DIG IN: Local History
The modern history of the Bloor/Dufferin area began with the Denison
Family. They were paternalists, military men, civic leaders and
church builders. This was the family that was to have a significant
effect on the area for the next century.
John Denison, first generation of the Denison family, was born in
Yorkshire, England. In Yorkshire, John Denison knew Peter Russell who
became Simcoe's successor as administrator of Upper Canada. In 1797,
John Denison joined his friend from England in Canada. Through
Russell, the Denison family secured large land holdings eventually
becoming one of the wealthiest landowners in Upper Canada. They then
acquired property in the presently known Kensington and
The period between 1880 and 1890 was one of the most remarkable in
Toronto's history. Rapid industrial growth, an increase in production
and the demand for labour attracted thousands of newcomers. The
cities population suddenly grew by almost 50 percent. This began a
migration for the middle class away from the city centre to the
fields and lots at Bloor and Dufferin. However, the development of
the new suburban neighbourhood would not have been possible without
Services were introduced to Dundas Street gradually extending north
to College and eventually went beyond Bloor. Between 1880 and 1900
residential streets, running water, sewers and the railway began to
grow at a rapid pace. At the time, Toronto mayor Arthur R. Boswell
attached enough importance to the issue of the deteriorated condition
of the Garrison Creek that he provoked the construction of a sewer
The new streets, the improved road surfaces and sidewalks were all
features of this decade. It was at this time that the Denisons reaped
large profits by subdividing, developing and selling their valuable
properties. Farms and fields were now an intricate network of streets
on which homes and businesses would be built.
The area became a home for many families and industries. The area
became populated with various institutions but primarily churches.
St. Anne's Anglican church was founded in 1862 and St. Helen's Roman
Catholic Church was established in 1871. Later followed the methodist
Wesley Church built in 1874-75. Soon after, in 1887 the St. Clarens
Avenue Methodist Church was built at the southwest corner of Dundas
and St. Clarens. The Ossington Avenue Baptist Church was built in
1886 or 1888 and St. Mary's Anglican Church near Delaware and Bloor
was built in 1889. These institutions became the social and religious
focal points for the working middle class families that populated the
area. The industries that located here in the 1880's included Wagner
and Ziedler's Planing Mill,the Canadian Wire Mattress Company,
Campbell Flour Mills, The Dodge Wood Split Pulley Company and the
Nordheimer Piano Company.
In 1902, the Canada Foundry Company(part of General Electric) set up
on a sixty-acre site at Lansdowne and Davenport and became one of the
major industries in the area. Also, at the same time meat packing
plants made there way near the freight facilities in the area.
In 1887 the first classes at Brock Public School were held. In 1908,
Kent school opened. Amazingly enough, this was for a period of time
the largest public school in all of Canada. Both Brock School and
Kent Senior Public School were schools known for high discipline.
Many of the instructors were military men. St.Helen's was built in
1883 at Lansdowne Avenue and Dundas Street but was later moved in
1913 to College Street and Brock Avenue. Other schools that opened in
the area included St. Anthony's in 1900, Essex in 1902 and Pauline
Avenue Public School in 1914.
In the decades following between 1890 and 1945, years of prosperity
were followed by a severe depression. In 1908, a lot twenty-two feet
wide on Chesley Avenue off Brock sold for $125 and within a year the
owners moved into a house that they had constructed. Many of the
newcomers in the area built their own homes. The Streets were dirt
roads with wood plank sidewalks. By 1912, Havelock, Rusholme,
Dovercourt and Gladstone were developed from Bloor Street to Dufferin
In 1913, the Dovercourt Branch of the Public Library (Bloor/Gladstone
Library) opened at the corner of Bloor Street and Gladstone Avenue.
It was considered the largest branch library funded by the city of
Toronto in all of Canada.
In 1915, Women's College Hospital moved from Seaton Street to a house
at 125 Rusholme Road, built in 1887 by Clarence Denison.The
hospital's original capicity of twenty-five beds and ten cots was
increased to seventy beds and twenty-five cots with an addition of a
three storey brick building in 1917. In 1935, the hospital moved
again to a new building at 70 Grenville Street. The old Denison house
was then demolished to make room for an apartment building.
In 1893 William Neilson first began selling ice cream. During his
first summer he produced 3750 gallons of ice cream that sold for
$3000.00. His resources consisted of three freezers and the
assistance of his only son. In 1905, Neilson built a two-storey
factory that still stands on the east side of Gladstone Avenue above
Dundas Street. His staff consisted of 25 people that enabled him to
increase production and manufacture chocholate bars.
