Yard of Silk
Organization: Cowansville Historical Society
Address: Bruck Museum, 125 rue Principale, Cowansville, QC J2K 1J4
Contact: Michel Racicot, societehistoire(a)ville.cowansville.qc.ca
Description: First yard of silk made in Canada, produced by Bruck Silk Mills.
Year made: July 21, 1922
Made by: Bruck Silk Mills Ltd
Colours: White, grey, red
Provenance: Cowansville, Quebec
Size: 60.9 cm x 73.6 cm, in a frame of 81.2 cm x 99 cm x 3.8 cm
Photos: Rachel Garber. Courtesy Cowansville Historical Society
Yard of Silk
In 1921, Isaac Bruck, who was a distributor of textiles from New York City, came to Canada on a holiday. While here, Mr. Bruck arrived at a decision which founded an industry in Canada. Choosing Cowansville, Quebec, for the site of his business endeavour, he proceeded to convert a small munitions plant from World War I into a textile mill.
When “Bruck Silk Mills Limited” was established in Cowansville, no broad silks of any kind were being woven in Canada and they were the first company in the country to weave silk the modern way, in the gum. It was also the first plant in Canada to produce its entire product under one single roof. During the summer of 1922, with only 30 employees, the “switch was thrown” and 14 looms, the original installation, began to run off the first yards of silk produced by Bruck Silk Mills Ltd.
The first yard of silk produced in Cowansville on July 21, 1922, was carefully preserved. For years it was kept at the head office of Bruck Silk Mills until it was donated to the Bruck Museum in Cowansville in May 2005 by Gerald L. Bruck, the son of the founder and president of the company, after the death of his father in 1948. In presenting the frame containing the first yard of silk, Mr. Bruck said: “This was the first silk mill in the country, and as such has had a special historical place in the industry.”
The opening of Bruck Silk Mills was the starting point of Cowansville’s industrial and demographic boom. From the modest beginning, Bruck Silk Mills grew to become a large employer of labour in Cowansville from the early 1930s until the 1980s.
For over half a century, Bruck produced stylish fabrics, knits and multi-coloured prints. Later rayon replaced natural silk. On February 24, 1945, the Sherbrooke Daily Record published a text titled “Third of Cowansville’s population are employees of Bruck Silk Mills.” At the time, Bruck was the largest industry in Cowansville with over 1,200 employees. From 40,000 to 45,000 yards of materials were shipped daily from the plant. Major enlargements were made to the Cowansville plant in 1926, 1931, 1936, 1941, 1946, and finally in 1965 when a second plant was built in Cowansville. In the 1940s, Bruck opened plants in Farnham, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Sherbrooke, and in Australia. On November 16, 1964, the National Flag of Canada, the Maple Leaf, was made for the first time in the Cowansville plant of Bruck Mills.
The founder, Isaac I. Bruck, was born March 31, 1885, in Austria. He immigrated to North America around 1900, first establishing in New York City before coming to Canada in 1922. He died in 1948. His son, Gerald L. Bruck then became the new president of the company until his retirement in 1972 when the company was sold. Renamed “Consoltex” in 1979, the Cowansville plants were closed in 2010.
The tremendous influence this silk mill had on the community of Cowansville cannot be underestimated. It sustained the growth of Cowansville's economy for many years and employed both English-speaking and French-speaking workers for decades. Its quality product and ethical business practices made it one of Quebec's most important manufacturers through most of the 20th century.
"Cowansville & Sweetsburg Directory – 1936," published by the Publicity Committee of the Cowansville Board of Trade, pages 63-64, 85-86.
"The 25th Bruck Silk Mills Limited Anniversary 1921-1946," published by the Bruck Silk Mills Limited, page 4.
"Third of Cowansville Population are employees of Bruck Silk Mills," - Sherbrooke Daily Record, February 24, 1945.
Text written by Gerald L. Bruck accompanying the donation of the framed "First Yard of Silk," 2005.
Meeting with Gerald L. Bruck on June 16, 2009, in Cowansville, Quebec.
To Learn More
Bruck Silk Mills, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, http://collections.banq.qc.ca/ark:/52327/2639
Stephen Endicott, Raise the Workers' Flag: the Workers' Unity League of Canada, 1930-1936, 2012,
Jean-Pierre Kesteman, Peter Southam, Diane Sain-Pierre, Histoire des Cantons de l'Est, Coll. «Les régions du Québec», 1998.
Textile Industry in Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/textile-industry
Michel Racicot is President of the Cowansville Historical Society.