Great Western Garment Company

, Edmonton

The Great Western Garment Company (GWG) was established in Edmonton in 1911 by Alberta Premier Alexander Rutherford and partners Alfred E. Jackson and Charles A. Graham. It produced work wear and, during the First and Second World Wars, military clothing. It outgrew its premises and moved, in 1914, to 10438 Namayo Street (97 Street) where it remained until 1953. The workforce comprised mostly women and, by 1914, there were 150 operators; by 1919, 375; and, by 1939, 500. The clothing range continued to expand including women’s wear and uniforms for City employees in the 1930s. A “line system” was implemented that saw seamstresses doing piece work with financial incentives for number of pieces completed per day. In 1940, two-thirds of production shifted to uniforms and a two-storey addition to the main plant was built. The 1950s saw further expansion with a new plant being built a few blocks away and casual family clothing introduced. Over the years, efficiencies in clothing production continued with resulting pressures on individual operators to complete as many pieces of work per day to keep their wages high. Shifts in the economics of the clothing industry including offshore production resulted in plant closure in 2004 with over 400 individuals losing their jobs. The plant was an important source of employment for women throughout its history using them to operate cutting, sewing and pressing machines and as office workers. In its early years, most workers were of English descent with some of Ukrainian and Scandinavian origin. During the Second World War many recent immigrants were hired including Assunta (Peron) Dotto, who worked at the plant from 1943 to 1945. She believed that work there gave her a “start” in her life in Canada. In the early 1950s, GWG became an important employer for Italian women. Paolo Veltri from Grimaldi, a caretaker at the factory, helped various women including Estera Albi and Franca Cavaliere to obtain work there. Later, while working for Canadian Immigration, he served as a translator. Italian women also worked in other clothing companies including Maria (Caria) Mauro at White Stag.

Read more about the history of Edmonton's Italian community at the Edmonton City as Museum Project with Adriana A. Davies' three-part chronicle, There Were No Safety Nets.

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Era: The War Years
Themes: Trade & Industry
Cultural Groups: Italian
Area: Central

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