An Interpretation

by Catherine C. Cole

GWG's first plant was a two-storey building, 100 feet by 166 feet, constructed at 528 Namayo (now 97 th Street) at a cost of $150,000. Cutting and sewing were both done in the same room in the first factory. The company quickly outgrew this space and moved to 10438 Namayo in 1913. Cutting and sewing functions were separated; skylights over the sewing machines provided additional natural lighting.

In 1917, GWG moved again to a large three-storey building at 10305 Namayo in 1917. Better known to Edmontonians today as the former Army & Navy department store at the corner of 97 th Street and 103 Avenue, the building now houses the Red Strap Market, named for GWG's Red Strap brand.

This building may have been designed by architect R. Percy Barnes, and was built in stages between 1910-14 by Alexander Livingstone as the Caledonian Department Store. Cutting, sewing, finishing, inspecting, packing and administrative functions were all separated; there were several departments, for the production of work pants, mackinaws (heavy woollen coats), overalls and shirts, along with a cafeteria and first aid room for workers.

The streets around Jasper, Namayo, and Griesbach (now 105 th Avenue) formed Edmonton's garment manufacturing district.

La Fleche Bros., Emery Manufacturing, James B. McCormack, Kays Overall Manufacturers, and Courtney and Northwestern Manufacturing were all established in this area between 1906-1916, along with independent dressmakers, tent makers and others working in related businesses, such as dry cleaning and retail clothing.

A fire in the plant in 1926 resulted in $250,000 damage to the building and all 300 employees were laid off for a short period. The first alarm went off at 3 o'clock in the morning on May 10, and firefighters were still struggling to put the blaze out when the workers arrived for their shifts in the morning. A 1925 brick addition was fortunately not damaged in the fire, so the company was able to re-open quickly, but it did not return to full production for two to three months.

A second expansion in 1940 increased production capacity. During this period, production grew from 17,000 units per year to 12,500 units per week, and the payroll grew to over 500 employees.

In 1953, as a part of Edmonton's postwar boom, GWG built a new plant a few blocks away at 85 th Street and 106 th Avenue, designed by architect W.R. Brownlee, featured the latest machinery and all production, office space, cafeteria and first aid room on one level.

A Department of Trade and Commerce report noted: "The erection of their new factory is now in progress and they plan to have it available in September or October of 1953. The cost of the new factory is expected to amount to $600,000.00 It will give larger quarters and modern facilities for both office and plant, and will be adequate for moderate future expansion for sometime. Recruitment of plant workers is going on steadily and are being trained now, so that no great increase in personnel will be necessary. They will vacate and sell their present factory location, dealing through their banks, as is usual in all their financial dealings." A 1957 report noted: "Machinery is the latest available and methods the latest devised."

The 97th Street plant was purchased by Army & Navy Department Stores Ltd. and was used as a department store until the summer of 2003. GWG grew within the new plant until 1967, when it purchased the assets of Winnipeg Pants and Sportswear on Adelaide Street in downtown Winnipeg, then moved to Bannatyne Avenue in the mid-seventies. In 1968, a Distribution Centre opened in the Strathcona Industrial Park on the south side of Edmonton. GWG also purchased a fleet of trucks to transport goods.

In 1973, GWG began production in Saskatoon and built a 50,000 sq. ft. Cutting Centre in Edmonton.

The growing popularity of Scrubbies prewashed jeans led GWG to open a 40,000 sq. ft. Finishing Centre in Edmonton in 1980 in order to provide greater consistency and control costs; the facility could wash 17,000-25,000 pairs of pants a day. Washing, drying, pressing, examining and repair were all done at this Centre. Two hundred employees worked there. The Saskatoon and Winnipeg plants closed in the 1980s, and the head office and distribution centre moved to Toronto in 1983.

Levis rationalized production and each plant specialized. The Edmonton plant produced Levis and Docker pants, as did a plant in Stoney Creek, Ontario, while the finishing was done in Brantford. At its close in 2004, Levis was producing 17,000 pairs of jeans and Docker pants a day.