Diversification helps Wool Growers weather 100 years
By Tom Van Dusen
July 10, 2018 OntarioFarmer.com
Carleton Place – When Canadian Cooperative Wool
Growers General Manager Eric Bjergso is asked how business today
compares to what it was 100 years ago, he has no trouble
Eric Bjergso holds up a
slim 1918 Wool Growers Coop Annual
In his office in what was once Canadian Pacific
Railway roundhouse and machine shops in Carleton Place, Bjergso
quickly comes up with an original, intact copy of the coop’s 1918
annual report which shows it collected 4.5 million pounds of raw
wool in that first year. Wool sales stood at $2.9 million, with
shepherd’s supplies at a meagre $3,400.
That was the heyday of the Canadian raw wool industry. By the
mid-70s when Bjergso came on board, wool collection, grading and
processing had dropped to about 1.5 million pounds. In recent
years, with changes in consumer tastes and more attractive prices,
that number has rebounded to close to three million
the really impressive figures are at the retail end. From that
early shepherd’s supplies line item, retailing has climbed to $7
million on total annual revenues of just over $10 million.
It’s all about diversification, Bjergso explains.
The CCWG complex is a study in contrasts. In one large section,
large sacks of raw wool are stacked in gloomy surroundings which
would fit comfort- ably into Dickens England. Other sections
contain a wool store and livestock equipment retailing as bright
and inviting as any you’re likely to see. In between is a warren of
Celebrating its 100th anniversary mostly during its annual meeting
and banquet to be held at nearby Almonte Oct. 18-20, the coop was
founded as a mechanism for paying all members the same price for
their raw product no matter size of the wool clip, the time of year
received, or distance travelled to the Carleton Place facility
acquired in 1940.
‘’The place was a mess, ‘’ Bjergso observed. ‘’Tracks, turntable,
steel wheels… anything and everything needed for train repair could
be found in the building.’’ On the positive side, scrap iron was
much in demand at the beginning of WWII and what might have been a
liability was turned into an asset.
On the CPR mainline, Carleton Place was ideally located to handle
wool from the west and ship it via Montreal to points in Europe as
well as across Canada. Originally with warehouses in Weston and
offices in Toronto, by 1972 the entire CCWG operation had been
moved to Carleton Place. Coop administration is housed a section of
the building which once served as storage and boiler room for
Raw wool is graded according to fibre diameter and length, amount
of grease and foreign matter. After grading as fine, medium and
coarse, wool is shipped out in compact bales, with 90 per cent
exported out of Canada. China is a major
In 1979, the old CPR coal bins were transformed
into the Real Wool Shop. The roundhouse was renovated into Stockman
Supply and overflowing Equestrian Centre for tack and Western
clothing. The room also contains a railway memorabilia mini
Together with livestock supplies sold in Carleton Place and at
outlets in Lethbridge, St. Jacob’s, Cookstown and Saint-Hyacinthe,
retailing now makes up about 60 per cent of CCWG annual sales.
‘’With the drop in wool processing in the ‘70s, we knew we had to
diversify and we’ve done a pretty good job of it,’’ Bjergso
There’s much to celebrate and as part of the festivities, CCWG is
developing a 100th banner. In addition, the milestone was
recognized at the Lambs Down Park Festival June 16, an annual
family day held on the coop grounds, and will be acknowledged again
July 7-8 during A Stitch in Time demonstrations and displays at
Dunvegan, Glengarry County.
Eric Bjergso inside the
cavernous raw wool receiving area.