Archives for June 2013

The J & J Taylor Safe Company

Recently while on the internet I came across an advertisement for a J & J Taylor safe for sale.  I immediately felt a rush of excitement, not only because it was a beautiful old safe in onto itself, but because it connected to my avid interest in this particular safe company and its history.

My interest in the J & J Taylor Safe Company began a few years back when I was commissioned to write the history of a beautiful Victorian home in Cabbagetown.  After vetting the history of the house I discovered that it was the home of John Taylor, a prosperous safe manufacturer, the first in Canada. 

John Taylor and his brother James arrived from Scotland as young boys in 1838.  In 1855, they established their safe manufacturing business J & J Taylor Safe Company, on Palace Street (198 and 200 Palace).

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J & J Taylor Safe Ad

J & J Taylor Safe Ad

 

Goads Map 1893

Goads Map 1893

 

Although James Taylor returned to the British Isles shortly thereafter, reportedly because of ill health, the business thrived.  Eventually it became known as the Taylor Safe Company, most likely coinciding with the return of James to Great Britain, and subsequently the Toronto Safe Company.   The Taylor Safe Works was one of the most successful manufacturers of its kind in North America during the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th.  Their safes were distributed extensively throughout Canada and the U.S.  John Taylor ran the company for most of this period.  He died in 1913.

 

John Taylor obit 1913

John Taylor obituary 1913

 

In 1871 the Taylor Safe Company moved to what is now 139-145 Front St, located at Front and Frederick St.  The factory expanded  in 1877 to occupy most of the east end of the block.  Another  addition was made in 1883.

 

J & J Taylor Manufacturing Factilities Late 1800's

J & J Taylor Manufacturing Factilities Late 1800’s

139FrontStE

139 Front St E. 2011

 

It is  interesting to note that during its tenure of the warehouse on Front St., the company used Taylor’s Wharf to ship their safes.  Although there is some question as to whether the wharf was named after the safe-making Taylors or Captain Archibald Taylor who had a coal and wood business at the wharf, it is certain that the Taylors were substantial users of the wharf. 

 

Goads Map 1893

Goads Map 1893

 

In recognition of the Taylor’s, either Captain Archibald or John Taylor’s activities in the area, the laneway which runs behind 135 George St. is named Taylor’s Wharf Laneway.  In addition, if you look on the wall of the building at 145 Front St. E., you can see a sign which reads Taylor Safe Company.

 

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J & J Taylor Safe Workers. Date Unknown

J & J Taylor Safe Workers.  Date unknown.

J & J Taylor Safe Workers. Date Unknown

20130319_132201

J & J Taylor Safes Pulled From Fire of 1904

 

In 1959, the Taylor Safe Company was acquired by the safe manufacturing company Chubb- Mosler and became part of manufacturing operations in Brampton under the name Chubb-Mosler and Taylor Safes.  This company currently remains in operation.

Having done all of this research I became quite the Taylor safe aficionado and am always on the lookout for them whilst on my travels.  One of the first times that I stumbled upon a Taylor safe was when I went to the St. Veronus Restaurant in Peterborough.  There in the hallway as I went to the washroom was a big beautiful specimen of  the J & J Taylor safeworks.  I subsequently learned that the venue used to be the site of an old bank, and that they in fact did not use it to lock up their unruly customers.  Later when following the reconstruction of Maple Leaf Gardens and the removal of the time capsule etc., I saw a picture of a J & J Taylor safe that had been found there highlighted on the front page of the Toronto Sun.  I have even phoned the Canadian Mint in order to try to verify reports that many of the safes used by the mint are in fact Taylor safes.  Though I was disappointed to hear from their public relations spokesman that unfortunately this was, for obvious reasons, information that was not passed on to the general public.   Sometimes I go online in order to  look for any Taylor safes that may have emerged from the woodwork so to speak.  And so it was that this week that I eventually was in contact with Viraf of Toronto’s Transition Squad.  The company helps people deal with downsizing, or clearing up of estates.  They had taken on a client who had a Taylor Safe on their property.  Apparently the one time owner of the house had a store and when retiring from the business brought the old safe home with him.  Now the family is moving on and are in a bit of a conundrum as to what to do with it.  In reflection, I can say that I truly hope this lovely bit of Toronto and Canadian history finds its way to a place where it can be looked after.

 

The Safe of which I write.

The Safe of which I write.

 

1300-1302 Gerrard St E, home of The Classic Theatre: Now the Centre of Gravity and Sideshow Cafe

Today when I met with my writer friend Robert Hoshowsky for our usual coffee and chat, I started to think.

Inside the Sideshow

Inside the Sideshow

A typical day at Sideshow

A typical day at the Sideshow

It is seldom that most of us stop to reflect upon the history of the buildings that we frequent each day.  When they were built?  How the spaces have been used in years gone by, and who frequented them?  These are questions to which, in general, we tend not to pay much attention.  In my case, the venue that is my regular haunt is a coffee shop located at the corner of Redwood and Gerrard, an integral part of the Leslieville community.  The location of the eastern most boundary and thus whether or not this area is actually part a of Leslieville, is definitely up for debate.  Some say it stops at Greenwood, others say Coxwell.  I would say that historically the boundary was Greenwood but that over the years that  commonly-agreed-upon boundary has slowly shifted to included the area right up to Coxwell.