After leaving school many young people found employment in the
numerous factories and businesses in the area. These included the old
Eaton's factory (located on Bloor Street), Bell Telephone, Loblaws
head office at Bloor Street and Lansdowne Avenue (now Yonge/St.
Clair) and the Neilson's Chocolate Factory.
Soon after, the first World War changed the life of many residents in
the Bloor/Dufferin area. The war became the focal point for the vast
majority. The only aviation factory in the country opened a plant
covering six acres at 1244 Dufferin Street south of Dupont. The
Canadian Aeroplanes Limited Company operated twenty-four hours a day
with 2000 workers. They produced 2950 Curtiss TN4 aircrafts in two
After four long years, post war prosperity brought a boom in
construction. New shops appeared along Bloor St. W. and the
automobile was introduced and embraced by many area residents. In
1921, the Toronto Transportation Commission began major road work and
new streetcars were introduced.
In 1925, part of the Kent School playground was taken over and Bloor
Collegiate was built.
The Bloor/Dufferin area remained in a state of d epression until the
second world war when production was in demand and work and wages
increased. When the thirties ended a phase in the Bloor/Dufferin area
came to a close. The last Denison mansion was torn down in 1954. In
1955, the last race was run at Dufferin race track which would soon
be replaced by the new Dufferin Plaza.
Between 1948 and 1952 large numbers of Eastern Europeans moved into
the area and settled in the Bloor/Dufferin area. They replaced much
of the Jewish community that began to migrate north. In 1956, the
Hungarian revolution brought more refugees to the area but they
slowly moved to the west of the city. Soon after, an increased demand
for housing created a boom in Canada. However, skilled labor was
scarce. The next group of new Canadians came from the villages and
cities of Italy. Canada promised them a land of guaranteed employment
and a new future. Italian settlement in the area increased as did the
need for residential construction.
Bloor/Dufferin became the pick-up point for most sub-contractors
offering employment. In the mid 1950's Portuguese immigrants followed
the Italians and by the end of the fifties Italians, Portuguese and
Greeks predominated the area. The cultural diversity grew in the
In the 1960's and 70's the area changed again. The streets became
lined with Indian and Pakistani grocery stores, as well as,
restaurants and theatres. The ethnic diversity was expanding to
include the east and west indian cultures.
Today, the ethnic culture is very much evident along Bloor Street
West between Lansdowne Avenue and Dufferin Street. The streets are
lined with restaurants, bargain shops, bicycle shops and a variety of
other businesses. Merchants, residents and community members continue
to work to make improvements. Newcomers continue to revitalize the
neighbourhood with their presence. Long time residents preserve the
neighbourhoods history. Visitors continue to come and enjoy the
People enjoy coming to the area to live, work, visit or shop. Even
though the area continues to change constantly and people and
businesses come and go, the neighbourhood remains constant. Whether
it be a familiar face, a memory of an era a long time ago or the
nostalgic feeling of familiarity. In my opinion, this is what makes
our area valuable. The diversity is what makes us unique.
This information was collected from the Local History Collection at
Bloor Gladstone Library - "Surveys and Early Settlements 1790-1884")
BLOOR - DUFFERIN IN PICTURES
By Cynthia Patterson, Carol McDougall, and George Levin
Toronto Public Library, 1986.
Local History Handbook No. 5.
Outlines the changes in this west end neighbourhood from its 19th
century beginnings as a gentlemen's country retreat to today as one
of the city's most multicultural areas.
"An admirable job... the text is agreeably interspersed with over
thirty fascinating photographs and drawings."
John Harkness, Canadian Materials.
Available for sale at the Toronto Reference Library or contact the
Bloor Gladstone branch.
Also check out some a few interesting photos of Dovercourt and Bloor
at the Darkhouse on 2401 Bloor W. across from Long & McQuade.
DUPONT AT ZENITH | Essay by Alfred Holden
An overdue memorial to the forgotten achievements of Toronto’s twentieth-century avenue of enterprise.
On October 17, 1994, Donald Weston drove from his North York home to the industrial plant on Dupont Street in central Toronto where he had been employed since 1952. He brought with him a borrowed video camera and, just outside the main door, switched it on, briefly photographing an iron plate identifying the premises as Hamilton Gear, 950 Dupont. With the camera still rolling, he mounted a couple of steps, opened the door and went in.
