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A R Clarke: leather manufacturer, A Leslieville story

While researching a house in my own neighbourhood of Leslieville I stumbled upon a fascinating story about Alfred R Clarke, a prominent leather manufacturer.  Alfred R Clarke, who at the age of 19 with his three brothers, inherited the family’s Peterborough, Ontario leather manufacturing business.  Shortly after the death of their father in 1882 the brothers moved the business to Toronto.  They set up an office at 28 Front St and a manufacturing plant at 199-209 Eastern Ave.  Not long after the move Alfred Clarke took over the business and became its sole owner.  He renamed it A R Clarke and Co Ltd.


On May 31st, 1902 so the story goes, A R Clarke while raising the flag to signal completion of his new and substantial manufacturing plant at 633 Eastern Ave in Leslieville heard church bells ring and factory whistles sound.  Clarke chuffed, thought these had been sounded to mark the opening of his new manufacturing facility, only to be disappointed later when he discovered that the sounds were in fact celebrating the end of the Boer War.

A R Clarke dies in 1915 Toronto Star rendition


Clarke’s grandiose illusion aside, the manufacturing business thrived under his business acumen.  A R Clarke in turn became a wealthy man and moved his family to 72 Roxborough St E in Rosedale.  With his newly acquired riches he also invested in real estate near his Leslieville factory.  He owned houses at 30, 36, 38, 40 and 42 on Greenwood Avenue, and in 1914 bought all the property along Hiltz Ave.  He also owned a substantial amount of land in the High Park area.


Clarke’s foray into the real estate market was short lived however, as tragically in 1915 he became a victim of The Great War.  In May of that year Clarke had set out on a business trip to London aboard the RMS Lusitania. He was on his way to meet with his London agents to secure leather contracts with the British army and others.  On May 7th, the ship was torpedoed by a German U boat and sank, resulting in the death of 1,198 of its passengers.  Alfred Clarke survived initially.  He was scooped out of the water, having floated unconscious with a cracked rib for nearly two and a half hours, but succumbed a month later on June 20th due to pneumonia and pleurisy as a result of his misadventure.


In his will, dated just one day before his death, Alfred Clarke left control of his significant estate to his wife Mary, his daughter Vivien, and his son Griffith Clarke.  Under the terms of the will, Griffith, who was only 23 at the time, was appointed managing director of the company.  The estate, apart from the family home at 72 Roxborough and its contents, which went exclusively to his wife Mary, was to be held in trust for ten years and then divided among his three heirs.


Eight years after Alfred’s death and just two before the estate was to be divided, disaster struck the family once again. This time, Griffith Clarke had taken his own life.  None of the media publications at the time speculated as to the possible reason(s) for his death.  The article announcing the suicide indicated that he had been in poor health and this may have had some relevance.  His suicide could also have had to do with the intense pressure dealing with business affairs.


Mary, Alfred R Clarkes’ widow, took over the business.  She ran it until October of 1931 when she too died.  At that point A R Clarke Co Ltd became the charge of W H Lytle, Vivien Clarke’s husband.  The business on Eastern Avenue was an integral part of the Leslieville community for many years.

A R Clarke athletic team at Greenwood 1923


The firm remained in the hands of A R Clarke’s descendents until 2000 when the company went into receivership.  The building which had been used as a leather manufacturing for all this time burnt down in spectacular fashion in 2001. It was thought a mishap among the crews dismantling equipment inside had caused the fire.

A R Clarke facilities burn down March 29, 2001 Toronto Star

A dramatic end to a dramatic Leslieville story.

Me and CMHC


Last month as I began work for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), I ruminated over the fact that often life has a way of coming full circle.  Somehow it seemed fortuitous that I should be working for this federal agency for, were it not for CMHC I would not have grown up in this country. 

In the years surrounding the Second World War grave concern was expressed over the plight of returning war veterans, in particular their need for affordable and, what was deemed, appropriate housing. 

In Canada, as elsewhere, the postwar ethos was all about stability and security and CMHC was established in the immediate post war period to create these conditions for returning veterans and their families, as well as the Canadian population at large. 

The roots of CMHC are in an organization formed in 1941 called the Wartime Housing Limited. This crown corporation was charged with the task of creating low-cost, rental accommodation for wartime labourers, and later for returning veterans and their families. Wartime Housing Limited constructed thousands of houses and when the crown corporation was wrapped up in 1947 it transferred over 30,000 of them to CMHC. 

The National Housing Act, introduced in 1944, combined with the founding of the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1946 (renamed Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1979) gave the federal government a leading role in Canada’s housing programs. At its inception, CMHC primarily provided financing for new homeowners, but it also provided a catalogue of blueprints or “small house plan[s]” designed by leading Canadian architects to build those new homes. 

