“Baa, Baa Black Sheep, have you any wool? Yes Sir, yes Sir, three bags full “. The old nursery rhyme came to mind when we toured the Custom Woolen Mills. The smallest of wool batches are processed here along with large orders. Located near the community of Linden, Alberta, Custom Woolens was started by hobby weavers Fen and Bill quite by accident. Thirty years ago, Bill was teaching at a community college. One of his students, the daughter of a sheep farmer told Bill that her dad had 250 lbs of wool to sell and would he be interested? He said “yes”, and when he got home and told Fen, she was shocked. 250 lbs was a garage full of fleeces and all that wool had to be washed and their bathtub wasn’t up to the job, so they had to set out in search of who might take the job on.
They found a group of Hutterites near Magrath, Alberta who were willing. At the time, Magrath was home to a knitting mill owned by a guy named Purves-Smith. He had started in the wool business as a kid working on a bobbin machine in Galt, Ontario, once a woolen mill centre. At 72 years old and keen to get out of the business, Purves-Smith asked Fen and Bill if they might be interested in his mill’s machinery.
After some discussion and with the help of a bank loan, the hobby weavers bought the entire lot, including a 1908 knitting mule, the last one still operating in Canada. They spent the next three months learning to run it and then moved all the machinery to a Linden area pig farm where they stored it for several months while setting up their new home and the Custom Woolen Mills. Assorted yarns, finished woolens and wool comforters are sold in the mill’s wool shop. We bought a wool comforter here and it has become our best friend on cold winter nights.
Custom Woolen Mills is on a beautiful piece of land off a gravel road near Linden. Fen and Bill’s home is also a transplant. Painted a bright brick red, it is the former Crossfield railway station.