345 Carlaw Avenue sits on a site by a lost creek, probably fished by the Mississauga and other First Nations for millennia. In the nineteenth century it was farmland and then market gardens, and then brick yard. Then in the early 20th Century Carlaw Avenue became the industrial heartland of Toronto’s East End and the quiet country lane changed forever.
One of the firms that made its name on Carlaw was the Roden Bros. Ltd. Thomas and Frank came to Canada in 1879 and established a silversmith business in Montreal. They branched out into cutting glass as well. At the time, Roden had a sterling reputation (pun intended) and became:
a household name with prestigious esteem amongst the affluent of Ontario.
Thomas and Frank Roden came to Toronto and founded Roden Brothers in 1891. Their first factory was at 99 ½ King Street West near York Street. They turned out a wide range of silver hollowware and flatware in traditional English styles such as Stratford, Queens, and Louis XV. Roden Bros. Ltd. was incorporated in 1912. That year they purchased the 165 by 400 foot lot of land on Carlaw from A. Barthelmes for $25,000.[i] Goldsmiths Stock Company were their exclusive selling agents from 1900 to 1922.
Their factory was at 345 Carlaw Avenue at the north east corner of Dundas Street and Carlaw Avenue, the site of “The Carlaw” condominium. Dundas Street was not completed through the East End until 1957. Before Dundas Street existed a short laneway ran east off Carlaw just south of the Roden Brothers factory. Their plant sat between the Wrigley Building on the south and the Barthelmes Building on the north. Just to the east of their factory was a buried watercourse known as Holly or Heward Creek. A rail spur allowed them to ship their products across Canada and cheap access to electricity from Niagara Falls powered their machinery and the industrial boom along Carlaw Avenue in the early Twentieth Century. The much-loathed power lines we see on photos were symbols of progress and economic growth at the time. Like others in the Canadian Manufacturing Association (CMA), Thomas and Frank Roden were strong supporters of the by-law that created Toronto Hydro. Carlaw was a dark, dirty industrial street with smoking chimneys, but, in its heyday its plants produced some of those beautiful and desirable products ever made in Canada.
 Globe, Dec. 20, 1907
This photo from 1948 shows the Roden factory, a red brick and concrete three-storey structure on the right. Across the street sets Harrold’s coal yard. The street on the left is is Dickens. The white building on the right is the Barthelmes Building where pianos were made.
This photo from Condo.ca shows the same scene today. The street has changed radically. However, some things, including the position of fire hydrants do not change much, if at all. Find the fire hydrant in both pictures and you will be looking at exactly the same view.
Who were the Rodens and how did they leave their mark on Toronto?
The family was from Birmingham, England. Thomas and Frank’s father, George (1822-1887), was a grocer and provision dealer who became a very successful “commercial traveller” or sales person for one of Birmingham’s chemical factories. Their mother, Susannah Ryland, came from a prominent family that was listed in Burke’s Peerage. Their grandfather William Roden was a currier, a specialist in the tanning of leather.
Like others in the Canadian Manufacturing Association (CMA), Thomas Roden (1859-1929) and Frank Roden (1863-1928) were strong supporters of the by-law that created Toronto Hydro. Carlaw was a dark, dirty industrial street with smoking chimneys, but, in its heyday its plants produced some of those beautiful and desirable products ever made in Canada.
The Roden brothers and their family left more than silver marks in Toronto. They, like many others who had climbed out of Birmingham through their skills, they were committed to the welfare of others, leaving a mark on Toronto’s social fabric that may outlast their silverware. They were Methodists and conservative in their politics, but progressive in many ways.
Throughout their lives both Thomas Roden and his son Alfred were deeply involved in both the CMA and a housing company, the Toronto Housing Company, formed to provide affordable decent housing for working families. The Toronto CMA chapter worked with organized labour, the Toronto of Trade and the Great War Veterans Association (the forerunner of the Canadian Legion) to set up the Ontario Housing Committee. Out of this grew the Toronto Housing Company. Their motives were not entirely altruistic.
“The formation of the Ontario Housing committee and the Winnipeg housing survey were in themselves indications of growing public demand for government-assisted housing construction. Thomas Roden had warned his colleagues in the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association that “the indifference of the guiding classes” in Canada to housing problems was encouraging “that condition that brought about the downfall of Russia” [in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution]. Following Roden’s advice, the Toronto chapter of the CMA resolved that Canadian housing problems posed a “menace” to the “industrial, social and political welfare of the whole country.”
The Rodens were also very involved in the Associated Charities, a forerunner of the United Way. Frank Roden was particularly interested in good cars and roads, both of which he, apparently loved. He was one of the founders of the Good Roads Association in Ontario, as well as the Ontario Motor League and the Canadian Motor League. Frank Roden died in 1928; brother Thomas followed him a year later. Thomas’ son, Alfred J. Roden (1884-1947) led the company after the brothers died.
What exactly did the factory at 234 Carlaw Avenue make?
“Roden Brothers, Ltd., Toronto, 1891-1956: Roden Bothers manufactured superior sterling silver teaware, flatware, toiletware, baby items, trophies, shields and novelties, as well as jewellery; they also manufactured silverplate, Sheffield reproductions, and “Pompeian Glass.”
During both World Wars they produced military badges.