Regardless, the Sideshow Cafe is not only a comfortable hangout for a host of coffee consuming regulars, myself included, but is also a well known pit stop for those who drop of their children at the Centre of Gravity Circus, a circus school located in the large hall next door.  The venue is a place for circus and theatrical performances as well as playing host to other community events, such as NDP film screenings and community meetings.  It is a large part of the vivacity and charm of the Sideshow that derives from the synchronicity that lies between the two venues.

Now back to my original musings.  After thinking about what my local coffee shop and the space attached to it might have been like in years gone by, I decided to do some detective work to find out for myself. The first thing that I discovered is that the current incarnation of the space at 1298 and 1300 Gerrard St E began in 1998, at which time the owners undertook an extensive renovation project so that it could be used for its current purposes.

But what was it before they took over?  I soon found that the building for a good portion of its existence has been used, as it is now, as a performance/theatre space.  Built in 1914, the building was initially operated as a vaudeville theatre called The Classic.  Vaudeville in Canada began in the 1880’s and existed until the early 1930’s.  It was a genre that consisted of a series of separate acts such as music, dance, live animals, male and female impersonators, and acrobats, to name a few.  The “Classic” theatre was just one of the many venues which sprung up in Toronto to house such performances.  It was built by a man by the name Joseph Garnet, who lived at 730 Logan Ave and also had what was likely an office at 1301 Gerrard St E.   His profession was, according to the city directory of 1917, “amusements”.  Garnet quickly disappeared from the Toronto scene after its opening but the theatre continued to operate.

 

Bags and Ticket from the Classic 1915

Bags and Ticket from the Classic 1915

 

There is very clearly a tie between the building and the development of this particular part of Toronto.  Prior to 1914, when The Classic opened the portion of land between Greenwood and Coxwell and north/south between Queen Street E and Danforth Ave was owned almost exclusively by the Ashbridge family.

 

Woodfield and Gerrard looking north 1908.  Ashbridge land

Woodfield and Gerrard looking north 1908. Ashbridge land

 

They were a well established farming family that moved to Toronto from the United States towards the end of the 18th century.  However, by 1910, due to pressure placed upon the area by the rapidly expanding City of Toronto, the family started to sell off their land to developers and various individuals, mostly new European immigrants. What was known as Ramblers Road, which started at Greenwood and ran through to Coxwell, was then taken over by the city after the annexation of 1909, and became an extension of the already existing Gerrard St E.

So it was that with the creation of this portion of Gerrard as a truly public street and development of this expanse of land, that services needed and desired by the growing population in the area began to emerge.  These included other theatres such as the Oxford Theatre at 1326 Gerrard, which opened at about the same time as the Classic but lasted a few short years, it would seem also owned by Garnet, and another theatre called The Guild which opened at 1275/1279  Gerrard St E.  Confectionaries, hardware stores, pool halls, barbershops (there was one in 1298 at the beginning of the twenties) all started to line the street. When The Classic was first built, as now,  it was with a smaller space attached which was 1302 Gerrard.  The first occupant of this space was Thomas Taylor, a confectioner. Now back to the particular story of the Classic.  Soon after the opening of the theatre and following WWI, the era of the silent film in Canada took hold and the theatre expanded its repertoire to include film showings.

 

Classic Theatre Ad 1931

Classic Theatre Ad 1931

 

The hall was for a time used by the Rhodes Presbyterian Church to conduct meetings and services.

 

Rhodes uses Classic Theatre for sevices Feb, 1925

Rhodes uses Classic Theatre for services Feb, 1925

 

The theatre was also turned into a pool room for a short time in the years around 1928.  By this time the space located at 1302, although still utilized as a corner store was now run by William Kingsmill until sometime after WWII.  The space continued to  house a corner store/cigar store for many years after that.

 

1300-1302 Gerrard St E, date unknown

1300-1302 Gerrard St E, date unknown

 

 

The Classic theatre has always been, as it today, a venue for active community political discussion.  In 1933 the CCF, the precursor to today’s NDP got into a disagreement with the owner of the theatre of their use of the venue.  Today the NDP are welcomed and regular film screenings in the theatre.

By the end of the Second World War a further reconfiguration of the Classic Theatre became necessary with the arrival of the “talkies” and in August 1939, plans were drawn up.

 

Classic Theatre revitalization plans 1939

Classic Theatre revitalization plans 1939

The Classic Theatre revitalization plans 1939

The Classic Theatre revitalization plans 1939

 

During the nine forties and early nineteen fifties The Classic remained active as a movie theatre and central neighbourhood hub.

 

Gerrard St E looking East from Greenwood 1947

Gerrard St looking East from Greenwood 1947

 

In 1956 it closed its doors and 1300 Gerrard was taken over by a large retail store called Pennyworth’s Department Store.  It continued as a retail space for a number of years until its transformation back to a performance/theatre space in the late 1990’s at which time, most importantly, my hangout The Sideshow Cafe also came into existence.

 

The Centre of Gravity and Sideshow Café 2013

The Centre of Gravity and Sideshow Café 2013

1300-1302 Gerrard St E, 1955

1300-1302 Gerrard St E. 1955