Wednesday, March 4, 2015

We used to make things in this country. #180: Gendron Manufacturing Company, Toronto, Ontario

Above, a lovely old toilet paper dispenser I installed years ago in my bathroom.

In 1865, a young Peter Gendron left his father's wagon works in St. Ours, Quebec and took a position as a pattern maker in at the Toledo Novelty Works in Ohio.  Six years later, he established his own business.  In 1874 he invented and patented a light-weight, spoked wheel which proved to be a significant improvement over the solid wheels of the time.  Incorporating ball bearings into the hub added to its effectiveness and in 1880 he founded the Gendron Iron Wheel Company.

His company grew to the point that in 1890 he established the Gendron Manufacturing Company of Toronto, where in 1895 he built a large brick factory at 411 Richmond Street.

Vintage CCM
At its height it was employing 100 workers, primarily French-Canadian Catholics who lived in this area of Toronto.  The company's products included bicycles, tricycles, doll carriages and a variety of children's toys in both wood and rattan.  In 1899, the bicycle aspect of the business was combined with the Massey bicycle firm, the Welland Vale Manufacturing Company, the Goold Bicycle Company of Brantford and the H.A. Lozier & Co. of Toronto form the Canada Cycle & Motor Co. Ltd. (CCM). (See Vintage CCM for a fuller history.)  Peter Gendron died in 1911, but his company persisted.  In a 1921 Toronto exhibit, when the company location was reported to be 137 Duchess Street,  it was reported:

Up on the fifth floor of the Exhibition Hall the Gendron Mfg. Co. made a display of their varied lines. It was the largest and best display the company ever made. A special feature was their new line of reed strollers, which are as comfortable as a large-size baby carriage. These strollers have a new ebonized handle with brass-nickeled trimmings.  
A big line of carriages was also shown, all of them with foot pocket and parcel space and sliding trap to make a bed when baby wants to sleep. The carriage models were all this season's samples, in whole reed and split reed. English models for city trade and wood panel carriages were there; the American type frondolas had reed tops and storm curtains. In colors white and old ivory predominated, with light shaded corduroy trimmings.  
Among other lines exhibited were bassinettes, park cars, which are said to be popular in the West, baby chairs, children's furniture, kindergarten sets, toy carriages in reed; and in the boy line were new model automobiles, velocipedes, sleighs, artillery cars, wheel- barrows, roller-bearer coaster wagons, the latter equipped with a new brace which carries all strain, relieving the tugging on the front axle.
Gendron also made wheelchairs, such as the one below that I photographed in the Kingston ReStore:

In 1927 the parent company became a subsidiary of American National, a holding company for Toledo Metal Wheel, National Wheel, and American Wheel. Over the ensuing decades, the parent company was sold and sold again, becoming the Gendron Wheel Company in 1941, operating out of Perrysburg, Ohio and specializing in wheelchairs, playground equipment and other children's wheeled vehicles.  Further changes of ownership took place, and the company today is primarily a manufacturer of medical devices.

It looks to me like, when the American parent company was purchased in the late 1920's, the Canadian company joined forces with the McFarlane Company of Toronto and Belleville, offering products under both the McFarlane-Gendron and Gendron names.  McFarlane made a wide range of products, including brooms, brushes, implements, utensils, ladders, lawn chairs, sleds, washboards, and sundry household woodenwares.

McFarlane Gendron seems to have specialized in ladders:

Below, a ladder rung lock made by McFarlane Gendron.  It's a solid piece of cast iron!

In 1935, the Toronto firm made the "Canada's National Game table hockey game.")  In this guise, the company seems to have persisted into the 1970's.  The Toronto factory on Richmond Street is now protected under the Ontario Heritage Act.

The McFarlane Gendron company continued until the late 1970's or early 1980's. In 1983, it's former Belleville plant on Sydney Street was purchased by William Finkle Machine Limited.


Anonymous said...

The company was in the hands of my grandfather George Vincent McFarlane up until his death in 1970. The Firm was put up for sale because William Vincent McFarlane his son wanted to purchase the company, However his sister betty Kingston vetoed the proposal and the firm was sold to a Mr Kotlier. Whom let his wife run the company into the ground in 10 years that the McFarlanes took 100 years to build. Read the Toronto Star/Globe and mail they ran the article.

This comment was left by the surviving legitamite daughter EVA LINDA MCFARLANE.

RD McFarlane said...

William McFarlane died from an absessed tooth as a young man in 1915. My grandfather, George Breading McFarlane, son of Wiliam, joined the firm in 1928. He became President in 1970 following the death of Vincent. McFarlane Manufacturing made ladders and Gendron manufacturing were operated as separate companies until 1936. They were amalgamated in 1940 to create McFarlane Gendron. June 29, 1971 the McFarlane family sold to Alan Kotlier. Alan Kotlier was an engineering graduate from MIT. He was President of s large manufacturing company for ten years before acquiring McFarlane Gendron. My grandfather was the holder of the greatest number of shares in the company upon sale followed by Elizabeth (Betty) Kingston. My grandfather stayed on for a time as Executive Vice President working along side Alan Kotlier. From the records I have, there would need to be cooperation and complicity from my Grandfather to veto any proposal from William Vincent McFarlane.

I am George Breading McFarlane's grandson, son of his son, Donald George McFarlane.

The Duke said...

Thanks for correcting and completing the history of this firm.