factory by one of the band of urban explorers, people who enter abandoned buildings and photograph what they find. Sometimes they reveal a lovely resonance in these dark, dank, often dangerous spots. Sometimes the results are just plain creepy. But this visit is lovely - dozens of shots of a closed, but somehow still loved and beautiful, fine cabinet making workshop.

Then even later in my web search, I found this news report link on CKWS. Seems there's talk of revitalizing the old plant and the property for residential and commercial use. An ambitious plan for sure. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

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