Room by room, Weston, aged sixty-two, proceeded through the factory, letting the tape run. He walked down a long, fluorescent-lit corridor of shelves loaded with the tools, materials, and equipment of twentieth-century machine-making. He went through a workshop where men standing on a floor sprinkled with metal shavings were attending whirring, spinning lathes cutting teeth into gear blanksdisks of metal sliced, in another process, from heavy rods of tempered steel or bronze. Weston climbed down stairwells with his camera on his shoulder, recording walls displaying framed photographs of company products. He paused at one picture of a gear about the size of a very large round of cheese. Its hefty teeth are engaged with those of a “worm drive,” a tube-shaped gear resembling a giant piece of fusilli. The assembly has a satiny, silvery sheen, and in the film is being inspected by a thoughtful-looking man in glasses and overalls.
Weston made his way through the company’s administrative offices on the second floor along the Dupont Street side of the plant. Telephones warble now and then, voices can be heard, and a lone secretary says “smile.” Weston moved along, recording jerky glimpses of floors and drop-ceilings and hallway drinking fountains. He went into the company’s vault where, he later recalled, nothing more or less valuable than the details of client orders from the last eighty-three years were stored on reels of microfilm and in thick paper files.
Descending into the bowels of the plant, past a Keep Door Closed sign, he entered a dimly-lit furnace room where boilers and compressors groaned and toiled, and where a hole in the floor contained a pool of water, ten feet across and twenty feet deep“the swimming pool, we called it”where at one time gears heated red hot in an oven were hoisted for a sudden, sizzling quench to harden their alloys.
By accident, the camera was aimed toward large, south-facing factory windows that let in so much light the image on the tape was momentarily whited-out before the aperture adjusted to reveal more of the flotsam of a machine shop: hoses, rods, wheels, pulleys, metal drumsnot all of it in orderly storage. At many stops along the way, Weston, his camera’s red recording-light blinking, was greeted by co-workers.
“What’s this about?” asked a shipper. Following more light, Weston emerged into a vast room, larger than a high-school gymnasium, with a ceiling four storeys high. Splashes of bright orange and bluethe painted surfaces of various walls and posts and pieces of machining equipmentseem to glow, since the big shop is flooded with daylight admitted through walls sheathed entirely in panels of green-tinted glass. Employees called this “the greenhouse.” The boxy building’s skin of glass panes in industrial sash is hung on a structure of steel girders whose thinness is deceptive, for dangling from ceiling girders are huge trolleys and hooks used, Weston will later note, for lifting industrial gears more than twenty feet in diameter and weighing tons.
Machinists in another shop smiled, but said little. “What’ve you heard?” someone asks. “That we’re going to close down?” When he was done, Weston went back outside, stood on at the corner of Dupont Street and Dovercourt Road and, with the camera’s eye, recorded for posterity the For Sale sign that hung high on a west-facing wall.
It had been up for months. No buyer had been forthcoming. Six weeks after Donald Weston made his video tour, Hamilton Gear and Machine Company, founded in 1911, ceased operations. Weston, a craftsman, was kept on to help inventory the remains. The following February, the building’s contents were sold at auction by Corporate Assets, who published an inventory of thousands of items. It read like an estate sale for a factory and, more gloriously, a catalogue of the specialized tools of the dying machine age. There were lathes and Sykes cutters and drills, gear hobbs and grinding wheels, pullers and sharpeners, brooms and office copiers and engineers’ bookcases “with contents.” The firm’s original Bertram boring mill was auctioned off. Offered and sold, to a buyer from Saskatchewan, was a storehouse of wooden mock-ups of gears. Crafted by staff pattern makers from top-grade pine, these were the historic library of shapes from which sand moulds were made; moulds into which foundries poured molten metal that, when cooled, became crude wheels and disks, raw material for the deft hands and precision tools of Hamilton Gear Company, 950 Dupont Street, to plane, cut, and polish into the wheels of industry.1
Enterprises, as great as Eastern Airlines or as lowly as a corner store, will often die pathetically, with no ceremony or celebration of their achievements. Dupont Street in Toronto at the close of the twentieth century is an open graveyard of such industries, most of which collapsed without so much as a pauper’s funeral. Their skeletons lie exposed. They are the parking lots, warehouse loft condos, and retail joints of the post-industrial age: the soulless and struggling Galleria Mall at Dufferin Street, on the site where Dominion Radiator Company once made the pipes that warmed peoples homes; the more meritously recycled McMurtry Furniture factory at Bartlett Avenue, which churned out sturdy pressed-back chairs by the gross but where developers lately spotted a new beauty (and perhaps dollar signs) in rough brick walls and thick wood beams2; the empty hulk of Mono Lino Typesetting, a victim of publishing’s shift from industrial plant to desktop; the Blockbuster Video at 672 Dupont at Christie, where you may rent copies of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times in the very showroom where the Ford Motor Company of Canada sold Model T automobiles that it built upstairs and tested on a track on the roof.3
Indeed, the twentieth was supposed to be Canada’s century, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another street in the Dominion where people worked as industriously to make it so. At scales minute and massive, Dupont created: “Davenport Works, Toronto, builds power, distribution, welding, furnace, instrument, control and street-lighting transformers,” declared General Electric, describing, in a nineteen-thirties-era booklet, the sprawling factories between what is now Dupont Street and Davenport Road, along Lansdowne Avenue. In the illustrations, which include a bird’s-eye view reminiscent of nineteenth-century line drawings which greatly exaggerated the size of factories, smokestacks and even clouds of smoke, G.E. showed eight railroad tracks servicing its smoke-belching complex of buildings and yards next to the Canadian Pacific Railway’s North Toronto line, paralleling Royce Avenue, today’s Dupont Street.
