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Searle Grain Company Weaving

Curated Submission
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
125.5 x 21.3
Materials & techniques
Cotton; Hand-woven
Made by Winnie Williamson
Saskatchewan Western Development Museum WDM-2005-S-912
The Searle Grain Company was founded in 1921 and quickly grew to be one of Canada’s largest private grain handling companies. Company founder and board chairman Augustus Searle believed that “an organisation that handled the farmers’ products owed a duty to farmers to try to assist them in improving their welfare.” This duty led the Searle Grain Company to enter a rather unusual field: textile weaving. The Searle Grain Company weaving courses, offered free of charge to farm women, were held in communities in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and to a lesser extent in Manitoba from about 1942 to 1944. The idea behind the courses was to “improve the home life” of farm women and to teach them a skill that could be used both to offset the need to purchase textiles and to potentially generate income.
Courses were held in towns that had a Searle Grain Company elevator. The first course was held in Melfort, Saskatchewan, in 1942. The local elevator agent helped handle the materials and looms, which were shipped by rail and lent to the women for use during the classes. Searle used Nilus Leclerc looms and acted as a dealer if a woman wanted to buy one. When the six-week courses were completed, the women were to set up a “home weaving circle” and instruct others who wanted to learn. Since they had received their instruction for free, circle members were not to charge others for lessons. Many of the women trained by the Searle program produced high-quality products. In 1944 the company held a weaving competition, which received almost 200 entries. Winning pieces were displayed at Searle’s head office in Winnipeg.
Algerta Armstrong and Winnie Williamson took part in Searle Grain Company weaving courses in 1942 and 1944, respectively. While neither woman made a career of weaving, Algerta’s daughter Merle continued the craft, purchasing her own loom in 1967. Wartime gas rationing ended the teaching program, as farmers could not spare the gas needed to drive to town for the courses. The Searle Grain Company head office continued to provide assistance and sold supplies like looms and high-quality yarns for 20 years, until the mid-1960s. The company itself was eventually sold in 1972.
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