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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

One of Canada's Best Kept Secrets

Have you ever seen this label before?

Made exactly in the manner as the label says they are made.

I shall guess that you probably have not and this is the reason why I call this one of Canada's best kept secrets.

The wool blankets that are made in the Asselstine Factory are sold in this store and only in this store. You won't find them anywhere else and you cannot look them up on-line to purchase.

This is the village store at the entrance to Upper Canada Village. If you have ever visited the village, then most likely you have gone inside the store.

You'll find the blankets on display just inside of the front entrance of the village store. Many people pause to look at the blankets, then look at the price tags and walk away, immediately dismissing an amazing product being sold at a rather reasonable price. I know because I did the same for many years...but I kept looking at the blankets, impressed by the material and workmanship..

$250.00 and $300.00 price tags for a blanket will scare most people away but these particular blankets are not the cheap WalMart and dollar-store junk-quality items mass-produced in China from synthetic fibers. As the Asselstine Factory blanket label reads, these are made on-site from genuine 100% wool and made the same way wool blankets were made over a century ago. Not very many of these blankets are made in the course of a year.

Seven or eight years ago Kie and I purchased our first two of these large blankets...they were the remaining two in the store and were discounted clearance sale items on the last day prior to the village closing for winter. Well we used those blankets that winter, and have every winter since, We can only use one at a time on the bed. Combined with L.L. Bean's famous flannel sheets the wool blankets keep us far too warm. We also had to lower the thermostat 2 degrees for the remainder of the winter.

Over the years we have purchased a few more of these blankets. They have made wonderful gifts that will endure for a lifetime with the proper care. No one has complained so far.

Most people will spend 25 to 30 percent of their lifespan asleep in bed; may as well be warm and comfortable. Again, $250.00 and $300.00 price tags for an excellent quality, 100% genuine pure wool blanket will scare most people away but maybe this is a good thing...because the next time we go to buy one we won't find that they are all sold out. 

 Anyway,  it all starts and ends in there...

The Assestine Factory on the water in Upper Canada Village. The blanket label does say water-powered.

An up-close view of that sign near the corner of the building...but what is just around the corner?

Open doors beckon, including that door on the second floor. What was the reason for placing a door up there? Let's go in and try to find out. Downstairs just inside the front entrance is a good place to start.

The scene below is what you may find right inside that large sliding door. Were you wondering why the sign said woollen mill? Now you know.

Nothing like going directly to the actual source for genuine raw materials. Better yet, have the source come to you and inside your front door too. Can't get any fresher or newer wool than this. No recycled fiber content here.

One of the many piles of wool in the mill. Aside from the dyes used for colouring, nothing is added.

A wool carding machine. The input is over there on the floor on the left. Note the output - a stream of wool coming off in the front. The fibers have yet to be spun into yarns or threads and dyed. I'm twine to figure out the correct order...and I ain't stringing you a line either.

Exposed belt-driven wheels on large machines certainly made working in an 1800's factory a hazard. Nothing has changed and these machines are still just as hazardous to be around today.

Although idle when this photo was taken all this is one large automated spinning machine known as a "Spinning Jack"

Inside the mill and little changed for as long as I can remember, and probably for along time before that too. Now there is a nice new blanket that will soon be for sale in the village store.

Another new blanket is rolling off the loom...maybe rolled-up is more like it.

The first time I watched a blanket being made here in this Upper Canada Village mill was in 1967...that's right...45 years ago on a school field trip. I was impressed then too.

Now let's look at a finished blanket.

This blanket was made a few years ago. Last winter Kiera used the blanket on her bed in Grandma's house. A few times she commented about being too hot during the winter nights when she visited.

This is aromatic red cedar. If the wood does not look familiar, then the scent certainly will be. When not in use, the wool blankets should be carefully stored in a wood box made from or blanket chest lined with this stuff. I have made blanket boxes from this wood too. Cut-offs, shorts and/or scraps are good and inexpensive for making a small box that can hold a single blanket.

This blanket was made this year and has just been placed inside the new red cedar box that was constructed for it.

Why not buy a truly very well made genuine 100% pure wool blanket and support Upper Canada Village at the same time?

The Oddblock Station Agent

Addendum October 19, 2012

For those of you who may like knitting or making things out of wool, the Asselstine Mill also produces skeins of various wools in different colours. These too are available in the Village Store at the gateway to Upper Canada Village. You'll find these right next to the blankets.