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Friday, January 29, 2016


When one is told that his or her time is coming soon, one's mind starts to wonder and remember places we have been, worked, people we knew and where we lived. So it it is with me. My non physical career with CN Express began when in the final summer after graduating from high school, I was posted to the Bond department located in the bowels of 20 York Street. Here I covered for three weeks or more the Bond department "runner". The job entailed delivering to a variety of steamship companies in downtown Toronto, original ocean bills of lading and checks covering the owed freight. In return I would be given advice notes which could be used to Customs clear and deliver the goods in question or remove the merchandise "In Bond" to a final destination in Canada by the use of CN Express. I thoroughly enjoyed my short time here so when the time came to enter full time

The Foy Building, 32 Front St.W.
employment and after a number of other postings with CN, I started in a junior Customs position with Robert Morse Corp. on Evans Ave., Etobicoke, an importer of tools, machines and industrial supplies. Not long after, I spotted an ad for a "junior rater" at Mid-Continent truck terminal, as the money was better ($70.week as opposed to the $60. I was making), my career started with Robinson & Heath Ltd., Canada's 2nd oldest Customs Broker located at 32 Front St.W., Toronto. Although my initial interview process was with the office manager, I was called back to meet the company's President, a man called Bill Heath. The man had a strict military bearing to him complete with handlebar moustache and bow tie. The interview went well and I become the "Junior rater" rating and assessing the appropriate duty and tax on all parcel post shipments for our clients. It was later that I learned Bill had issued instructions for all new employees to have college experience - little did he know I attended Humber College for only one semester, rarely attending classes and received no marks. Regardless this was the beginning of a solid 11 years with the company, in which time I progressed from the lowest on the totem pole to Branch Manager and eventually moving into sales with use of a company car and mid management. My relations with Bill Heath were always good.
The Gillett Bldg occupied 32 Front St prior to the fire
Other company staff referred as him to "the Major", I believed this to be some sort of comic relief not really thinking of him as an officer although he carried an "air" of superiority to him, or at least tried to. So I worked for the first couple of years 1969-1971 in the Head Office located in an older building near the north-east corner of Front St. and Bay St called the "Foy" building. Although having a modern entrance and elevator, the six story building had an old freight elevator at the rear and old loading doors that had been boarded up. Many years later when the building was being torn down for the new Hockey Hall of Fame and surrounding structures, I removed the 8 foot Venetian blinds from Bill Heath's office and swiped an old metal fire door from the bin. The blinds were installed in our add on room to our trailer parked at Melody Bay. The door was after painting, our front door at 93 Juniper for many years.
Now, 47 years after my hiring: the company; the building; the "Major"; and my career are all long gone! 32 Front Street West, Toronto was at one time near the hub of a thriving dry goods and grocery distribution and manufacturing area of the City. However a tragedy occurred in 1904 with the Great Toronto Fire. A night watchman, making his rounds on a cold and windy night, discovered a fire in a 4-storey brick E&S Currie, neck wear factory at 58 Wellington Street West. He ran up Bay Street and pulled Box 12, located at King, at 20:04 hrs. A normal assignment of 5 hose companies, two steamers, an aerial, the water tower, a ladder truck and a couple of chemical wagons, and the salvage company under the command of Fire Chief

Rebuiulding on Front St. after the fire 1904
Thompson arrived at the scene and went to work. An interior attack from the front was having some effect but the building was ablaze from top to bottom and fire extended into exposure #4, a similar structure. A general alarm was called and the chief and a couple of men took a line in to try and head things off. This is when things went bad. The fire cut them off on the 2nd floor, trapping them upstairs. They tried shinnying down the hose but the chief lost his grip and fell, breaking a leg. He was carted off home and Deputy Chief Noble sent for. Meanwhile, things deteriorated quickly. Warehouses at exposures #1 and #4 started to burn, as the flames overwhelmed interior crews. Flames worked their way quickly over to Bay Street, threatening John Ross Robertson’s Telegram newspaper building. Equipped with window sprinklers and made of concrete, the 10-storey edifice was further protected by a brave group of employees armed with buckets and standpipe houses. In the heat and blinding smoke, they made a successful stand.

