As an integral element of the lone cowboy – the Stetson hat is a symbol of America – but a large part of its history played out in Canada.
In 1902 the Union Hat Works of St. John’s, Quebec agreed to relocate their factory to Brockville, Ontario in a deal that exchanged a free parcel of land and ten tax-free years for a fully equipped factory that guaranteed to employ 100 local workers for four years.
The Union Hat Works operated until 1913 when it was purchased by the Wolthausen Hat Corporation of South Norwalk, Connecticut. The J.B. Stetson Company acquired a controlling interest in the Wolthausen Hat Corp. in 1930 and took over the Brockville factory in 1935 so they could avoid high Canadian tariffs by manufacturing their hats for the Canadian market in Canada. It was the first time Stetson had opened an operation outside of the U.S., but plants in Mexico and Australia soon followed.
The Brockville Stetson plant made a variety of hats, particularly fine dress hats under their Sovereign and Royal Stetson lines, as well as youthfully-styled hats for their Playboy line. Stetson also produced all the hats for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the Brockville plant.
Between 1955 and 1970, the men’s hat business shrunk by 50% and Stetson closed their Brockville plant on May 21st, 1970. The plant president at the time, Alex Higginson, explained “It is no mystery why we are closing the plant, just take a walk down the street and you’ll see the answer- most people just aren’t wearing hats any more”. Although production in Canada ceased, Stetson retained a Canadian office until 1985.