260 – 326 Carlaw: Brick dust into silver
What do Lauren Harris (the Group of Seven), William Gooderham of Gooderham Worts (the Distillery district), Col. R. S. McLaughlin (General Motors, Oshawa) and Rumpelstiltskin have in common? And what does that have to do with Carlaw Avenue? And how does E P. Taylor (Argus Corporation and the famous race horse Northern Dancer) fit in?
If we could see relationships visually – as silver threads and cords and ropes we would see a multitude of glittering lines tie these people and their families to the long low red brick complex of buildings on the west side of Carlaw from 260 to 290 Carlaw. Many of those silver cords run to the Phillips family who built the Phillips Manufacturing Company on the west side of Carlaw. Others net together to reach over the globe.
To find out more you will have to read on!
In the mid 1970s the City of Toronto decided not to expand the office core. Instead it encouraged residential and mixed office/housing projects downtown. The Kings are two big former industrial districts covering about 500 acres in the Parliament/King and King/Bathurst areas. City Policy was to protect working class jobs here so The Kings were kept for industry. The policy didn’t work, but it did stop Corktown and the Niagara Neighbourhood, as well as other downtown industrial areas, from being re-made in a 1970s-style development.
The building and real estate boom crashed in 1989. In the 1990s the subsequent recession hit Carlaw hard — at the same time as a housing shortage. A number of factors were behind the housing shortage of the 1990s and vacancy rates of less than one percent:
- high house prices,
- rental increases twice the rate of inflation,
- an almost complete lack of rental unit construction,
- the relaxation of rental controls.
At the same time as high unemployment, government cut income distribution programs like Employment Insurance and welfare. Younger people began to use warehouses as residential lofts. It was illegal but there was a need for cheap housing and buildings were unused as industries were leaving Carlaw and other downtown industrial areas.
It took changes in City of Toronto policies and by-laws as well as creativity to take these old factories and remake them as highly-valued “hard lofts”.
In the mid 1990s, the City’s planning department had a new approach for the Kings. The demand for office space was non-existent. Industry was. The City designated Corktown and Spadina/Niagara as “reinvestment areas.” Building and land owners were allowed to use their existing buildings for any use, or mixture of uses, they wanted (except for certain toxic industries). Owners could adjust use in response to the market. The Kings was the first big scale effort in North America to let a new type of neighbourhood emerge mostly through market forces. It has created much new housing, a lot of it condos, but some co-op. More than 50 housing projects were started. For more info about “The Kings” go to:
The artists and other illegal loft dwellers had seen the beauty of the high ceilings, exposed brick and wood beams, polished concrete floors and big warehouse windows. Now it took entrepreneurs with vision could to take other areas, including the Old East End, “up market”.
Gyan Chand Jain arrived in Canada in 1964 from New Delhi, India with a degree in engineering and German work experience. However, as with many immigrants, he found he needed North American credentials to get ahead. In 1966 he obtained a Masters Degree in Industrial Engineering from Ohio State University. In 1969 he began buying up rundown properties at auction and renovating them for re-sale. He founded Atria Developments. His sons, Hans Jain and Vipin Jain, now run Atria Developments. Atria Developments bought up old rundown factories on Carlaw and renovated them from brownfield to highly desirable properties (Toronto Star, June 10, 2006). As well as being pioneers in renovating old buildings, Gyan Chand Jain and his family are very involved in charitable works and supporting vegetarianism, as well as with the Jain religion in the GTA.
Today we know the red brick complex Atria Developments redeveloped on Carlaw’s west side as home to a number of interesting and creative small enterprises and boutique shops such as:
260 Carlaw Avenue
Flaunt Boutique, hairdressers
That Toronto Studio Photography Rental Space
270 Carlaw Avenue
Reliable Carpet and Upholstery Care
276 Carlaw Avenue
The Canadian School of Lutherie
284 Carlaw Avenue
Shirley’s First Break
290 Carlaw Avenue
I-Zone Live Work Lofts
Undercover Kids Amazing Spy Parties
Spirit Loft Movement Centre
326 Carlaw formerly Crown Cork and Seal is now also I-Zone Live Work Lofts. I will be posting separately in the future about Crown Cork and Seal, as well as two other companies that occupied this block: Reliable Toy and Pratt Food Co.
