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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.