Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Flax in Canadian History

"We can no longer, with justice to ourselves, remain dependent on a foreign nation for articles, which home skill and capital can manufacture equally well. The growing wants of our home population must be met by the produce of our own soil and the skill of our own artisans...

...Considering our present mercantile position, it becomes the duty of every man who has a piece of ground suitable, to sow some flax. He would, by so doing, not only adopt the best crop to bring remuneration to himself, but also give encouragement to those who by a large investment in capital are endeavoring to create home manufacture." -- The Canadian Farmer, Vol III, No. 14 (1866).

Written at the time of the American Civil War, when cotton was scarce and cotton prices were high. "The irony was that flax grew well in parts of Ontario and the fibre could be turned into cloth, thread and twine, but there was no market for it. In 1859 all the flax that was scutched was exported to the United States." Farmers consistently lost money when growing flax for export. Once mills were developed in Canada for processing the flax fiber into cloth, production of flax increased, manufacture of linen increased and farmers continued to lose money on the crop. (Mavis Atton, "Flax Culture from flower to fabric", (Ginger Press: 1988) p. 16-18.)

Today flax is grown as an oil seed crop -- mostly on the prairies. And the straw -- rich as it is in linen fiber -- has become a problem. It doesn't decompose easily into soil humus. It damages equipment when it is left in the field or turned under. It must either be burned in the field or utilized as a fiber. Again flax researchers and farmers are meeting to discuss ways to increase the value of the crop, while dealing with the fiber. Yet the majority of the worlds linen cloth is being manufactured in China.

It is our hope, that the discussion will be meaningful and that the farmer will gain, while linen cloth -- a very special fabric -- will once again be available for clothing and home textiles.

Come to the 2nd Annual Linen Festival at Joybilee Farm, this Saturday, and join in the discussion.

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