Below is another informative excerpt from the Newsy Farm Notes column, found in The Guardian PEI Newspaper. Flax and “all that the inventor claims”: In 1929, Agricola turned his regular farm column to flax, making him the latest in a chorus of boosters promoting flax to Canadian farmers. The most familiar refrain here was his suggestion that the main barrier to a Canadian flax industry was technical. “A new machine for processing hemp and flax is now being tested in Ontario, and should it prove all that the inventor claims,” he promised, a flax linen industry would surely boom.
“I note in a periodical that the revenue from flax production in Canada has increased by 206% in the last five years, and this led me to inquire into the industry. Flax is grown successfully in other parts of Canada, but I have not heard of its being grown commercially here. The chief drawback of the industry is the amount of hand-labour required in preparing the fibre, and that means money nowadays. The flax is spread in the field and “retted”- which means rotted- till the fibres separate easily. Then begins the tedious process of taking the fibre from the body of the plant. It is run through a “breaking machine” which gently breaks up the woody part, and makes it ready for the “scutchers” who hold it to blunt revolving knives which thresh out the wood and leave the fibre in the scutcher’s hands. The retting process is often speeded up by soaking the stems in a pool keeping them submerged by weights.
Though flax is one of the oldest of cloth materials, no better method than the laborious hand preparation has been devised, if quality of fibre is required. All machines for scutching up to the present, have proved unsatisfactory, producing too much tow (broken stems, etc.) in proportion to the fibre. The “hackling” or combing of the machined fibre, previous to spinning, has not stood the test.
There has of course been a long, patient and expensive effort to produce machinery without these defects, but without success. A new machine for processing hemp and flax is now being tested in Ontario, and should it prove all that the inventor claims, an impetus will be given to an industry which means much to Canada. Owing to this difficulty, flax has been grown principally for seed, and that it is productive is shown by the fact that in 1925 1,126,100 acres produced 9,297,100 bushels of flax seed valued at $18,462,500; and in 1926 when 733,065 acres were sown, the revenue was $9,613,000.”
Read Flax Americana by Josh MacFadyen to read why flax actually boomed in western Canada. Hint: it was more about paint than linen!
Sources: Agricola. “Newsy Farm Notes.” The Charlottetown Guardian. July 26 1929. Accessed July 4 2019.