Phillips Manufacturing Company Limited
One of the first of those silver threads ran from Carlaw avenue to Ireland and the Phillips family.
Francis Phillips [1847-1910], was born in Cork, Ireland. He immigrated to Canada in 1856 and settled at Kingston. He moved to Toronto in 1864 where he worked for John McGee, Iron Founder, later that company became E. and C Gurney.
In 1872 Frank Phillips married Annie Bacon, daughter of John Bacon and Harriet Roberts. He went into business with his father-in-law, John Bacon and Frank Phillips, buying out Hurd and Leigh, a crockery and china importer near Yonge and King. They changed the company’s name to Bacon and Phillips. John Bacon retired in 1876 and Phillips formed a new partnership formed with C. E. Thorne, forming “Phillips Thorne and Co., importers of fine china”. In 1878 Phillips Thorne and Co. dissolved.
Frank Phillips became manager of C. G. Cobban Co. In 1874 Cobban had founded this company which made mouldings, mirrors, and frames, as well as cabinet work. In 1880 the name was changed to Cobban Manufacturing Company, glass manufacturer.
The Cobban Manufacturing Company, 47-61 Hayter Street. This business was established by C. G. Cobban in 1874, and came into possession of the present firm in June, 1881, being composed of the following: John Bacon and Frank J. Phillips. About one hundred and twenty-five hands are employed in the manufacture of mouldings, looking-glasses, frames and all kinds of cabinet work. The firm also imports plate, German and sheet-glass, making a specialty of plate-glass and silvering. In 1882, they received a silver medal for mirrors at the Industrial Exhibition. Toronto. The building has a frontage of 200 x 50 feet, and contains three storeys, besides which there is a large yard for the storage of lumber, etc. This firm ranks as one of the largest in the Dominion, having a trade which extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean.
Graeme Mercer Adam, Charles Pelham Mulvany, Christopher Blackett, Robinson, authors. History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario. Volume 1. Toronto: C.B. Robinson, 1885
In 1893 Frank Phillips became president.
The Canada Gazette, 1890
The company now made mostly picture frames and plate glass. It began operating under the name “Phillips Manufacturing Co. Ltd., late Cobban”. In 1905 the Cobban Manufacturing Company formally changed its name to the Phillips Manufacturing Company. (Globe, Dec. 9, 1905)
The Cobban Mfg. Co.’s factory on Lake Street (see picture above) was designed by architect E. J. Lennox, famous for Toronto’s old City Hall, the King Edward Hotel, and many other landmark buildings. Lake Street lay south of the Esplanade and was eliminated in the rebuilding of the waterfront. (Marilyn M. Litvak, Edward James Lennox: Builder of Toronto, Dundurn, Sep 1, 1996, p. 39)
260-326 Carlaw Avenue Phillips Manufacturing Co. (1909-1939)
Instead of building “a large addition to their already immense concern”, Phillips Manufacturing Co. Ltd. decided to move. In 1906 the Phillips paid $16,733.00 for property on Carlaw Avenue to build a new factory. This property had a frontage of 600 feet on the west side of Carlaw by 300 feet deep. (Toronto Star, Nov. 26, 1906) Phillips again contracted Edward J. Lennox (1855-1933), fas architect for their factory on Carlaw Avenue. (http://dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/node/1445) (Canadian Engineer, xiv, Feb. 8, 1907).
The call for tenders to build the plant was advertised on January 26, 1907. (Globe, Jan. 26, 1907). There were issues with the site as a branch of Holly/Heward Creek ran through the site of and across Carlaw to the Russell property on the east side of the street. This stream had to be diverted in order to build the Phillips factory. The cost at the time was projected to be over a thousand dollars, an expensive fix at that time. (Toronto Star, April 11, 1907)
On May 20, 1907 the City of Toronto issued the building permit for the project. The new plant was expected to cost $83,000. The new plant was one of the biggest on Carlaw Avenue and shipped its products to retailers across Canada via rail.
