Kodak in Toronto, 1899-2005: A Century of Traces

The Home of Kodak in Canada, promotional material, 1942

2005.001.07.03.05.04. The Home of Kodak in Canada, promotional material, 1942

Over the course of its 106-year presence in Toronto, Kodak affected more than just the history of photography in Canada. In satisfying its need for cutting edge photographic manufacturing facilities, the company contributed several ambitious architectural projects to the cityscape. Through these contributions, Kodak left an indelible mark upon the city, the traces of which are still visible today.

The following history documents Kodak’s presence in Toronto from 1899 to 2005, focusing on its three central facilities on Colborne Street, King Street, and at Kodak Heights. This history was constructed from documents and artefacts contained within the Kodak Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection at Ryerson University (Accession #2005.001). These items and more are currently on display on the 4th floor of Ryerson Library. For more information, visit Ryerson Archives and Special Collections.

Kodak’s early days in Canada

In 1888, George Eastman founded the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, NY. In 1899, after successfully operating on the American market for over a decade, Eastman set his sights north, dispatching Kodak employee John G. Palmer to Toronto to determine the viability of establishing a subsidiary in Canada. Palmer discovered a robust market for photographic products and, on November 8, 1899, Canadian Kodak Co., Limited was incorporated under the Ontario Company’s act. The nascent company established headquarters in downtown Toronto, embarking on a relationship with the city that would last more than a century and would constitute the heart of the company’s manufacturing operations in Canada.

Colborne Street (1899 – 1901)

Colborne Street Map

From Atlas of the city of Toronto and suburbs : in three volumes, Goad’s Atlas and Plan Co., 1923. G1149.T6 G6 1923 r

Following Canadian Kodak’s incorporation in 1899, the company established premises in an existing building at 41 Colborne Street, Toronto. The property was intended to serve as an assembly and distribution centre, rather than a site of manufacturing: the fledgling company imported bulk film and photographic paper, as well as completed cameras, from Rochester for packaging and distribution in Canada. The property was leased to Canadian Kodak Co., Ltd. for 3 years at $840 per year. Consisting of four floors and a cellar, 24 ¼ x 71 feet each, the site housed the entire Kodak plant and its staff of ten. A further 7-year option on the property was offered by the owner but never taken. Largely unchanged from its original structure, the Colborne Street building still stands today.

Canadian Kodak Co., Ltd. Headquarters (1899-1901), 41 Colborne Street, Toronto

2005.001.3.259. Canadian Kodak Co., Ltd. Headquarters (1899-1901), 41 Colborne Street, Toronto

41 Colborne Street, 2014. The original building on Colborne Street still stands today.

41 Colborne Street, 2014. The original building on Colborne Street still stands today. Image courtesy of Google street view.

King Street (1901 – 1917)

King Street Map

From Atlas of the city of Toronto and suburbs : in three volumes, Goad’s Atlas and Plan Co., 1923. G1149.T6 G6 1923 r

The Colborne Street premises soon proved insufficient to house the rapidly growing Canadian subsidiary. With its lease set to expire in 1901, the company set out to find a new site for its operations in what was then Toronto’s manufacturing district. In September of that year, Canadian Kodak purchased an empty lot at 588 King Street for $70 per foot and hired Toronto architects Chadwick & Beckett to build a new plant. Over its 17-year tenure at this facility, Canadian Kodak began its transition to a manufacturing operation, producing its own photographic film, paper, and mounts. The company also began to import camera parts—rather than completed cameras—from Rochester for assembly and distribution in Canada. Like the Colborne Street site, the King Street premises quickly proved too small to house the growing business and two additional buildings were constructed in an adjoining lot. By 1908, the King Street factory had expanded to its full capacity and the company had grown to 108 employees. Like Kodak’s Colborne Street plant, the King Street facility still stands today, now part of a busy retail strip in downtown Toronto.

Scaife Patent Gravity Filter, W.B. Scaife & Sons, Co., 1909. This cyanotype is one of only two known surviving blueprints from the King Street premises.

2005.001.03.1.02.1. Scaife Patent Gravity Filter, W.B. Scaife & Sons, Co., 1909. This cyanotype is one of only two known surviving blueprints from the King Street premises.

Letter, December 24, 1903. George Eastman authorizes John Palmer to purchase the vacant lot adjoining the existing King Street plant for the purpose of expansion.

2005.001.08.01.02. Letter, December 24, 1903. George Eastman authorizes John Palmer to purchase the vacant lot adjoining the existing King Street plant for the purpose of expansion.

Canadian Kodak Co., Ltd. Headquarters (1901-1917), 588 King Street West, Toronto, frontal view.

