What’s the most colonial representation of colonial Toronto in Toronto? It might be a street marker built into the corner of a George Brown College buiding at Frederick Street and Adelaide Street East.
But the marker itself doesn’t read Frederick and Adelaide; rather, it reads Frederick and Duke. Frederick is still Frederick, but Duke doesn’t exist anyore.
The laughable part of this intersection is it was at one point named entirely for the same guy: Prince Frederick, The Duke of York of Great Britain.
At the time Duke and Frederick were named, the settlement containing them was also named for Duke Frederick: The Town of York. The Duke never visited the town named for him or likely had any direct role in its formation or growth. The British locales contained in his title also got a street name further west of the town – York Street. The Duke was also the son of KingGeorge, the reigning monarch at the time of the town’s founding, who had at least two other street names – King and George – named directly and indirectly for him.
And even more, nearly every street in early York was named by another Brit in charge of this colony: John Graves Simcoe, who didn’t like the indigenous name for the region — Tkaronto. Instead, when setting up his new town and the first few streets in it, he felt it more worthy honouring a man from his home country who scored a victory in his own continent as well as after other members of the British nobility and royalty.
The Town of York would revert to its indigenous name, albeit with an English spelling – Toronto. Duke Street would merge with and take on the name of the nearby rerouted Adelaide Street, named for another royal who likely didn’t have any contributions to the city either.
As a layered bonus, this wasn’t even the first time Duke Street was involved in a name change. The original Duke Street was today’s King Street. The original King Street was Palace Street, today’s Front Street. The Duke Street before this northern re-shifting was Duchess Street, named for the Duke’s royal counterpart. Duchess would move up a street too. It also merged with and took on the name of nearby Richmond Street. The streets of the original blocks of Toronto clearly had a colonial theme.
But today, the marker at Frederick and Adelaide Street still reads Frederick and Duke, still honouring the same guy.
For nearly a hundred years, the Kemp Manufacturing Company of Toronto and its predecessor and successors manufactured household metal products. Its rise, growth, and leadership is an interesting chapter in Toronto history.
In 1867, Thomas McDonald founded his Dominion Tin & Stamping Works, operating out of 153-159 Queen Street East near George Street. McDonald was joined by Quebec-born Albert Edward Kemp in 1885 to form the McDonald, Kemp, and Co.
The new partners moved the business to the southeast corner of River Street and Gerrard Street East in then working-class Cabbagetown, eventually taking the street address 199-207 River Street. The joint venture between Kemp and McDonald did not last long as the men had a falling around 1888. Kemp bought out McDonald and brought in his brother William from Quebec as his new partner. Together, the brothers formed the Kemp Manufacturing Company. McDonald moved to Montreal in 1893 where he ran another iron and tinware business; he passed away four years later.
Growth & Expansion
From a structure at the corner of River and Gerrard, the Kemp Manufacturing Company grew to house a grand complex that spanned an entire city block. In 1894, The Globe toured the factory and described it as having a main building that extended from the Don River to River Street on Gerrard containing workshops, warehouses, and shipping departments. Offices were located at the corner of streets. Storerooms containing pig tin and plates, rod iron, hoop do., iron and steel sheets, zinc, spelter, copper, and more were located on the other side of a laneway separating the building and covered bridges connected departments.
The decades that followed effectively resulted in the annexation of nearly the entire block from Gerrard Street East to Oak Street and River Street to the Don River:
May 1895: The company asks for a lease of a site on the Don for the new enamelled iron and steelworks, and for exemption for the building to be erected there
July 1895: Kemp purchases the balance of the whole block of Gerrard to Bell Street and from River street to the Don; this new site will be occupied by a fully equipped factory specially adapted for their new Diamond specialties of enamelled goods
June 1896: Kemp expresses his intention to make some extensions to its premises as soon as it knows what the policy of the new (federal) Government
April 1898: The company applies to lay a 12-inch water main at its own cost from the Don for fire protection
June 1898: The company, now occupying the block bounded by Gerrard, River, and Bell Street, makes an application to the Assessment Commissioners department for the terms in which they may get city property at the east end of Bell Street to the road on the Don Flats and north to the Gerrard Street Bridge. It was awarded to another company the following month.
