That smell’s the tannery; God help you in summer. If there’s one good thing, the rats can’t climb this high, but the water can – that roof hasn’t got long.
You’re not exactly selling it.
From the movie Casanova, 2005
Where did it all begin? In 1852 John Clarke opened a small tannery on the Otonabee River in Ashburnham, now part of Peterborough.
In 1882 his three sons, Alfred Russell, Frederick G., and Charles F., moved the tannery to Toronto and Alfred R. Clarke took over sole ownership. The tannery was very successful, but, besides the notoriously bad stench associated with tanneries, it had other problems, including labour unrest.
In 1893 the Working Women’s Protective Association went out on strike by at the A.R. Clarke & Co. glove factory in a fight for factory reform law and votes for women. The strike ran for about three months. Eugene Forsey, Eugene. Trade Unions in Canada, 1812-1902. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982) 329- 300.
[Building Permits] A. R. Clarke, a three-story factory in Eastern avenue, to cost $25,000. Globe, Sept. 20, 1900 [at Beachell in Corktown]
In 1902 Alfred R. Clarke moved his tannery from beside the Don River to 633 Eastern Avenue.
A story circulated that, while Clarke was supervising raising the flag (to celebrate the end of construction) from his new building’s roof, all Toronto’s church bells rang and factory whistles shrieked. Though Clarke knew he was a prominent figure in Toronto’s business world, he was, none the less, gratified with the City’s response to his new tannery’s opening. When he got back to his office he found that the celebrations were for the end of the Boer War, not to welcome the new tannery.
ADDITIONS AND MORE ADDITIONS
[Building Permit] A. R. Clarke & Co. – One-storey brick addition to leather works, near Caroline street on Eastern avenue, $1,000. Toronto Star July 18, 1904
…a factory for A.R. Clarke & Co., Ltd., on Eastern avenue, to cost $2,000. Globe, Sept. 20, 1905
Frederick G., and Charles E. Clarke owned and operated Clarke and Clarke, tannery, while Alfred R. ran A. R. Clarke Co. The other Clarke Brothers specialized in leather pickled in brine while A. R. Clarke specialized in patent leather and fine leather products such as gloves. For a while Frederick and Charles considered building a new tannery on Carlaw Avenue.
Dr. Brown, the first speaker, said that the tannery would be right next door to his fine new residence.
“I have invested $15,000 there, the savings of a lifetime,” he said. “No one can tell me that there will be no odor from hides in pickle.”
“I am afraid it may interfere with my church, which is within 200 yards, said Rev. Mr. Frizzell of Leslieville Presbyterian church. This is a very thickly-populated residential district.”
Toronto Star, Sept. 26, 1906
“I’m glad we’re going,” said one woman.
“Why – because of the odor of the tannery?” asked The Star.
“Not that particularly. You see, there are so many odors around here that it is almost impossible to make distinguish any particular one.”
Toronto Star, Oct. 2, 1906
Toronto Star, Oct. 9, 1906
GLOVE MAKERS WANTED FOR light work; inseam and trimmer machines. A. R. Clarke & Co., Limited, 633-661 Eastern avenue.
Globe, June 3, 1913
This advertisement is from the day before a German U-boat torpedoed R.M.S. Lusitania.
Elbert Hubbard the founder of Roycroft, died on the Lusitania as well as many other celebrities and many wealthy men, women and children. Hundreds of second and third class passengers drowned as well. Alfred R. Clarke survived the sinking only to die of pneumonia afterwards. The vortex from the sunken liner sucked Clarke far under the surface. The incredible water pressure crushed his chest, puncturing his lungs.
But! What Tremendous Fleet Could Ever Have Brought Over Such an Army? – The Lusitania. July 6, 1918, Library and Archives Canada
A. R. Clarke’s son Griffith B. ran the tannery until he died in an accident in 1923. Then Clarke’s widow ran the business herself.
Heavy Water Damage at Clarke Company Fire
Heavy damage by water was done last night to the stock of the A.R. Clarke Company, manufacturers of leather goods, 633 Eastern Avenue, when water sprinklers flooded four floors of the building. A small fire started about 10.30 on the fourth floor, near a clothing room. Sprinklers were set in operation, and before fireman could shut off the water, all floors were flooded.
The superintendent of the firm stated he could not estimate the loss last night, but though it would be several thousand dollars. The cause of the fire is not known.
Globe, Nov. 6, 1926
On the death of Mrs. A. R. Clarke,in 1931, her son-in-law, W. H. Lytle became company president of the tannery until he died in 1961. The family remained involved in the business for years.
In the 1960s A. R. Clarke & Co. Limited expanded by buying The Breithaupt Leather Co. Limited of Kitchener with tanneries in Hastings and Campbellford. See the May 1967 “Centennial Issue” of Industrial Canada held in the Western Libraries at the University of Western Ontario. http://www.lib.uwo.ca/programs/companyinformationcanada/ccc-ARClarke.htm
On March 27, 2001, fire destroyed the A.R. Clarke Limited building as it was being renovated to convert it into a film sound stage. The tannery on Eastern Avenue was in receivership at the time.
Workers dismantling the pipes inside the building were welding with acetylene torches while the sprinkler system was shut off. More than 100 firefighters and more than 30 fire trucks fought the fire. Police evacuated nearby businesses and homes were evacuated as flames shot into the sky.
Spilled degreasing chemicals over the years of operation contaminated the tannery land and the groundwater.
Toronto Star, March 28, 2001