Electrical transformers weighing up to two hundred and thirty tons, whose cores and coils could be hung like mere meat on hooks and jigs from the factory’s beams, were manufactured here. One publicity picture showed a “thirty-six-thousand kilovolt-ampere three-phase transformer” emerging from the Davenport Works on C.P.R. flatcar No. 309926 which, due to its cargo’s height and weight, “had to be routed over more than one thousand additional miles to reach its destination.”4 Such freight may have had something to do with the P.C.B.s whose toxic presence later held up the site’s redevelopmentone price ultimately paid for the utility derived.
Not noted by G.E. was the Davenport Works’s previous lifetime as Canada Foundry Company, whose metal products were poured, hammered and molded under earlier, more Dickensian circumstances, but had more delicate, aesthetic applications. Two fanciful dragons (or “grotesque animals” as the inch-thick, cloth-bound Canada Foundry catalogue called them) once guarded the grand stairway in Old City Hall’s lobby. Part horse, part fish, and dressed in flowing vegetation, they were designed by Toronto’s foremost architect of the Victorian age, E. J. Lennox, and “executed in hammered iron,” here. Lost, then found by a city bureaucrat in an antique store, they are now back near Dupont Street, at the Toronto Archives on Spadina Road, presiding over the entrance to the reading room.
More functionally luxurious were the elaborate bronze iron railings, made here, that adorned the stairways and grand saloon of the Great Lakes steamer Toronto of the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company. Also made here were the entrance gates to Trinity and Knox colleges, the rest of City Hall’s railings and elevator cages, wrought iron porches for Ontario’s Parliament Buildings, and “design number 1017,” a park bench, “length five feet.”5
Much later, Toronto’s streets would literally receive their names from Dupont, from another plant where the street signsblack letters on whitethat today mark street names at city intersections were fabricated. “They were made from galvanized steel in a hydraulic press with closed dies, then were painted in an in-house paint line,” said William Ferguson, who worked at Rosco Metal Products, 840 Dupont Street, at the time. “My role was to process the orders in the sales department for the City of Toronto.”6 The signs’ installation, beginning in 1947, was a minor but marked event in the city’s history: “Street Signs 150 Years Old? Cheer Up, New Ones Coming,” said a headline in theToronto Star. “Nice sign,” proclaimed Mayor Saunders.7
Proclaimed at dozens of intersections by the new signs was Dupont’s own name, more pedigreed than the street itself: the street was named for George Dupont Wells, “son of Colonel the Honourable J. Wells of Davenport, county York,” whose clout in nineteenth-century Toronto was such that George’s daughter, Nina, daughter-in-law Dartnell, and even his house, Davenport, all had Toronto streets named after them.8More humble than these folks, on George Dupont Wells’s street, in the twentieth century, was the flow of not only street signs, but eavestroughing, downpipes and highway signage from Rosco’s plantproducts made at the intersection of Shaw Street where today a big I.G.A. supermarket provides pop, pasta, and Air Miles.
Queues of men with lunch boxes clumped toward the immensity of new factories, sheets of glass and hollow tile, glittering shops where five thousand men worked beneath one roof, pouring out the honest wares that would be sold up the Euphrates and across the veldt,” novelist Sinclair Lewis wrote in the opening chapter of Babbitt, the 1922 novel that described the life and times and characters of Zenith, an imaginary mid-sized U.S. city. “The whistles rolled out in greeting, a chorus cheerful as the April dawn; the song of labour in a city builtit seemedfor giants.”9
Yet Americans held no monopoly on ambitious outlook and productive ritual, as Louis Schmunk knew from his work in Europe and could see every morning at Dupont Street and Lansdowne Avenue, where he would arrive at 8 A.M. sharp to preside over the shift change of his two thousand employees. He was manager of the Canadian porcelain works of one of the world’s early great multi-national companies, American Standard, manufacturer of bathroom fixtures.
