southworks

Southworks factory 1910

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Southworks factory store outlet mall in Cambridge, Ontario. These fine old stone buildings stand out among many in the old part of Cambridge, formerly known as Galt, around the banks of the Grand River which flows majestically through the city. On the north side of the buildings, an old steel press mounted on a raised concrete platform provides some insight into the history of these buildings.

The Goldie McCulloch Company founded their business in 1859 and operated on this site for 120 years, the factory closing in 1980. From these buildings emerged huge steam engines, boilers and power plants, woodworking machinery, safes and vaults, water turbines and gasoline engines. As the company grew, the additions were always built with stone to maintain uniform appearance, including the square building between the factory and the river used mainly as a storage warehouse. As a result, we have today the wonderful old buildings forming the outlet mall. When they ran out of space for expansion, a new factory, the Northworks, was built on Hespeler Road. However this factory, now Babcock and Wilcox, was a more modern construction and did not have the timeless appearance of the Southworks.

Inside, as you walk through some of the stores in the south building, the remains of old lineshafts and pulleys can be seen at the roof level.

Lineshaft still visible above

The many machine tools used in the factory to make the engine parts were driven by belts running from these shafts which obtained their power from huge steam engines in each building. In between the two main buildings are the remains of the power house where the steam for the engines and for heating the factory was generated.

Southworks foundry 1900

The west half of this building housed the foundry, where the workers spent their days on a sand covered floor building the moulds into which the molten iron would be poured to cast the engine parts.

Today, it is difficult for the visitor to imagine the buildings as a noisy thriving manufacturing operation with over 200 workers toiling under conditions that would be considered less than acceptable in the modern world.

Change continues. Unfortunately, today’s retailing environment has made it difficult to stay profitable and the Southworks Mall, falling victim, was closed mid 2017. It is now in process of being transformed into housing units and I suspect the remaining line-shafts will fall victim also to this change.