Phillips Manufacturing would be one of the largest employers in the old East End of Toronto.
At the end of December, 1907, Phillips Manufacturing moved to their new plant on Coxwell Avenue. (Globe, Dec. 31, 1907). Ward One (included Riverdale, Leslieville and the Beach) welcomed three large new plants: Dunlop Tire, the Toronto Plate Glass Company, and Phillips. (Toronto Star, May 9, 1908). These were modern facilities using electrical power and up-to-date machinery and methods, including transportation. A railway spur line ran down Thackeray Street to serve the factory. This was not an unmixed blessing as in 1908 a runaway freight car thundered down the spur line and right through the wall of the new factory.
The Phillips Manufacturing Company was active in the local community and particularly in promoting sports including hockey and baseball.
Other “sporting” activities were not so welcome. “Making book” or taking illegal bets on the shop floor was a firing offense — if the “bookie” got caught.
In 1910 Frank Phillips died, but the Phillips family continued to own the company. His sons and daughters ran the company. Heber Phillips was President and William Phillips was Vice-President. The family business was now known as Phillips Toronto Ltd.
Phillips published not only picture frames, but pictures.
One of the most popular advertising art in Canadian history were the Dingbats. Charles E. Frosst & Co., Montreal, begin publishing calendars with these tiny elf-like creatures in 1915. Usually they were performing surgery or some other medical procedure (as above), but in the Phillips ad they are curling.
Max Parrish prints were also extremely popular, as in this Cleopatra print from Canadian Furniture World and The Undertaker, Feb., 1921, and the same print in a period frame (photo from http://picclick.ca/Maxfield-Parrish-Cleopatra-Vintage-Print-112014360063.html#&gid=1&pid=1).
In 1932 Heber Phillips died and the Phillips family sold the company in the late 1930s.
In 1950 S. F. Samuels and A. Samuels, owners of Reliable Toys, took over the “Phillips Toronto Limited” name and the company surrendered its charter. The firm now operated as “Phillips Toronto Company”.
The plant moved to Strathroy in 1953 while keeping the head office and showroom on Carlaw, next to Reliable Toys which now occupied much of the block.
The Phillips plant and chimney as it is today. Photo by Joanne Doucette.
The company moved again to Richmond Hill in 1962 – and was later known as Oxford Picture Frame Co.
Oxford Picture Frame has been designing and manufacturing quality wood mouldings for over 80 years in our world-class production facility. Our successful moulding designs are truly unique and innovative in the framing marketplace. Custom run orders, International distributor and OEM enquiries are always welcomed. http://forums.creativeshake.com/Showcase.asp?ID=38
The Oxford Picture Frame Company is now the biggest Canadian maker of picture frame moulding and accessories.
The Heritage Analysis Report: Carlaw and Dundas District Landscape and Public Realm Improvements, City of Toronto, Ontario, by Unterman McPhail Associates, of March, 2016, details the heritage value of buildings in the area, including the Phillips Manufacturing factory.
258 Carlaw Avenue, the 1907 Phillips plant, was renumbered to 260 Carlaw Avenue. The plant at 260-290 Carlaw Avenue is described as:
- 2 storey building with dark brown brick and a smooth stone base
- large loft-style openings between brick pilasters with sloped buttress-like tops just below roofline
- entrance bay parapet rises above the rest of the roofline
- multiple entrances and a loading bay
- 2nd storey windows appear to have metal sills 1st storey windows have stone sills. (Heritage Analysis Report Carlaw and Dundas District Landscape and Public Realm Improvements City of Toronto Ontario, March 2016, Prepared for: City of Toronto. Prepared by: Unterman McPhail Associates.)
The family married into some of the most influential names in Canadian society.