The most popular of these plans, the “house for the typical Canadian family,” was designed to accommodate what was deemed the common postwar Canadian family lifestyle:

 “Mrs. Canada expects to do her own housework and supervise the children. She naturally wants the rooms planned and arranged to make her household tasks easier and more pleasant, and to allow her as much free time as possible.” 

Mom cooking food, firmly planted in her modern kitchen, while Dad commuted to work was the order of the day.  (See a wonderfully informative blog on Mid-Century Modern housing,  http://modernrealtor.blogspot.ca/)



(Insert is from the CMHC’s 1949 catalogue)

These catalogues of plans and the blueprints which were listed within them, were available through CMHC until 1974.  It was also toward the end of the decade that CMHC began to delve into the areas of social and rental housing.

By the early 1950’s, CMHC had become an integral and essential part of the Canadian government’s postwar development plan.  It was at this time that my father, Edward Burgoyne, who was working at the District Valuer’s Office in Stafford UK, saw a CMHC advertisement for work in Canada.  He applied and shortly thereafter was offered employment. 

After a six week orientation session in England, my father and the other English new hires drew straws to decide where they would be posted.  My father drew St John’s, Newfoundland.  So it was that in 1954 my parents arrived in Canada where my father began a roughly 12 year career with CMHC.  Over those 12 years he would work in many different regional offices and help develop and re-develop many communities including St John’s, Ottawa, Calgary, and Halifax.

Since my father started his work for the CMHC all those years ago, CMHC has altered its mandate several times.  In the 1960’s, the emphasis turned to helping municipalities contend with rapid growth through urban renewal projects.  During 1970’s the focus shifted to underwriting bank loans for those with lower incomes who wanted to buy their own home. Also, CMHC helped develop social and affordable rental housing. 

As I worked on CMHC’s Rental Market Study in my home office on Richard Avenue I  thought about its connection to the history of the development of Canada’s urban landscape and to my own personal history as well.  I also received a great deal of satisfaction from having finally discovered the answer to a question that has plagued me for years, why the postwar bungalows I refer to as CMHC houses, of which there are many on my street, all look the same. 



(My street, Richard Ave, with its CMHC bungalows)



(A typical CMHC postwar bungalow on my street)



(A CMHC postwar bungalow which has had a second story added recently)






Gliffaes Country House Hotel and the Connection to My Burgoyne Ancestors

Gliffaes try again


Here is the e-mail that I sent to the current owners of this hotel, which was built by my ancestors John and Alfred Burgoyne who were brickmakers in Little Mill, Wales.  If I was doing a house history on this magnificent house I would be contacting myself!


My name is Robin Burgoyne.  I am a house historian living in Toronto, Canada www.housestories.ca and I am VERY interested in the history of Gliffaes Country House Hotel.  My interest in the hotel is twofold.  Not only am I interested professionally and personally in the background behind houses of historical significance, but I have a particular interested in Gliffaes.  You may or may not recognize the name Burgoyne.  The Burgoyne’s were Welsh brickmakers.  John Burgoyne came from Hertfordshire to start up the “Burgoyne Brickworks” in Little Mill around 1850.  He was my great-great grandfather.  John had a son, Alfred James Burgoyne who also went into the brick business.  Cut to the early 1980’s  when my father Edward Burgoyne, who had moved to Canada in 1954 and had made his career as a planner/real estate appraiser and my mother Jocelyn, were travelling through Wales.  While visiting the area where my father grew up my mother and father came upon a grand old house that was being used as a hotel.  As they approached the house my father turned to my mother and said to her;  “I think that my great Grandfather built that house.”,  and so inside they went.  They spoke to the proprietors of the hotel and recounted to them my father’s story.  The response that they received in reply was; “You’re name is Burgoyne?  I think there may be some bricks with that name imprinted on them out back.”  And so my parents went around to the back of the house.  There in the orchard amoungst the trees they came upon a pile of bricks with the name of my great-great grandfather’s brickworks on them.  I am therefore guessing that my father was probably correct in his belief that my forefathers at least had some hand in the making of this house.  While in the orchard my parents picked  up four of those bricks and with great effort they brought them home to Canada with them.  Each one of the those bricks now lies in the home of one of Edward Burgoyne’s children in Canada.  They act not only as interesting conversation pieces, but also as reminder of our ties to Wales and our family that once lived there and produced bricks.  You can now understand why I feel a connection and am so interested in the history of Gliffaes.


Robin T Burgoyne



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).


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
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.


J & J Taylor Safe Workers. Date Unknown
J & J Taylor Safe Workers.  Date unknown.
J & J Taylor Safe Workers. Date Unknown
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



McCausland Stained Glass


Last weekend was one of my favorite weekends in Toronto.  The occasion was the annual Doors Open.  For historians it’s a great opportunity to venture inside some of Toronto’s oldest and most well preserved buildings.  This year however, there was one offering that was of particular interest to me.  I was delighted to find that Canada’s oldest family run and one of its most historically significant businesses, which I have had the pleasure to deal with on many occasions, was on the list of participants.