Royal Flying Corps Cap Badges were made in two types. Officer’s cap badges were made either in bronze or of a deeply “pickled” brass which made them deep bronze in colour. The enlisted cap badges, while essentially identical in form, were made from brass or other light golden metallic variations. Examples have been found made in UK and marked “Gaunt” while there have also been examples made in Canada and marked either “Roden Bros” and “Roden Toronto”. There are also many unmarked examples. There is considerable variety in the finish and material colour of these badges. Identical to the cap badge are a smaller version in both bronze and brass for officers and enlisted men which were worn on the raised collars of the “Maternity” smock and later on the lapel of the field uniform. In approximately 1915, an “economy badge” was produced for enlisted men and this differed from the regular badge by not being voided between the letters RFC.
Their glass is from that style known as “Canadian Brilliant Period Cut Glass”. Today their cut glass is hard to identify as many of their pieces of cut glass were not signed. They competed with such Cut Glass Companies as Gundy-Clapperton, Gowans-Kent and Birks who was also their main competitor for the silver consumer market.
A few unique items that Roden Bros. Ltd. produced were a gold rose bowl with the royal route across Canada engraved on it for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939 and, a tea service for Princess Elizabeth’s wedding in 1947.
They put out a special sport trophies catalogue which marketed their medals, trophy cups and other similar items, such as plaques and shields, belt buckles, charms, silver trowels for special events, etc. They advertised in their 1929 catalogue that they had produced “some iconic Canadian trophies” such as the Brier Tankard, the coveted curling trophy. They also produced trophies for hockey, baseball, football, motorcycle racing, curling, track and field, etc.
“On Dec. 4, 1909, at Toronto’s Rosedale Field, a crowd of 3,807 mostly exuberant fans — the average ticket price was 70 cents — watched the University of Toronto Varsity Blues defeat the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club by a score of 26-6. Unfortunately, Earl Grey and his staff had been tardy ordering the cup from Birks Jewelers (at a cost of $48), and it took another three months for the inaugural awarding of the Grey Cup to the victorious Blues.” Allan Levine, “History of the Grey Cup” in the National Post. See http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/allan-levine-history-of-the-grey-cup
What about the Stanley Cup?
Many attribute the Roden Brothers with helping to produce both the Stanley Cup and the Grey Cup. Although I have found no evidence that they actually made either, it is quite probable that they were involved in the alterations over the years, including the adding of the many rings on both cups, various repairs and replacements. The original Stanley Cup consisted of just the bowl and cost $48.67 in 1892. It was made of silver and was 7.28 inches in high and 11.42 inches in diameter. Today’s Stanley Cup has a copy of the fragile, aged original bowl. It is made of a silver and nickel alloy; it is 35.25 inches tall and weighs 34.5 pounds.
On Saturday, February 8, 1947 the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Boston Bruins 5-2. One of the rising new stars that night was a rookie just recently called up from the minors. His name was Bill Barilko.
Alfred Roden, a die-hard hockey fan, watched the game in Maple Leaf Gardens. On his way home to Grenadier Gardens in Swansea he suffered a fatal heart attacks. This Leafs fan gave special silver spoons to the stars of all the games at Maple Leaf Gardens.
On April 19, 1947 the Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadians 2-1 winning the Stanley Cup.
On August 26, 1951 (age 24), Bill Barilko died in a plane crash in the bush near Timmins. His body was not found until 1962. The Leafs won the Stanley Cup that year – the first time since Barilko disappeared 11 years before.
Birks took over Roden Bros. Ltd. in 1953, but continued production on Carlaw until about 1956.
After the Roden Bros. Ltd. left, 345 Carlaw became a printing factory for a while and then a textile company, Larks, until it went under in 1988. Then it became a warehouse and housed a number of different small manufacturers over the next two decades, sharing the general decline of Carlaw Avenue as industries left or went out of business. The street was a sad shadow of itself when I moved here in the early 1980s.
In September, 2011, Streetcar Developments (formerly Dundee Realty) began advertising “The Carlaw” as a “midrise condo with 1- and 2-bedroom lofts” at prices “from the low $200,000s”. Amenities would include a 24-hour concierge, guest suites, a fitness centre, a rooftop party room and a terrace for barbecues, a courtyard garden and even a pet spa. Occupancy was expected in December 2014, but sales began in October, 2011. 
In 2013 the City of Toronto approved the building of a 12-storey condominium tower and three-storey stacked townhouses, with a total of 313 units, on the site of the Roden factory. There were conditions for amending the zoning by law to allow Streetcar Develops the increased density and a 12-storey building. One of the City’s conditions was that the new complex would house a theatre company such as Crow’s Theatre. Another was that, although the Roden Building would be torn down, the Barthelmes Building to the north would be kept. The Carlaw and its neighbour, the Taylor, were completed in the fall of 2015. Tact Architecture designed both buildings.
If there is a ghost in 345 Carlaw, it is probably waiting for the Leaf’s to win the Stanley Cup and the people who live in The Carlaw to invite that spectre to the party. He knows they have a great party space and there’s a lot of Leaf fans on Carlaw.
 Globe, Feb. 22, 1908
 Globe, Dec. 20, 1907
 John Christopher Bacher, Keeping to the marketplace: the evolution of Canadian housing policy, University of Toronto Press, 1984, pp. 56-57.
 Who’s Who in Canada, 1922
 Globe, October 16, 1912
 Unterman McPhail Associates, Heritage Analysis Report: Carlaw and Dundas District Landscape and Public Realm Improvements, City of Toronto, Ontario. Appendix D.
 Toronto Star, Sept. 24, 2011
[i] Toronto Star Dec. 17, 1912