William Phillips [1893-1964], son of William Charles Phillips and Eleanor McMillan, was born at Toronto and attended Upper Canada College. He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1914 and served with the British Army during World War One. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at the age of 23. He won the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross. In 1918 William Eric Phillips married Mary Eileen McLaughlin [1898-1959], daughter of Robert Samuel McLaughlin and Adelaide Louise Mowbray. Later he re-married to Doris Gibson. After the First World War William Phillips worked with his father in Phillips Company Ltd. Later he moved to Oshawa and ran a company making glass. After the Second World War he was, with E. P. Taylor, one of the founders of the Argus Corporation.
Lillian Annie Phillips [1873-1947] married 1899 William Hargraft Gooderham [1875-1929] Lillian, daughter of Francis J. Phillips and Annie Bacon.
In 1915 Heber Bacon Phillips [1877-1932] married Kathleen Jessie Nesbitt [1885-1965], well known golfer and journalist.
In 1910 Beatrice Helen Phillips [1885-1962] married Lawren Harris [1885-1970] painter and member of the Group of Seven. She later divorced from Lawren Harris and he re-married to Bess Housser. (http://www.paulturner.ca/Phillips/Phillips/phillips-dossiers.htm)
Artists, Entrepreneurs: Brick Dust to Gold
It should be no surprise that artists like Lauren Harris and entrepreneurs and business leaders, like the Gooderhams, Colonel Sam McLaughlin and E. P. Taylor, should have connections to Carlaw Avenue. Toronto’s Old East End was a powerhouse of industry in the first half of the Twentieth Century. The Phillips lived and moved in a world of privately-owned Muskoka Islands, debutante balls, world travelling and luxury, far away from the factories and workers who made the money for them. Like marries like — at least in most cases. Cinderella is an endangered species. But while talking of fairy tales, consider artists, 1990s loft-dwellers, and small business entrepreneurs, as modern-day Rumpelstiltskins, doing their own spinning not foisting it off on the poorest of the poor.
While suburban companies are doing well, now there are alternatives to industrial parks and strip malls along expressways and giant box homes and stores spreading across the green fields. The inner city brownfields are key to preserving the Green Belts greenfields. The Phillips Manufacturing Company site is at the heart of the re-making of Leslieville with new housing, new enterprises, and new galleries and theatres. Links from Carlaw Avenue thread out all around the globe, bringing creativity, wealth and growth here and sending it out again. This is spinning the proverbial straw, in this case, old brick factories and their gritty brick dust, into silver and gold.
One thought on “260 – 326 Carlaw: Brick dust into silver”
Hi Joanne. Clarifying question re the historical occupancy of what is now 260-290 Carlaw. Clearly, the building (then numbered 258, later renumbered) was initially owned and occupied by Phillips Manufacturing from its construction in 1907. As you describe in this article, Phillips vacated the building in the early 50s, except for its showroom and office. You mention that by the 50s, Reliable Toy was present in the complex, and the Samuels’ took over the former operating name of the Phillips company.
Another historical source suggests that Reliable Toy first moved into this same facility at (by then) 260 Carlaw much earlier – in 1935 (and stayed there until 1985).
This suggests to me (I’m loosely inferring here) that Phillips had the ‘run of the place’ from 1907 to 1935, but then entered into a period of contraction of its business; Reliable Toy moved in in 1935, and for a 15 or so year period or more, Phillips Manufacturing and Reliable Toy actually co-existed in the same building, splitting the space. After Phillips finally departed (not clear when that was, but I’m assuming the 50s), presumably Reliable Toy expanded their business to fill the whole building, or possibly shared it with other new businesses, until 1985.
Is that roughly consistent with your interpretation of the ‘sequence of events’ re Phillips Manufacturing and Reliable Toy’s respective occupancy of 260-290 Carlaw building? Or am I getting some places, dates or companies wrong?)
(FYI, I’m typing this question actually looking at the 260-290 Carlaw building off my terrace right across the street, trying to visualize it as it was over the last 100 years. I was at the historical walk of this area last weekend, and have read a great deal of your historical essays on the neighbourhood in the last week. )