The Glenayr Kitten Mill (A Reminiscence)

(The year before I was married, which was thirteen years ago, I lived in Scotland.)

One day, about fourteen years ago now, while perusing the wares at a knitwear outlet in Edinburgh, I felt a curious and unexpected wave of nostalgia. This place in Edinburgh, Scotland was so strikingly similar to a place my mother used to take us to in Ontario, Canada (now, what was the name of that place that Mum used to take us to? … it was in Lanark, and there was something Scottish about it … and something to do with a kitten … ), so uncannily reminiscent of the Glenayr Kitten Mill of my childhood. The piles of jumpers (but we called them ‘sweaters,’ of course) all laid out on wooden tables; the firm but friendly salesladies; the general air of solid but unpretentious quality … all of a sudden, I was back in Lanark (Lanark Co., Ontario, Canada, that is).

I have to admit, I bought a cardigan that day, just on the strength of that memory.

The Glenayr Kitten Mill outlet in Lanark (Lanark Co., Ontario, that is) was the kind of place that we (my sisters and I, that is, though certainly not our mother) loved to hate. So fusty and old-fashioned, and please, mum, don’t make us wear those sweaters! that’s not what the popular girls are wearing, and the mothers of the popular girls only shop at the Bay. But our pleas fell on deaf ears: our mother has always known a bargain when and where she finds it, and bargains are what she found at the Glenayr Kitten Mill.

As I now recall it, the Kitten Mill had an impressively no-nonsense integrity: no frills; no fuss; just good, sturdy value at a fair price. But it wasn’t until years later, while looking at jumpers at a knitwear outlet in Edinburgh, that I began to appreciate the Kitten Mill for what it had been: a little piece of the Scotland-to-Canada knitwear tradition that had already, alas, all but died out when our mother took us to the Glenayr for new sweaters.

(And it wasn’t until I lived in Scotland for a year that I began to truly appreciate the fundamentally Scottish character of so much of “English” Canada, or of “English” Ontario, at any rate. I recall going to the Waterstone’s on Princes St. in Edinburgh to look for an Alice Munro book [which I found, btw] because there was this story that I just had to reread: I had heard something earlier that day that had so uncannily reminded me of this Munro story, and something had finally just clicked about Scotland and Canada…).

A couple of photos of the Glenayr Kitten Mill, now sadly abandoned, at John’s Ghost Town.