Born in Russia in 1898, of German parentage, Schmunk was raised in Ohio and earned a degree in ceramic engineering from Ohio State University. His path to what became Dupont Street crossed some momentus events: he was assigned to set up plants in Europe during the nineteen-thirties, and did so in France, Germany and Italy, until dictator Benito Mussolini began making life difficult for Americans and British.
American Standard’s Toronto plant is a survivor from Dupont’s zenith, thriving yet in 1998. Its fiery heart, in 1917, in 1935 when Louis Schmunk arrived, and today, has been its “tunnel kiln,” which could never be turned off. “The cars that the ware was loaded on ran through the kiln continuouslyware went in at one end unbaked and came out at the other end fired,” according to Margaret Spence, Schmunk’s daughter. “To check on the temperature of these kilns there are peep holes every so often, and I remember looking in. Everything was red hot.”
The factory operated around the clock. “Once in awhile you’d have what they’d call a kiln-wreck. One of these wagons that went through the kiln would go off track,” Spence remembers. “In the middle of the night my father would go down to the plant, don an asbestos suit, and go into the kilns to see what could be done to get it fixed and operational. You could turn the heat down a bit, but certainly it could not be turned off because everything in there would be ruined.”10
Spence remembers watching skilled men manipulating huge sieves, suspended from the ceiling on chains, which were used to shake a glazing powder on cast iron bathtubs that when baked would come out all glossy. The very fine clay used for sinks and toilets came from as far away as China, arriving by rail on freight cars that could be brought in on sidings. Later insurance maps of Toronto refer to American Standard’s kilns as “gas-fired,” but in the nineteen-thirties and nineteen-forties, Spence recalls, they burned coal.
When he was nineteen, and working in Switzerland, Benito Mussolini was given an opportunity to emmigrate to America. Unable to decide, he is said to have tossed a coin.11 History might have been different had the coin landed on its other face or, for that matter, if as he later cobbled together his sawdust empire, he’d taken an overseas trip.
Let’s say he did. Let’s pick a destinationTorontoand a day of arrival, say Saturday, July 3, 1937. That very week, Pan American and Imperial Airways began trial flights across the Atlantic via Newfoundland.12
Mussolini would have found a Toronto not unlike Lewis’s imaginary Zenith, a strange mixture of the shabby and sublime where “clean towers” stood side by side with “grotesqueries,” the “red brick minarets of hulking old houses, factories with stingy and sooted windows, wooden tenements coloured like mud.”13
Riding the Dupont streetcar as it crossed Bloor, Mussolini might have been aghast at the thicket of overhead hydro wiresabhorrent, visible power such as had never existed in Europe’s genteel capitals, where the lines were buried. At Davenport and Dupont there were only billboards and an Imperial Oil station (still there today) for the Duce to contemplate.
The dictator’s dismay would have begun at Christie Street, where the Dupont car turned back and he would have been left standing on a dusty TTC loop where the big Loblaws supermarket now stands. His goal would have been to trek west, to see a slice of Canadian and North American industrial might, and from now on he’d walk. Mussolini would have brought a street map, for until the late nineteen-forties, when the city’s streets were widened and many jogs eliminated to facilitate auto traffic, Dupont Street was not a single east-west corridor. Depending on the decade, west of Christie Street it became Warren Avenue, Van Horne Avenue, and finally Royce Avenuenames all relegated, by 1950, to the avenues of history.
As Mussolini walked west from Christie Street he would have witnessed the growing, changing character of North American industry. Before coming to the monster factoriesAmerican Standard, Dominion Radiator, G.E.’s Davenport Workshe’d have passed smaller enterprises, formidable for their number and variety.
There would have been Roofer’s Supply Companylater Rosco, of street sign famewith metal cutting and shaping shops at Shaw Street. Mussolini might not have noticed the yards of Kendle Coal, west of Christie Street, or the strips of frame dwellings interspersed with the factories along the street west from here. But he would have seen the smokenot pollution in those daysemanating from stacks at T. Hepburn, an old and busy foundry near the corner of Ossington Avenue. He would surely pick out Hamilton Gear’s long plant wedged between Van Horne Avenue and the C.P.R. tracks.
He’d keep walking, past the big plants and on along Royce Avenue, as Dupont Street here was then called, to the subwaynot a train, but the railroad underpass where Dupont Street today ends at Dundas Street West. Around here Mussolini would have smelled, as one still could until the nineteen-eighties, the fumes from Viceroy Manufacturing Company (makers of hard rubber, including hockey pucks); paint from the Glidden plant south of Royce; and glue from National Adhesives.
