Canadian Woodenware Co. owner Andy Sharpe and his son Keegan display handcrafted washboards in their factory in Springbrook, about 70 kilometres east of Peterborough. The company, which operated in St. Thomas for more than a century, says COVID-19 has boosted sales. Postmedia News
They once made St. Thomas a household name across Canada.
And, now, thanks to COVID-19, they very well may do so, again.
They are the washboards still produced by Canadian Woodenware Co., founded in 1906 in St. Thomas.
Though the former New St. factory was moved to eastern Ontario with the 2013 purchase of its antique belt-driven machinery by cabinetmaker Andy Sharpe, of Havelock, Canadian Woodenware’s four models of washboard still bear the city’s name.
And, Andy notes, they are in increasing demand – indeed, orders through the company website have tripled – and, curiously, not from the rural and off-grid customers who had been mainstays.
“When COVID-19 started, the addresses that came in became city addresses,” Andy says on the phone.
“I wondered, ‘What’s going on here?'”
It’s a question the local Peterborough newspaper and TV station, have picked up, as well. (The Peterborough Examiner report is online.)
Andy suggests a couple of reasons have boosted sales:
One, that city folks without their own washing machines are wary these days of sharing laundry facilities.
Two, that even if you have your own machine, a washboard makes more sense for small loads of laundry. Who in isolation, after all, is going through a lot of clothes?
(One buyer is handwashing facemasks.)
Canadian Woodenware no longer has a retail distributor but Andy is looking at establishing an Amazon presence … though he smiles, “I’m not a computer guy – that’s a big step.”
When Canadian Woodenware’s old-time machinery was put up for sale, the antique tool fancier bought the factory lock, stock and barrel. He just couldn’t let the collection be dispersed. Driven by leather belts from overhead driveshafts, the equipment was Ontario-made, dating from the days Ontario made things like that.
Today, he has reinstalled the factory in an former Orange Lodge building in Springbrook, a few minutes’ drive from his cabinetmaking shop. And with the occasional help of his son, he’s building washboards like it was 1906.
“It’s become my passion. I just love it.”
His vision includes opening the factory as an attraction. He’d also like to do a history on the company. Though time is passing, Andy says he still hears from folks in the Railway City who are sharing Woodenware stories.
Canadian Woodenware has a website at canadianwoodenwareco.com
Source: St Thomas Times Journal