Time Travel Carlaw: 1920s South of Eastern Avenue

City of Toronto Directory, 1921

Is time travel possible?

Maybe not literally (yet), but with a little imagination, some good pictures, and a smidgen of narrative, the past can come alive. Use your imagination to go up Carlaw Avenue in the mid-1920s with the Leslieville Historical Society.



s0372_ss0058_it0071 001

Foot of Carlaw Avenue, City of Toronto Archives



Goad’s Atlas,  1924 south of Eastern Avenue to Keating Street (now part of Lakeshore Blvd. E.) Brick buildings are red, wooden buildings are yellowish-brown). Lot numbers are shown, as well as subdivision numbers and even the numbers of houses.



The Packers’ Encyclopedia, 1922
The Packers’ Encyclopedia, 1922
The Packers’ Encyclopedia, 1922



First stop, just south of Eastern Avenue on the shore of what is left of Ashbridges Bay. A wave of pure stink washes over you. Raw sewage in the water competes with the over-powering smells from Fuller Stanbury Co., pork packers and the penetrating stench of tallow renderers on your

Shoe & Leather Journal, January 1, 1923
Shoe & Leather Journal, January 1, 1923

right hand as you face north. At your left H. B. J1921-5ohnston & Co.’s tannery reeks to high heaven. But that’s just one smell and we’ve just begun. Consumer’s Gas plants on Eastern Avenue near McGee are belching smoke into the air, as are dozens of factories.






Tannery Ashbridge’s Bay, 1926 (Toronto Public Library)

s0372_ss0079_it0166 001

Looking north from Eastern Avenue at the rail overpass into the industrial heart of Leslieville, wreathed in smog.

You hear the high-pitched squeal of frightened pigs as workers prod them down a chute from a box car at the railroad siding along Ashbridge’s Bay. Maybe it’s time to pick up the pace.

Walking is difficult as the street is in terrible shape, with deep ruts and potholes that seem bottomless. The new cement sidewalk is safer.

12 Carlaw Avenue, April 11, 1933 City of Toronto Archives

The streets are lined with small houses, some rundown, some even falling down. This is the poorest part of Leslieville. Some bear old Leslieville names like John Wise (not Wase) at #14, William Snook at #32 and Samuel Buckner at #136. But many more are immigrants who flooded into the neighbourhood just before World War One, drawn by the jobs in the factories and mills. Many houses hold two, three, even four families. Children are everywhere, their voices high and happy, as they play games of tag and hopscotch on the sidewalk. Boys hunch over marbles.


Goad’s Atlas, 1924, showing Eastern Avenue
Jewish rag picker, Bloor Street West. - 1911
Jewish rag picker, Bloor Street West. – 1911. City of Toronto Archives.

1921-2Rag and bone yards are tucked in among the tanneries, paint factories and slaughterhouses along Eastern Avenue. We call it recycling; they called it scavenging. It was work for the poorest of the poor, mostly new immigrants from the shtetls of Poland and the Ukraine.Samuel Cohen’s Veterans Rag and Waste at 101 Carlaw represents long hours of hauling goods by hand trucks and wagons from across downtown to the East End. Every grown up  who live in this crowded neighbourhood in the 1921 we are visiting knows what it was to work long hours.

I worked ten hours a day, six days a week. The only thing we could do because money was so low you couldn’t save anything or very little, so you had to work long hours to keep the table going.


But the rag pickers stand out in a world that was increasingly more and more dominated by one ethnic group.

And I think I should say that it was a WASP neighbourhood. As a matter of fact, I think it was Hughie Garner that said we were WASPO – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Orangemen. 



When I was a boy, very rarely you met anybody who wasn’t born here or Anglo-Saxon or whatever you call them.


Interior, October 30, 1913, City of Toronto Archives


Just north of Eastern Avenue, a small subsidiary of Dunlop Rubber produces Peerless heels and soles. There are many small plants scattered among the houses. People need to be able to walk to work. Their pay is not enough to support a family and pay for streetcar tickets. In another 80 years, the manufacturing plants will be gone and with them the blue-collar jobs that East Enders depended on. In the 1980s they would think of Carlaw as a ghost town of lost jobs and memories of days “on the shop floor”, where the sound of factory whistles carried above all the industrial noise and smoke from dozens of tall chimneys.

Smoke meant our men were working. 



Most of the factories that were here when I was a boy are now out in the suburbs. The buildings are now usually warehouses and most of them are empty.




To be continued





Published by Leslieville Historical Society

Welcome to the Leslieville Historical Society's website. Please feel free to join us, to ask questions, to attend walking tours and other events, and to celebrate Leslieville's past while creating our future. Guy Anderson, President, Leslieville Historical Society and Joanne Doucette, local historian and webmaster.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: