From left to right: Mike
Little, the fourth-generation owner-operator of Briggs & Little,
with his sons John and C.J., who work on the factory floor.
Briggs & Little's knitting yarn is a bit scratchy and has a
faint whiff of its barnyard origins.
But in today's $2.8-billion North American knitting market,
both the yarn and the small Canadian company that makes it have
proved to be surprisingly durable.
"Part of the appeal to our customers is that we're just real
people like anyone else," said John Little, the recently retired,
third-generation owner and operator of the family-run
Located in York Mills, N.B., the mill started in 1857 and
changed ownership and names over the years. In 1916, the business
became Briggs & Little Woolen Mills Ltd., making it Canada's oldest
continuously-operating woollen mill and one of the few remaining
woollen mills left in North America.
The first thing you notice when you enter Briggs & Little's
woollen mill is the smell of wet sheep.
"After a while you'll grow to really like it," laughed Mike
Little, the mill's current owner-operator, and John's son. Mike is
the fourth-generation Little to run the mill.
John Little, the
third-generation owner-operator of Briggs & Little Woolen Mills
Ltd., in front of the mill's world headquarters in York Mills, near
Harvey Station, N.B. Pictured at right: Briggs & Little yarn ready
to be shipped to customers. (Heather Barrett/CBC)
The mill takes freshly-shorn sheep's wool, most of it from
Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers in Carleton Place, Ont., and the
rest from individual farmers, and turns it into yarn in a rainbow
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