As the shop-local movement becomes increasingly mainstream, MacAusland's Woolen Mills in Bloomfield, on the northwestern edge of Prince Edward Island, is enjoying newfound popularity. But don't ask Dale MacAusland, co-owner and operator of the mill to parse the rise of locavorism. "I don't have an MBA. I can't explain trends or anything like that," he says. "I just know we're putting out a decent product at a decent price."
That more-than-decent product, available in a range of staple hues and unique, limited-edition colourations, starts with raw 100-per-cent virgin wool. Most of the material is sourced from co-operative growers in Ontario and the Maritimes. It's washed, dried, combed and spun before being fed onto a loom. The blankets are then pre-shrunk in soap and hot water, hung to dry and then brushed, hemmed and packaged. The whole process takes from four to six weeks.
The mill space opened in 1870 as a sawmill and gristmill before switching to woolen blanket production in 1932. It's now operated by a sixth and seventh generation of MacAuslands, including Dale and his daughter Monica, an assistant manager who lives in a farmhouse on the property. Some of the equipment the mill uses was invented over a century ago, such as the yarn skeiner and hook that were modelled on an original design that ran off gears and shafts powered by a waterwheel.
On-site, visitors watch the looms in action and shop yarns and finished blankets. If you can't make it out East, the blankets can be found at boutiques such as Easy Tiger in Toronto, Three Bags Full in Vancouver and North American Quality Purveyors in Calgary.
For more information, visit www.macauslandswoollenmills.com.
LOCAL INTEL: BECKA VIAU
The visual artist recently received the Governor General's Meritorious Service Medal for helping to revive PEI's contemporary art scene
STAY: "One place not to be missed in Kings County is the Trailside Music Café & Inn in Mount Stewart. Each room comes with a curated selection of vinyl records to play and homemade quilts on the bed." www.trailside.ca
SHOP: "Of course, I have to mention my parents' place in New Glasgow, The Toy Factory. It's a fun and magical place to stop if you have a family or are shopping for the little ones in your life. They carry handmade wooden toys that can be personalized, and if you have kids, they can try their hand at making their very own wooden car or magic wand." www.toy-factory.ca
DRINK: "For a countryside experience, Barnone Brewery is set in beautiful Rose Valley, where they grow their own ingredients and host a fantastic roster of local musical talent all summer long. I also recommend picking up a couple of PEI-brewed craft beers and heading to the North Shore at sunset." www.barnone.beer