IMG_20130525_142714              IMG_20130525_140759


Robert McCausland Limited was founded in 1856 and since that time the business has created an enormous number of the stain glass windows in Toronto, an estimated 32,000 have been recorded in the company’s books since its beginnings.  These windows are predominantly found in religious contexts but can also be found in many homes and commercial buildings throughout the city.  The company has been run by a long line of McCausland men over the years, the most recent of which is the very affable and the fifth in succession, Andrew McCausland.  While visiting the company’s glass studio I learned that Robert McCausland Limited has not only been handed down from generation to generation, but has also changed locations approximately 4 times since its inception.  Its most recent location is in Etobicoke.  Andrew also proudly informed visitors to the studio that during the period since 1925 the company has employed a total of only 4 artists/designers and approximately 5 bookkeepers/receptionists.  I was indeed in the heart of a very special place, a place where this one family has for so long proudly operated its business and created beautiful stained glass.

IMG_20130525_140836                       IMG_20130525_140913

What made my trip to the McCausland studios all the more meaningful was that I have been in touch with Andrew on several occasions while researching the history of houses that had McCausland stained glass.  Each time I was pleasantly surprised that, after having sent a email and picture of the window, I  quickly received confirmation that the stained glass  was indeed  created  by the McCausland clan.  The fact that the windows in the historic houses that I was researching were all indeed created by the McCauslands was of no great surprise to me.  Between 1856 and 1923 when Robert McCausland died, a extremely significant percentage of the stain glass manufactured in Toronto and many other parts of Canada, was made by the McCauslands.  While visiting the studio last weekend I learned from talking to Andrew that the business did not have extremely detailed records of each commission over the long length of its existence.  However he could tell, particularly in the case of the secular work, by the design whether or not it was one of the company’s creations.

One client for whom I wrote a house history has meticulously restored their beautiful Annex Queen Anne style house, and as part of the renovations restored the stain glass windows.  They were McCausland windows, likely made by Robert McCausland himself and installed in 1897 when the house was built.  The restoration of the windows was done by Andrew, Robert’s great, great, great grandson, in 2008.  Talk about coming full circle.  This was not the first time however, that Andrew had followed up on the work done by his illustrious ancestors.  For instance,  several years ago  Andrew restored the magnificent dome located in what was known as the most impressive commercial building of its time, the 1885 Bank of Montreal building, now the Hockey Hall of Fame.  The dome is also deemed to be one of Robert McClausland’s most impressive creations.

After having visited the studio it is evident to me from the way that Andrew talks about his work that he is extremely proud of what he does and the legacy of his family.  It is the revelation of these connections that is one of the things that I enjoy most about my job.  Finding those ties between the past and the present which manifest themselves in very tangible ways, is not only intriguing and a lot of fun, but it is also gratifying, through my work, to be able to pass it on to others.










Sir Henry Pellatt and the mystery of Spadina Gardens

Lady Pellatt

I was recently invited to a gathering at 45 Spadina Rd, once known as the Spadina Gardens Apartments. This impressive building is one of a pair of Victorian apartment buildings, constructed in 1906 by Sir Henry Pellatt, wealthy entrepreneur and builder of Casa Loma.  My hostess, when I told her what I did for a living,  engaged me in the story of the history of the building as she knew it.  Apparently, when Pellatt went bankrupt, lost Casa Loma, and had to sell its contents, (an interesting aside: I once found a detailed newspaper listing of the items sold at this bankruptcy sale, in which there was reference to the occupant of one of the houses that I was researching, purchasing a elaborate chandelier), he and his wife Mary Pellatt (nee Dodgson) went to live at 3 Spadina Gardens.  My hostess further explained that it was her understanding that the Pellatt’s did not share the same apartment but rather, lived across the hall from one another.  The story was that the death of Lady Pellatt in the apartment building in 1924 was in fact suicide.

Of course when I returned home from the gathering, my curiosity got the better of me.  Did this poor woman really commit suicide while living in the beautiful building that I just visited?  I set out to find out whether there was truth to this story.  I found one reference to Lady Pellatt’s death written by Charles (Carlie) Oreskovich  http://www.kingofcasaloma.com/ghosts.html  in which the author indicated that Lady Pellatt may have “shot herself ‘accidently'”.  However, there are other sources, for example, the death registration obtained from ancestry.ca, which list death to be a result of a heart attack brought on by long-term diabetes.



The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail both also described Mary Pellatt’s death to be a result of a heart attack.  The question then is whether or not the circumstances surrounding the death of Lady Mary Pellatt was the subject of urban myth or if in fact, there was what we would now term a “cover up”.  Perhaps my meanderings will lead me to find the absolute truth or perhaps not.  But that is the often the case with history, sometimes the absolute truth can be elusive.  I think in this case I may carry on and try to find it.