He would have had to notice, converging at or within sight of here from all directions, railroad lines. The Canadian Pacific North Toronto line, paralleling what is now Dupont; their double-track Galt subdivision and Toronto, Grey and Bruce line; Canadian National’s Newmarket line and double-track Brampton subdivison.14 Had he paused, he would have noticed that, like clockwork, freight trains passed pulled by massive steam engines, bigger and more powerful than any in Europe, bringing raw materials and taking away finished products with a smooth efficiency that could not but impress the man who, after all, made Italy’s trains run on time.
Benito Mussolini could have continued walking and seen even more, but wouldn’t have. The implications of what he had seen would have been clear. Could a war be won against nations backed by the might Dupont Street represented at its zenith? Benito Mussolini would have reached for a T.T.C. ticket in his pocket. He would have dropped it into the fare box on the next southbound Dundas West car. He would have gone home to reconsider his imperial plans.
Mussolini was not yet conceived when James Kendle, early in the eighteen-eighties, took the emmigration gamble and left Newfoundland for Toronto. He put his carpentry skills to work building houses on Palmerston and Manning avenues, where on the latter street he and his young wife, Sybil, a former opera singer from Pennsylvania, settled down at No. 734. In the off-season, James Kendle hauled coal, which proved lucrative, if also competitive. His grandson, James Kendle, Jr., today estimates there were once three hundred to four hundred coal dealers in Toronto, a good chunk of them on the corridor that is now Dupont Street, which is where the railways brought coal and where the Kendle business grew.
The Kendle Coal Company would have two yards, one west of Ossington Avenue and the other west of Christie Street next to where the Ford plant became Planter’s Nut and Chocolate Company, which it remained for decades. As the years went by, Kendle’s edge in this saturated market was the niche he carved out by selling home and business heating customers a special, high-grade Pennsylvania coal.
Anthracite, which was very hard and bluish in colour, burned hot and clean. Such was its reputation that in the U.S. the Lackawanna Railroad, which fueled its locomotives with the coal, worked up a memorable billboard campaign around one Pheobe Snownot the singer, but a young woman who rode trains always dressed in white. She extolled the virtues of the Lackawanna, where clothes wouldn’t get dirty from soot. “Says Phoebe Snow: ‘The miners know that to hard coal my fame I owe, for my delight in wearing white is due alone to anthracite.’”15
There exist early photographs of a horse-drawn Kendle Coal Company wagon pausing on an Annex-area street of freshly-built homes. A young man sits stoically at the front, holding the reins in his left hand. The cargo box is loaded with canvas bags full of coal. By the nineteen-twenties, a photo of James Kendle, Sr., now a mature and successful businessman, shows him looking cocky and confident. Holding a bicycle by his side and wearing a cap and tie, he stands on what is now Dupont Street behind a spanking new flatbed truck parked at the curb (a horse and wagon are almost hidden). “J. KENDLE AND COMPANY,” says the decal on the truck bed, which is presumably loaded with premium product because there is a seal on the cab door, and the office window behind: “CELEBRATED LACKAWANNA ANTHRACITE COAL.”
Growing up around a coal yard had its perks. An unlikely one was the Santa Claus Parade, whose route, Kendle, Jr. recalls, at one time followed Van Horne and Dupont streets into midtown before turning south toward Eaton’s. “They would back a coal truck up to the lot line and we’d sit on the back of it and watch.” As a youth helping haul coal, he’d learn the disadvantages: Santa’s November march wreaked havoc with Saturday coal deliveries.