George J. Foy Memorial Mount Hope Cemetery
DC Noble had arrived to find a horrifying sight. Even the steamers could not provide a stream capable of penetrating the heat and the crews facing the 30mph wind found the streams snapped off at the nozzle. Soon buildings on the south side of Wellington, opposite the fire, began to burn. Two large warehouses, each a half block deep towards Front, took off, dooming the structures on the west side of Bay and the north side of Front. To make matters worse, stores on the east side of Bay, south of the Telegram, were now well involved. The temperature dropped to 20F and firefighters were further stymied by falling wires and buildings, and hose lines lay abandoned in the streets as the men ran for their lives. With the wind howling and gusting to 55mph the blaze became a firestorm, and at 2230, the mayor sent a desperate plea to nearby villages and several cities with steamers for aid. With the glow readily visible in the night sky, crews from the Junction, North and East Toronto, the Beach and Weston quickly readied their equipment and sped to the scene to back up the weary city boys. Farther afield, special trains were readied in Hamilton, then Brantford, Peterborough, Niagara Falls, London and Buffalo. The large, 6-storey brick Darling Dry Goods emporium on the south east corner of Bay & Wellington ignited and the flames swept down both sides of Bay, taking out large and small buildings alike. On the fringes, desperate firefighters tried to corral the monster as it tried to outflank them, forcing its way across Front. The crews from Hamilton arrived, an amazing 90 minutes after the call. They made a stand at the Queen’s hotel, a large building situated on Front west of Bay, replacing exhausted city and Junction members who knew that losing the hotel would wipe out everything to the west. They were forced to improvise hydrant connections as the threads didn’t match but still managed to get their engines in service and stop the fire from taking the large building. As this was happening, multiple hose streams west of Yonge Street prevented the fire from jumping into the east downtown. They were aided by the employees in the Minerva Building just west of Yonge on Front, who made a stand similar to that at the Telegram. After roaring through the block-long premises of Eckardt Casket, behind the buildings on the south side of Front, the fire attacked those on the West side of Bay, above the lake. Meanwhile, it also marched ever eastward on Front, putting the Customs House at Yonge in peril. It was now 02:00, but the low, open style of Eckhardt’s factory allowed the weary firefighters to set up effective water curtains and they lost just one more building in this area. The crews on Yonge teamed up to drench first the Bank of Montreal (now the Hockey Hall of Fame), then the Customs House, preventing any extension eastward. Below that were the railway tracks, which made an effective firebreak. The worst was now over, and welcome reinforcements in the form of Engines 12 and 13 from Buffalo, along with a couple of dozen firefighters, had now made the scene. They were followed by the contingents from Brantford and London. As the sun rose, the appalling destruction became fully apparent. Almost 100 buildings, most of them substantial 4 to 6 story mercantile and manufacturing concerns, were laid waste. More than $10 million in property losses were incurred, and rebuilding took many years. Fortunately, injuries were surprisingly minor and only one fatality was connected with the fire; that of a workman struck by a falling wall a couple of days later. Even as the ruins still shouldered, burned out merchants were advertising alternative locations and contractors were hauling away debris. An economic boom, spurred by the rebuilding, swept the city and for the first time, the economy and population began growing faster than in Montreal. Improvements to the fire service were also made, with more steamers put into service and the high pressure system built. The building located at least partially on the lot at 32 Front Street West in 1904 was believed to be the E.W. Gillett Co. Ltd. building.
The Gillette Building on Front Street, Toronto

