Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The following piece is one of several that appears in the special summer edition of  our INSIGHT Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.

 

When Adam Warnock left his native Scotland for Canada in the mid-19th century, eventually settling in Galt in 1835, he would forever change the economic future of this community.

 

Known as a ‘man of prominence’ throughout most of his adult life, Adam Warnock’s entrepreneurial drive led him down several paths, including forming a partnership with James Crombie in woolen mills they operated in Preston and Plattsville. The Preston mill, known as Geo. Pattinson Company, became one of the town’s largest employers and one of the largest woolen producers in Canada.

 

It also set the stage for the creation of the Galt Knitting Company, where Adam Warnock was one of eight men known as ‘The Syndicate’, which set up shop after purchasing the former Robinson and Howell textile mill on Water Street in downtown Galt.

 

The company grew to greater prominence when his two sons, James, and Charles, took over upon his death in 1902 and began manufacturing a variety of knitted underwear, and eiderdowns shoe linings. After James died at a young age, Charles remained in charge until 1930, at which point James’ son Edward took the reins.

 

He was at the helm during the Second World War when the Galt Knitting Company created underwear for Canadian soldiers producing annually 360,000 units of blended wool and cotton fleece underwear.

 

But following the war, the company faced closure in the early 1950s due to various market forces and went into voluntary receivership in 1954. At this time, James Adam Warnock, Edward’s son, joined the business after high school and upon graduating from Ridley College put a plan in motion to revive the company.

 

Salvaging three out of four knitting machines during the liquidation of the Galt Knitting Company, he began work on a new line of men’s cotton briefs and shirts after renting a third-floor space of a four-storey building and hiring a handful of employees.

 

The company, known now as the Tiger Brand Knitting Company, remained small but was became successful thanks to his use of machinery and insistence of maintaining low overhead. Even more success followed when Tiger Brand no longer relied on manufacturing winter underwear and moved into the T-shirt stream, fueled by a surge in the market.

 

As the newly amalgamated City of Cambridge was unveiled Tiger Brand remained an integrated garment maker by producing its own textiles and clothing. It created its own branded fashion line called Non-Fiction and had contracts with a variety of large retailers, including L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, Cotton Ginny, Nordstrom, and The Gap.

 

By the time Warnock opened a new factory in Pincher Creek, AB, in 1977, Tiger Brand Knitting remained a bonified success and its peak employed 1,450 people and generated approximately $80 million annually in sales.

 

The company opened a warehouse in Oakland, Calf., in 1979 to serve the San Francisco Bay area and expanded locally into the former Riverside Silk Mills plant on Melville Street South near Queen’s Square – home now to the University of Waterloo School of Architecture- as well as the former Sheldon’s Inc. on Grand Avenue in the early 1980s.

 

A strong proponent for his employees, James Adam, whose tough exterior wasn’t as tough as it seemed according to many, opened and subsidized ‘Tigger House’ – an employee care centre. As well, he encouraged many of his immigrant employees to become Canadian citizens and provided English as a second language courses at the company. He often hosted Citizenship Courts at the plant.

 

But he also maintained a strong interest in the community and supported many charities and projects, including financing and organizing the completion of the outdoor amphitheatre along the Grand River behind Galt Collegiate Institute.

 

Also, prior to Cambridge’s amalgamation in 1973, served as a Galt councillor from 1968 to 1972, and as a member of the local hydro-electric commission between 1972 to 1974, and the Waterloo Wellington Airport (now Region of Waterloo International Airport) commission. As well, James Adam was active in the Red Feather/United Way campaigns and fundraised for the local branch of the Canadian Red Cross.

 

By the late 1980s he had slowly passed the company ‘torch’ to his children and stepped away completely following a near fatal car crash in Egypt.

 

He passed away from a heart attack in September of 2006 while on holiday in St. Petersburg, Russia, a year after Tiger Brand Knitting sold its factory to a numbered company which closed the plant to source its branded clothing line in China.

 

The company had been in bankruptcy since the fall of 2004 and the closure left 300 people out of work, according to the United Steelworkers in a piece printed in the Globe and Mail in April 2005.

 

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