Supplier of rigger gloves

If you’ve ever worked as a section hand or oil rigger, felled trees or welded, if you’ve ever roped a calf, gardened or driven a motorcycle, chances are you’ve worn a pair of Watsons.

Watson rigger gloves turns 100 this year, a success story that began in 1918 in a two-storey building on 2nd Avenue between Main and Quebec: Legend has it a bordello and bootlegger occupied the second floor.

The Watson Gloves factory in 1934, with company founder John Watson at far left and Dinty Moore (grandfather of current president Marty Moore) beside him. Vancouver Sun / PNG

Today it’s owned by the third-generation of the Moore family and run by Marty Moore, a third-generation president.

“I’m proud of my family and all of the staff for this milestone,” Moore said of the centenary. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment in a difficult world.”

The company sells more than 2,500 types of gloves to pretty much every industry.

Inside the factory is a fascinating mix of cutting-edge technology and blasts from the past. There are presses from the 1920s, one fashioned from bumpers supplied by the car-repair business that used to be next to the old Watson Gloves location. There is a broom handle used to smooth leather that was there when employee Tom Lowe started with the company 44 years ago.

“It’s a balance of old-world and new,” production manager Harm Mann said.

“We use this to put buttons on welding jackets,” Mann said, pointing to an ancient foot press next to where seamstresses were sewing stitches with Kevlar thread.

Watson, a logger-cum-glovemaker from Portland, noticed the poor quality of gloves worn by workers in the sawmills and docks around False Creek when he moved to Vancouver in 1918. He and his buddy Wayne Stanley immediately formed Watson Gloves.

Dinty Moore, Marty’s granddad, joined them in 1922. Dinty took sales, business and copywriting courses at the YMCA and owned 10 per cent of the company by 1929 through an employee share plan. He also wrote a series of long-running cartoon strips about a character called L’il Oly who ran into all sorts of danger out in the woods only to be saved by Watson gloves every time.

Moore’s grandfather was someone who still had every nickel he’d ever earned, Marty said. Watson, on the other hand, chased skirts and gambled.

“John Watson sometimes couldn’t meet payroll,” Moore said. “So my grandfather would lend him money in exchange for shares.”

After Watson died in the ’30s, Dinty soon became the majority shareholder.

Barrie Moore (Dinty’s son, Marty’s father) joined the team in 1957 as a delivery driver (Marty would follow the same path in 1986).

In 1972, Barrie became one of the first Canadian businessmen to travel to Mainland China, from where he began importing gloves cut using Watson Gloves dies.

Marty’s sister Michele came on board in 1994 and in 1997 Marty took over as president from his dad.

Today the company employs 145 people and has almost 120,000 square feet of warehouse space in Burnaby, Calgary and Mississauga.

But an era is coming to an end.

The presidency will pass out of the Moore family’s hands for the first time since Dinty assumed sole control. Vice-president Kasey Whitman will become president by 2020.

“The first time in almost 80 years a Moore has not run the company,” said the 57-year-old Moore, who is not retiring but handing over day-to-day operations. “We’ll be in very good hands heading into the second century.”

With photo research by Vancouver Sun librarian Carolyn Soltau