Originally shovelled and bagged by hand, coal here was later handled with chutes and conveyors. Today, Jim Kendle can still rhyme off the names of specialized cuts of anthracite required by the coal era’s self-stoking furnaces. “Egg coal, stove coal, nut coal, pea coal, rice coal,” Kendle says, “buckwheat coal.” One winter day Kendle scored points with a police officer on Davenport Road at the foot of the Bathurst Street hill when he took “a box of ashes from buckwheat coal and spread them over the street. The cars went right up.” The cinders are rough, “like bits of popcorn.” In wintertime, Kendle delivery trucks carried buckets of buckwheat cinders to help motorists. Says Jim: “It was good P.R.”16
The rituals of heating with coal“a ton of coal per year per room”17are forgotten and unlamented. But they were not without their poetic aspect. “To tell you the truth, Charlie kind of liked to keep that old furnace roaring: Getting the flames started with paper and kindling,” George Gamester reported in the Toronto Star when Charles Overton, a Davenport Road resident, still fueled his furnace with coal supplied by Kendle from Dupont Street. He liked “banking the fire morning and evening, cleaning out the grates; wielding the poker and flue brush, feeling the explosive ‘whoof!’ when he pitched in too much coal powder from the bottom of the bin.”18
Alas, coal had been in decline since the Second World War. The TransCanada pipeline sealed its fate and with the advent of gas and disappearance of soot Toronto took another leap toward modernity. “End of company, end of an era,” Gamester wrote one day in the nineteen-eighties. “Next Monday, Jim Kendle closes the gates forever at the J. Kendle Company on Dupont Street, coal merchants for 105 years.”19
The future is always visible, but hard to decipher. Who’d have thought when grocer Leon Weinstein bought a coal yard at Dupont and Huron streets, somewhere around 1956, and erected a supermarket there a year or so later, that it was actually watershed. But it was a preview of Dupont’s post-industrial future, visible to the eye if not the conscious mind, even as the street’s industrial might yet grew.
Weinstein was the Dave Nichol of his eraan outgoing, cigar-smoking marketer who parlayed a small grocery store at Coxwell and Danforth avenues into a chain of thirty-eight supermarkets. “Power” was the name they went under. It was lifted, the story goes, from a gasoline ad.20 The banner was a bit obscure but decisive and forward-looking; the moniker looked good on the new Dupont store (the Loblaws at Huron Street in 1998), showy and modernistic in a 1958-era photograph with the store against a background of Casa Loma’s medeival-looking towers on the Davenport hill. In front, the supermarket’s transparent glass wall overlooks Dupont’s archaic streetcar tracks.
There was now, prophetically, a parking lot where coal had been piled, and a few blocks south rose the dust from construction whose future implications Weinstein must surely have understood. Along St. George Street, south of Dupont to Bloor, decrepit mansions were giving way to a brave new world of apartment blocks.
These buildings signalled a sea-change, not only for architecture, of which they represented some of the city’s earliest, best and worst modernist examples, but the functioning of Toronto’s aging core, which, unlike U.S. cities, would receive a perennial tide of immigrants and young middle-class as industry moved out. For their needs they would require housing, Power, and much elsemuffler shops, locksmiths, Birkenstock shoesand Dupont Street, between its factories, would provide. Such juxtaposition has always been part of Dupont’s cityscape. As long as they cut gears and made hosiery, printing ink, paints, and rubber here, they have also given women permanents, and served twenty-fourhour breakfast in greasy spoons. (Hamilton Gear crews ate at Central Lunch; today, Vesta Lunch comes to mind: “All Day Steak and Eggs, $6.95.”) Cars have been made, sold, and wrecked on Dupont Street; at fierce-looking banks at key intersections deposits have been received and capital dispensed.
Few think of Dupont as a neighbourhood. Its length and grunginess today may disqualify it. Yet people have always lived here and, to a surprising degree, identified with the street. Displaced by the Hungarian uprisings of 1956, Susan Stiasny’s family arrived in Toronto the next year, renting an upstairs apartment on Dupont Street above what is, in 1998, the Red Raven, a pub.
To her five-year-old sensibilities Dupont was the centre of the universe. In her overgrown backyard, tight against the C.P.R. tracks, she and her brothers cleared enough brush to create a pile of cuttings so deep they could jump into it from a second-storey window. Another picture of Weinstein’s Power store shows, in the window, a coin-operated rocket ship for the kids to ride, if they could cajole their Cold War-displaced mom to give up the nickel.
From time to time, Power drew the crowds with free rides, if not free lunch: “They had a little fair [merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, et cetera]. As neighborhood children, we made as full a use of these free rides as the harassed attendants allowed.”
The Stiasny kids’ connection to the outside world was the clanging, bumping streetcar (which would be converted to electric trolley buses in 1963 and to diesels in 1994, coinciding with a crash in Dupont’s transit ridership). “As an interesting variation on the game of ‘chicken,’ we played ‘stop the streetcar,’” Stiasny remembers. “When the streetcar stopped for passengers we would all lie down on the tracks in front of it. The one who ran first when the conductor finally came out to personally kill us was the loser.” Later the youngsters found other uses for the Dupont car. “One day, my father gave us money to go to a moviemy first. My brother, our friends and I rode the streetcar around onto Davenport Road and into downtown. We saw The Blob, a Steve McQueen classic, about a huge wad of gum that rolled along eating people. Never having seen a movie, I was quite convinced of its reality.”