The Gillett Company's ad in The Globe on April 21, 1904, read, "Our entire plant (building and machinery) was totally consumed by the awful conflagration which swept part of Toronto on Tuesday night, April 19th, and we must therefore ask your indulgence for a few weeks. Fortunately we have a duplicate set of machinery stored safely in another building, and this will enable us to turn out goods within a reasonable time. Every Wholesale Grocer in the Dominion has a stock of ROYAL YEAST, GILLETT'S LYE, MAGIC BAKING POWDER, Etc., so we are hoping, by the careful use of goods now in their hands, that no one will be inconvenienced. 'Gillett's Goods Are the Best,' and will be more popular than ever."
Obituary for Bill Heath
I couldn't find what was installed on the lot immediately after the fire, however in 1912 a substantial building designed by Toronto architect Samuel George Curry was built for George J. Foy in 1914. The six floor building was to be named "the Foy Building" after prominent Toronto business man George J. Foy. Foy arrived in Toronto from Mayo, Ireland and building a solid wholesaling business selling cigars and liquors. However he did not live to see the new building as he died at the age of 61 in October 1909.The family built a huge grave monument  in Toronto's Catholic Mount Hope Cemetery. So at some point this became the home of Robinson &
Heath Ltd. Customs Brokerage, who prior to the fire, had resided at 14 Melinda Street (nearby).  
William Livesay Beverley Heath, the Major", came from a very privileged family with ties to other prominent Toronto families. His father, Stuart Beverley Heath, was a Lieutenant in Toronto's 123rd (10th Royal Grenadiers) Battalion in World War One. According to my friend, Dan Mowat, author of a new book One-Two-Three, The Story of the 123rd Overseas Battalion, Royal Grenadiers, CEF, Lieut. Heath went overseas with the Battalion in the Fall of 1916. Here is his report: 

"I do not have much on Lieutenant Stuart Beverley Heath, except that he was one of the first officers to sign up with the 123rd Battalion in December 1915, assigned to 'D' Company, under Major Robert Ferrier Burns Wood, and had a couple of years prior service with the QOR as a Private. I had guessed that family money got him a commission in the 123rd. Just after the 123rd arrived in England, he was transferred to the Canadian Engineers Training Depot at Crowborough, but I don't have enough details to know why (he doesn't appear to have any specialized skills or training to have been transferred as an instructor). He transferred back to the 123rd just as they were getting ready to mobilize to France in January 1917, but for some reason also beyond my grasp at the moment, it appears that he departed the 123rd Battalion for an unknown destination shortly after asschendaele."

Major Robert Ferrier Burns Wood, 123rd Btn.
However we have also found that the mentioned Major Robert Ferrier Burns Wood had married Elsie Heath, sister of Lieut.Stuart Beverley Heath, July 1916, just before the Battalion moved overseas. Elsie was the only sibling of Stuart Beverly Heath. They in turn were the children of  Stuart Beverley Wallace Heath ( 1849-1918) who in turn was one of four sons of Captain Charles Wallace Heath, India Forces. In 1837 the Elmsley family sold the southern 40 acres of Lot 21 to Agnes Heath, a widow, shortly after she and her children immigrated to Canada. Her husband Colonel Charles Heath of the Honourable East India Company Service had died in India. Following his death she relocated her children from India to Switzerland where they were educated before moving to Italy and finally to Canada. On purchasing the 40 acres she named the property Deer Park, lived there until 1846 when she sold the property to her son Charles Wallace Heath. In 1874 Charles Heath sold the property to Weymouth G. Schreiber. Schreiber subdivided it into 52 lots with three streets (one of which he named Heath Street) and registered it as Plan 365. Thus it was into this family that Bill Heath was born.
Robinson & Heath moved several times eventually moving to the Airport and being absorbed into the U.S.A. company Fritz. The Foy Building was torn down in the 1980's for the Hockey Hall of Fame. In the 11 years I worked at Robinson & Heath Ltd., I started my career in Customs and Freight Forwarding being taught skills that remain life long, met a lovely lady at Robinson &; Heath that I have been married for 44 years, fathered two beautiful daughters and purchased a house that was the home of our family for 35 years.

For more information and photos of the Great Toronto Fire visit Archives Toronto HERE.
For more information on the 123rd (Royal Grenadiers) Battalion visit Dan Mowat's excellent website

1 comment:

Marianne Broll said...

Thank you for posting this. It was an interesting read for me as my first job was at Robinson & Heath as a file and data entry clerk in the A/R dept in 1980. Lots of great people and fun times!