Sunday, February 28, 2016

Aikenhead Hardware Limited, Toronto, Ontario

Canadian Machinery, 1909

Joseph Ridout started his hardware store in Toronto in 1830.  Born in County Kilkenny, Ireland, James Aikenhead joined the firm as a junior clerk in 1847. When he and Alexander Crombie became partners in 1866, their names were added to the corporate masthead:

Aikenhead's son bought out his father's partners in 1893, and his name alone remained on the storefront.  (James Aikenhead died in 1903 at the age of 87.) The company prospered and expanded, opening a subsidary company known as Hobbs Hardware Limited in London, Ontario.  By 1960, the firm had 22 Ontario outlets and annual sales of $22 million.  In 1965 Aikenheads's purchased the hardware chain of the Russell Hardware Company Limited.  

The main Toronto store had to move several times to accommodate its growing customer base, finally ending up at 17 Temperance Street in 1905.  (They also occupied the former factory of the Comet Bicycle Company on Adelaide Street).  The Temperance Street store eventually offered six floors of merchandising, ranging from tacks to tractors. You could buy a single screw if you wanted.  The location remained the company's head office until 1963.

Canadian Machinery, 1913
In 1971, the family sold the business to the Molson Brewery concern, which went on to acquire the Beaver Lumber chain one year later.  Apparently, the beer barons thought they could operate a big hardware chain.  By 1992, Molson's had pared the Aikenhead's chain down to a single store in downtown Toronto and launched Aikenhead's Improvement Warehouse Inc. with outlets in Ontario, Alberta & BC.  Molson's eventually got out of the biz, selling 75 percent interest in the company to Home Depot in 1994, and the remainder of the equity in 2000. This was the end of the road for Aikenhead's. As an article in the New York Times put it, Home Depot "will convert all the Aikenhead's stores to Home Depots, replacing their turquoise signs with the bright orange colors of Home Depot."

Molson's exited this market entirely in 1999, when it sold Beaver Lumber to Home Hardware.  Of course, Molson's is now Molson-Coors.  Let's raise a glass to them.  Not. 


Anonymous said...

Further to "You could buy a single screw if you wanted.":

I seem to recall that you could also buy screws by the gross. (A dozen dozen, i.e. 144.)

Mister G said...

The Temperance St store was still around in the late eighties and when I found it I was delighted. 6 floors, electrical on one plumbing on another etc. etc. A real hardware store! When they moved to University and Chestnut with the Home Depot format, it was another eyeopener. But as you say, long gone.

Unknown said...

This article is simply incorrect. Hobbs Hardware Limited was a going concern long before Aikenhead Hardware. Aikenhead purchased Hobbs in the late 1960's.

The Duke said...

The whole "article" is incorrect? Or just the part about Hobbs? And it's a blog post, not an article. So, if in fact the information you have provided on Hobbs is accurate, thank you for correcting that one point. We don't charge a subscription, and our research division is limited, so we do appreciate when visitors can add to what we have posted.

Unknown said...

Thanks for putting this up! I just noticed it today when looking for some other family history.

Mister G said...

You're welcome, I loved the store on Temperance in the late eighties. Anything you can add or correct would be much appreciated.

Unknown said...

First full time job at age 16.Started in the Cloverdale Mall store and finished the short career with them at the New Toronto store. Pretty good memories.

Dr Don R said...

Love this. My dad worked in the Temperence St store in the 20s. If I remember correctly, he made about $35 / week. A visit with him to Aikenheads as a child in the 50s was a teaching opportunity for him & learning experience for me. Still miss them (and him!)

Mister G said...

Yes a great classic old hardware store.