Dupont Street, with its known dangers, was a lot safer. “For me, I guess Dupont was a refuge in which I had opportunity to freely experience, and from which we made forays into the larger world.”
For a privileged few out in the larger world, Dupont itself was an escape. There is a photograph in the Toronto Reference Library of Clifford Sifton, Katherine Capreol, Sydney Pepler, and Melville Rogers performing a figure-skating manoeuvre on the indoor rink of the Toronto Skating Club, an arena which was built on the north side of Dupont Street near Manning Avenue in 1922.
Minus its ice, the club, somewhat mysteriously, is still there, right down to its original wicker furniture. In 1957, Imperial Optical magnate Sydney Hermant, an avid tennis player, led a group which purchased the building and converted it into an indoor tennis club. The front door is always locked (members have keys), and membership is by invitation; it includes, at this writing, former prime minister John Turner and former M.P. and cabinet minister Barbara McDougall and one wonders if the two, who once sat opposite each other in the House of Commons, have ever faced off at tennis on Dupont Street. The handsome building’s unused look is probably registered as an asset by club members, who presumably value the privacy they can find on Dupont more than any pretension which they cannot.
Dupont is a street transformed from century’s beginning, yet in fundamental ways the same. If you walked it, as I did in 1998, from its junction with Dundas Street in Toronto’s west-end, to where it halts abruptly at Avenue Road six kilometres east in midtown Toronto, you would see that it has changed from a place where you earned money, to where you spend it, but neither grown beautiful nor much uglier. You would walk past a Lamborghini showroom, a Jaguar dealer and one of the biggest, flashiest supermarkets in the country. You would walk past crummy warehouse stores that sell everything from lawn ornaments to used computers. There is a specialist in supplies for babies, a billboard with a ten-foot image of Albert Einstein’s face hawking Apple computers, and a pop art-era subway entrance that looks like a bubble stuck to the ground. There is little graffiti, little litter; there are still overhead wires and blocks and blocks of small semi-detached homes whose yards and porches, assaulted first by heavy industry and later by heavy traffic, put a mean mask on the surely varied existences within.
But keep looking, keep peeling back the layers of wear and time, and Dupont Street begins to change.
Let us return to Dovercourt Road and Dupont to revisit, in 1998, the green glass house at what was Hamilton Gear, which still stands.
There is a chance, quite good, that the paper you are reading this on came from a mill whose equipment still relies on Hamilton gears, cut in the green house on Dupont Street.
It is a certainty that every ship that has passed through the St. Lawrence Seawayand thus every shipmenthas been accommodated by Hamilton gears from Dupont Street, because they open and close the locks.
The nickel in your pocket may owe a debt to Hamilton gears made for Inco or Falconbridge. Hamilton’s resource-generating, nation-building gear customers also included Cominco, Placer Dome, and Noranda. Hamiltons were ordered from Dupont Street for the great Polaris mine on Cornwallis Island (seventy-six degrees north, ninety-seven degrees west), Northwest Territories.
Throughout the day, today, Canadian National trains will cross lift bridges, such as that crossing into Vancouver over Burrard Inlet, that are lowered and raised by Hamilton gears, cut and machined on Dupont Street in Toronto.
Forty years ago, when the supersonic Avro Arrow jet was launched, Hamilton gears, machined to perfection on Dupont Street, opened and closed the pilot’s canopy over the cockpit.
Far into the future, a great radio astronomy telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia will still follow the stars on mechanisms driven by Hamilton gears, made on Dupont Street.
At Front and John streets, Hamilton gears transmit power to the wheels of the movable roof of Toronto’s domed stadium.21
When you know all this, Dupont Street, so flat, long, and gritty, rises to heights. It is a place where visions and acheivements far-reaching, even spectacular, began. In ways unseen, unrecorded, Dupont Street in Toronto was one of the places where the twentieth century, now at a close, was made.
For assistance on this project the author would like to thank Don Weston, Margaret Spence, James Kendle, William Ferguson, Susan Stiasny, and Donald Hood; also Alec Keefer of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, Sally Gibson of the Toronto Archives, Sandra Notarianni and Anthony Fredo of the Ford Motor Company, and George Gamester of the Toronto Star.
(Originally published Christmas, 1998.)
Alfred Holden is assistant financial editor of the Toronto Star and City Building columnist for the Annex Gleaner. His Christmas, 2000, Taddle Creek essay, “The Streamlined Man,” was nominated for a 2000 National Magazine Award. In 2001, he was awarded a Heritage Toronto commendation for his work in Taddle Creek and elsewhere. He has been writing for the magazine since 1997. (Last updated summer, 2002.)