Active spinning frame at MacAusland’s Woolen Mills, Bloomfield [photo: Jan Cox]

From fibre to finish

MacAusland’s Woolen Mills uses old tech for quality product

Way Up West | by Jan Cox

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I was looking forward to spending time at MacAusland’s Woolen Mills in Bloomfield—watching the process, and learning the technology—and I was not disappointed. I was blown away by the size of the building first of all and the rich, wonderful oil smell of lanolin (and machine oil), and the ageless wooden floor boards—worn to such a deep beautiful brown, exposing every wood grain. The Mills were silent when I stopped by late in the afternoon, but I could sense the hustle bustle atmosphere of the room. Room is not accurate. I was in the immense first floor, with the machinery and the history.

The building began its life as a saw and grist mill in the 1870s. By 1910, seasonal wool processing had begun and in the 1930s, making blankets full time had taken over due to high demand. There was a fire in 1948 and a “temporary” building was erected circa 1950—the same building I was sitting in, taking it all in, as a beaming Monica MacAusland guided me through.

Monica is the sixth generation MacAusland to be involved in the Mills. As a teenager, she worked at the Mills on and off, and in 2012 she began working full time. Even while masked, I could tell how excited and proud she is to be part of this family tradition. Her eyes said it all.

“The process hasn’t changed over the years—beginning with raw wool product then washing, drying, dyeing, carding, spinning into yarn and weaving into the finished product­—a MacAusland blanket,”she told me.

The Woolen Mills employ eight full time workers and primarily use Canadian wool. “There is newer technology out there,” says Monica “But, we’re old school. Sure, we use 50’s and 60’s technology still, but, if it ain’t broken, why fix it?

“We do miss the tourists. We welcomed that foot traffic. I think wool is trending upwards with the desire for natural fibres back in ‘fashion.’ Wool is never out of date.“ Spoken like a true upcoming manager!

MacAusland’s reputation caught the eye and ear of Mr. Arnold Smith, President of the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico & Doucet House Museums. He and his partner Carter Jeffery approached Monica with an idea for a Museum renovation fundraiser. They designed a blanket in honour of 300 years of French and Acadian presence in PEI. The blankets are for sale and Arnold said their initial run of 17 blankets has sold out with another three runs (17 in each) ordered and more expected over the summer months. “We will do custom orders, but not the design work. Arnold and Carter came to us ready, and it has been a great time, really positive,” Monica said.

You cannot deny the quality. You cannot deny the proven history. It was a joy to be invited into the workings of the MacAusland’s Woolen Mills.

This will be Jan’s last column for The Buzz. We are grateful for all the Islander’s stories she has brought to our readers.

Jan CoxWay Up West
Jan Cox

My partner and I moved to the island from Ottawa in August 2003. We quickly became avid fans of "The Buzz". I would search out the monthly read at the liquor stores of West Prince! I retired in June 2015 and found myself one afternoon, on a weekday no less, outside The Buzz office in Charlottetown. I met Peter and the gang and after singing the praises of the publication, suggested they needed a voice from West of Summerside. Me and my big mouth - three years later I am still writing "Way Up West" every month and it has been a joy. It's a win win - I get to work with a wonderful group of people at The Buzz and I am thrilled to be meeting folks from up west and area.