October-November 1902: The Kemp Manufacturing Co ask Mayor Howland and Council to purchase a portion of Bell Street and the Don Terrace to extend their works to the south and east and give them a railway connection. The Assessment Commissioner favoured the purchase but fixes the sale price at $5000. A.E. Kemp, now MP, argues that a new building would not disturb the houses remaining on the street.
April-October 1903: The Kemp Manufacturing Co was permitted to erect a bridge from the east side of their factory to Gerrard Street, and to construct a siding running from the Grand Trunk Belt to their property.
November 1906: AE Kemp denies intending to build an automobile factory opposite the company overlooking Riverdale Park. The land was bought for the Kemp Mfg Co by Victoria Harbor Lumber Co.
June 1920: The Sheet Metal Products Co. applies for a title to the land consisting of the remainder of Bell Street and the north side of Oak Street.
An ambitious leader
Edward Kemp was the ambitious head of the Kemp Manufacturing Co. and Sheet Metal Products. In addition to the savvy business moves that expanded the company’s footprint in the River and Gerrard Street area, Kemp added factories in Winnipeg and Montreal in the early 1900s. Kemp and his brother also purchased the MacDonald Manufacturing Co. located at 401 Richmond Street West at Spadina Avenue, adding it as a subsidiary.
At the turn of the century, Edward Kemp took a step back from the company as he pursued a political career. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1900 as the Conservative Member for East Toronto. In 1916, he was appointed Minister of the Militia. He was knighted after World War I for his political efforts in the conflict. Kemp was also appointed to the Senate in 1921.
While Kemp was keen on growing his prosperity, he also furthered general Toronto and Canadian manufacturing interests. He was President of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association in 1895 and 1896; President of the Toronto Board of Trade in 1899 and 1900; and Director of the National Trust Company, the Imperial Life Assurance Company, and other high-profile corporations.
Unsurprisingly, Kemp and his wives (he married in 1879 and remarried in 1925) were part of high society in Toronto. He was listed in the Toronto Society Blue Book of the city’s ‘elite’ on multiple occasions. In 1902, he built his massive estate ‘Castle Frank’ after previously living at 106 Winchester Street. He was a member of the National Club, Albany Club, York Club, and other prestigious exclusive organizations.
In 1929, Edward Kemp died suddenly in his summer home near Pigeon Lake of reported “acute indigestion”. It was only hours after his seventy-first birthday. The Globe described his success as “bound up in the growth of Toronto.”
The Kemp Manufacturing Co. and later the Steel Metal Metal Products Co. were renowned for their household goods. A 1922 SMP Catalogue offers an interesting insight into the product line, which was divided into types of products by material, all with quality assurances!
Products ranged from baby baths to chamber pails to ash sifters, and of course, lanterns.
A dedicated workforce
Workers of the Kemp Manufacturing Co. lived on Sumach Street, River Street, and Oak Street, among others. Injuries such as limp lacerations and crushing were reported in the newspapers. Notable is the young age of some of the injured men, which were between seventeen and nineteen years.
As described in Sojourners and Settlers, Macedonians made up the highest proportion of the Kemp Manufacturing and Sheet Metal Products Co.’s workforce. A noted number of Ethnic Macedonians arrived in Toronto around 1910 and worked hard manufacturing jobs. The Globe noted two unfortunate events involving Macedonian employees of the company: in 1909, Peter Dassil, aged 17, was instantly killed after being jammed between the floor of a freight hoist and the ceiling; and in 1910, Christo Tomie, aged 22, drowned in the Don River near Riverdale Park.
In 1896, The Globe described an ‘old fashioned tea meeting’, organized by Mr Thomas A. Scott, ‘a colored man’, held at the African Methodist church. He was employed by the company for twenty years. The event had members of the Kemp Manufacturing Co. and the Wrought Iron Range Co.
The End of an Era
In 1927, Steel Metal Products Co merged with the McClary Manufacturing Co. and the Thomas Davidson Manufacturing Co. to form General Steel Wares Limited. The new company continued to operate the River Street plant for another fifty years. A. E. Kemp did not head the new company.
General Steel Wares closed the River Street plant in 1964 and shifted production to Montreal, Fergus, and London. The building sat vacant until the construction of a 3-tower, 984-suite apartment complex requiring Ontario Municipal Board approval was built on the site. It makes up part of today’s Regent Park neighbourhood.
