Beamsville’s basket factory was a cornerstone of commerce and the agricultural sector for decades
By Joanne McDonald
The apple may not fall far from the tree, but it didn’t get much further over the last century of fruit farming without a ride to market in a sturdy container made by the Beamsville Basket and Veneer Company.
Free water and no taxes for 10 years brought entrepreneurs Aquilla W. Reid and Samuel Piott to build the basket factory in 1909.
Located on the Hixon Street property now home to the Beamsville Medical Centre, the factory was a major hub of production, manufacturing millions of baskets to carry the harvests that fuelled the Town’s economy and shaped its social structure for much of the 20th century.
The landscape has changed, but history has deep roots – today’s residents walking into the doctors’ offices with their very present concerns, are standing on the epicenter of the Town’s rich agricultural past.
Retired school teacher Margaret (nee Reid) Gierula, a Beamsville resident and granddaughter of Aquilla is a delight to interview with her vivid and warm recollections of a childhood that centred on life around the basket factory and shaped her youth during a time when the town was growing with a diverse influx of immigrants who made it their home.
Margaret worked in the factory during summer holidays, making the wood slatted/lino mesh covers (red lino for sweet cherries and blue lino for sour) used to secure the fruit for transportation. It was a happy environment and “the best thing that happened in my life,” she said, was her immersion and exposure to the diverse workforce made up of many immigrants arriving to begin a new life in Canada. “Many local business owners had their start working at the factory.”
The basket factory was the epicenter of work and social life in the community. “At 12 noon the steam whistle blew, work stopped and everybody went home for lunch,” Margaret said, painting colourful vignettes of the daily routine at the basket factory.
She recalls Elaine (nee Moore) Nauman’s father, Archie Moore was the Christie’s Dairy milkman and made his deliveries by horse and buggy. Elaine’s mother worked at the factory and every noon when the whistle would blow, Archie would sit his daughter on the butter box and gallop the horse from William St. to collect his wife home for lunch.
There was no need for a lunch room at the factory. “Everybody went home for lunch. They all lived in Beamsville,” Margaret said. Housing along Academy St. was provided for employees. “I take pride in the fact that the housing was always cared for.”
Margaret’s most precious memories include working alongside Kay Teshimo, a Japanese woman whose nimble fingers were adept at producing the basket covers at a fast pace.
Margaret’s father, Bruce Hendrie (B.H.) Reid and uncle, William Oswald (W.O.) Reid had brought Ko Teshima, Kay’s husband, to work at the factory.
The factory provided employment for a host of immigrant families including Japanese Canadians who were forced from their homes and sent to detention camps in British Columbia during the Second World War.
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Margaret Gierula / Hixon Street in Beamsville