Nfld. & Labrador

Nonia plans exhibit, new designs to celebrate its upcoming 100th anniversary

From its beginnings funding health care access in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, Nonia is still going strong nearly 100 years later.

Hand-knit sweaters and mitts are still popular after a century, says manager Keelin O'Leary

The coastal boat the Nonia will be featured on the 2020 Donna Clouston calendar, held here by Nonia manager Keelin O'Leary. (Francesca Swann/CBC)

From its beginnings funding nurse visits across the province to its modern-day website, Nonia is celebrating a century of making sure that everyone can get their hands on a hand-knit Nan sweater — as long as they can go online or visit their Water Street storefront.

Now the provincial institution is planning for an exhibit celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2020, and they hope that fans of the classic hand-knit sweaters, mittens and hats will dig into their own personal archives and lend pieces to the collection. 

Nonia stands for the Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association. "It was founded to raise money for health care in the rural areas of the province," manager Keelin O'Leary told On The Go.

The company was incorporated as a non-profit business in 1924. When the government took over health care in 1932 Nonia changed its model and the money provided income for the Newfoundland and Labrador knitters, who received — and still receive — wool and patterns in the mail to hand-knit for the retailer. 

"That's been the basic business model for the hundred years that we've been in existence," O'Leary said.

This caribou design is one of many associated with Nonia, says O'Leary. (Francesca Swann/CBC)

Searching for sweaters

Nonia has produced many different knitted items of the years, though certain ones are closely associated with the brand. A sweater pattern with caribou was used for a long time, and some earlier pieces had a lot of fine, detailed knitted work. One longtime Nonia knitter, Annie Lane, knit in a style referred to as Salvage lace because Lane, who knit for the company for 60 years, lived in Salvage.

The iconic caribou design will reappear on Nonia's popular fold-down knitted socks for the 2020 anniversary, O'Leary says. (Francesca Swann/CBC)

A few dozen knitted Nonia items from over the years have been collected and could be featured in the exhibit, O'Leary said, but the company is especially hoping to borrow some from Nonia's first 50 years, which is currently under-represented in the collection.

Many different designs have been used for Nonia knitwear over the past century, including detailed designs as seen on this sweater. (Francesca Swann/CBC)

O'Leary asks people who have a vintage Nonia item to send a photo by email ( or via Facebook or to phone them at 709-753-8062. If you're not sure if your knitted item is a Nonia original, look for the Nonia label — they have been sewn into the items since the earliest days of their creation, she said.

Fine lace designs as seen here were knit by Annie Lane, who worked with Nonia for sixty years. (Francesca Swann/CBC)

Other activities are planned for the Nonia centennial. The coastal boat the Nonia will be featured in Donna Clouston's 2020 calendar. The iconic Nonia caribou is also set to return on mitts and socks, O'Leary said.

The ongoing demand for hand-knitted goods has helped to keep Nonia going, she said, but it doesn't hurt to have a business model that has stayed consistent because it works.

Nonia is hoping to find more knitwear from its long history, especially from its first 50 years in operation. (Francesca Swann/CBC)

"We've been through a lot of interesting changes and challenging times in the last century," O'Leary said, "so I don't know why we wouldn't be able to keep going in the next century."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?