Spontaneous, impromptu adventures. They are the best, aren’t they? As a person who overthinks and plans the heck out of things, I’ve realised lately that when you go into something with high hopes and little expectations, things turn out to be more fun.
I find myself at George Brown’s St. James Campus, meeting my brother in front of the Hospitality Building at the top of Frederick on Adelaide. It’s a new state of the art building, but its surroundings for the most part aren’t. Beside it is a trio of heritage buildings: Toronto’s First Post Office, the De La Salle Institute, and the former Bank of Upper Canada Building. Actually, the Hospitality Building was previously occupied by a still existing heritage building that still exists, Campbell House Museum, which was moved to University and Queen in 1972.
This collection of structures is important in telling the story of York and Toronto, but the block-wide red brick building across from us grabs my attention the most. Ah, converted industrial buildings: my great interest in this thing called local history. A good chunk of George Brown features adaptive reuse projects. The one across the street is the former Christie factory.
My brother tells me that a pedestrian bridge was planned above the intersection to join the two buildings. It never materialized and after we part, I woefully resign to using the boring old crosswalk. Or maybe not so boring. At the corner I see an inkling of Old Toronto street names. Hello Mr. Duke!
As I meander south, it’s like architectural Pokemon – I gotta catch ‘em all. But this is a journey within a journey. I really want to check out the Market Gallery – I just get some trinkets along the way!
This is also a good time to plug my Map of Toronto’s Industrial Heritage, where I am attempting to plot the city’s industrial and manufacturing places – existing and lost, still running and demolished.
Among these is Young People’s Theatre, which greets me at Front Street. Just as it sounds, YPT is an arts space which puts on performances for young audiences. The building itself, though, was never intended to be a theatre. It started off as stables for Toronto Street Railway Company in 1886 – you know, back when horses used to draw the city’s streetcars. After the system became electrified, it became a power generating plant. It sat vacant for a while, faced demolition (such is the story many old and idle buildings, no?) until YPT moved in. One has to think of the logistics of converting a space like that into a theatre. Industrial buildings into lofts or offices seem like the most common examples of adaptive reuse, so to see a power plant into a theatre is truly remarkable!
Still looking at the south side of Front Street, on the west side of Frederick is another industrial building. This is J&J Taylor Safeworks. As a Toronto Historical Board plaque on the building tells us, the structure was built in 1867 as a meat packing plant. In 1871, it became the home to J&J Taylor. It looks to be office space today.
I didn’t venture over to see it, but there’s a Taylor’s Wharf Lane immediately south of the building which commemorates the wharf that used to exist in the area – when the original shoreline was at about Front. Ironically though, the Taylor and in the wharf and the Taylor in the safe manufacturer are unrelated. More on lanes later.
Continuing westward, I get to St. Lawrence Market and I note the doors are curiously closed. Poor twisted me – it’s Monday! I guess the ‘Toronto Does Her Bit’ exhibition will have to wait. I do get a look down pedestrian Market Street, though. There’s a shiny new Balzac’s there. I continue on to the crazy Church-Wellington-Front intersection, highlighted by the often photographed Flat Iron Building. I have enough shots of it so I opt out of one now and turn north.
I travel past St. James Church and Adelaide Street again. When I hit Lombard I make a left. Impromptu adventure. One of the random nuggets of knowledge in my head tells me there’s something here that I’ve been meaning to check out: 86 Lombard. Today it’s the Fred Victor Women’s Hostel, but in 1907 it was built to be the city morgue. Imagine that: a house of the dead on our streets! There’s some hidden history for you. Actually, more to that point, a now covered sign high above door even once showed its original purpose.
Some former factories catch my attention on Richmond street. Although I cannot find anything on the darker building, the red brick building has a ‘sweet’ past. It is part of a complex of structures that stretch to Queen Street which used to make up Robertson Bros Confection Ltd (established in 1862). If my facts are right, the structure on Richmond was the warehouse and dates around 1906. The purpose of the rest of the buildings and their dates is a little bit more difficult to sort out.
After capturing them in my phone, I turn around to note my surroundings. There’s some street art dedicated to Nelson Mandela!