2005.001.3.260.004. King Street premises, 588 King Street West, Toronto, frontal view, 1901-1917.

King Street premises, rear view, 1926. This portion of the factory, bordering Adelaide Street, was constructed during Kodak’s King Street expansion. This image was taken nearly ten years after Kodak had completed its move to Kodak Heights.

2005.001.3.260.012. King Street premises, rear view, 1926. This portion of the factory, bordering Adelaide Street, was constructed during Kodak’s King Street expansion. This image was taken nearly ten years after Kodak had completed its move to Kodak Heights.

588 King Street, 2014. Like the Colborne Street property, the King Street building still remains.

588 King Street, 2014. Like the Colborne Street property, the King Street building still remains. Image courtesy of Google street view.

Kodak Heights (1913 – 2005)

Kodak Heights Map

From Atlas of the city of Toronto and suburbs : in three volumes, Goad’s Atlas and Plan Co., 1923. G1149.T6 G6 1923 r

By 1912, Canadian Kodak had outgrown its King Street facilities. That year, George Eastman visited Toronto to establish a sustainable plan for expansion. The result of his visit was the purchase in 1913 of 25 acres of farmland at Eglinton Avenue and Weston Road, Toronto, for $5,000 per acre. Soon after the deed was signed, construction began on the original seven buildings at Kodak Heights. The property was nicknamed Kodak Heights by company executive S.B. Cornell.

George Eastman visits Toronto, 1912. Eastman and executives John Palmer and S.B. Cornell survey the land that would soon become Kodak Heights.

2005.001.06.06.1.071. George Eastman visits Toronto, 1912. Eastman and executives John Palmer and S.B. Cornell survey the land that would soon become Kodak Heights.

South Elevation of Building 5, 1914. This architectural ink drawing on calendered cloth is for one of the original seven buildings and one of the largest buildings at Kodak Heights.

2005.001.03.1.05.2. South Elevation of Building 5, 1914. This architectural ink drawing on calendered cloth shows one of the original seven buildings and one of the largest buildings at Kodak Heights.

Workers in horse-drawn buggies excavate building 7, Kodak Heights, July 27, 1914

2005.001.06.01.002.4. Workers in horse-drawn buggies excavate building 7, Kodak Heights, July 27, 1914

Constructing the bridge connecting building 3 & 5, Kodak Heights, September 20, 1915

2005.001.06.01.002.4. Constructing the bridge connecting building 3 & 5, Kodak Heights, September 20, 1915

Kodak Heights construction, looking NE, Building 5, October 15, 1915

2005.001.06.01.002.4. Kodak Heights construction, looking NE, Building 5, October 15, 1915

Meeting the Plant’s Power and Transport Needs
To meet its massive energy needs, Canadian Kodak built and maintained its own Power House (Building 1) at Kodak Heights. Upwards of 50 tonnes of coal were burned every day, the smoke from which was released through a 200-ft chimney constructed by the Custodis Canadian Chimney Co. The structure soon became a local landmark.

Drawing for Power House chimney, Canadian Custodis Chimney Co., Ltd, 1914

2005.001.08.03.01.02. Drawing for Power House chimney, Canadian Custodis Chimney Co., Ltd, 1914

Kodak Heights chimney, date unknown

2005.001.06.03.008.02. Kodak Heights chimney, date unknown

Canadian Kodak also contracted with the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. to extend tracks into the Kodak Heights property, allowing easy delivery of supplies and coal. The tracks ended inside the Power House, reaching the building via a custom-built trestle.

Proposed Sidings for the Canadian Kodak Co., Ltd., Canadian Pacific Railway, 1914

2005.001.03.1.03.3. Proposed Sidings for the Canadian Kodak Co., Ltd., Canadian Pacific Railway, 1914

Rail trestle to Power House, ca. 1918

2005.001.2.254.012. Rail trestle to Power House, ca. 1918

Architectural Design Challenges
The manufacture of film was a complicated multi-step process that required equally complex facilities. The sensitivity of film and paper to their environment required extreme cleanliness and climate control. Many steps of this process were performed in dark rooms lit by safe lights.  In addition, the production and storage of cellulose nitrate film required safety precautions that impacted the plant’s design.

This diagram, from the 1954 promotional brochure Kodak in Canada, illustrates some of the production activities accommodated at Kodak Heights. Note dark rooms 9 through 12.

2005.001.07.03.05.08. This diagram, from the 1954 promotional brochure ‘Kodak in Canada’, illustrates some of the production activities accommodated at Kodak Heights. Note dark rooms 9 through 12.

Employees operating Pako Corp. Filmachine, ca. 1950-1960. Due to strict environmental controls and low lighting, employees often wore clean white uniforms and carried “safe” flashlights, much like these two employees in the film processing department.

2005.001.06.03.733. Employees operating Pako Corp. Filmachine, ca. 1950-1960. Due to strict environmental controls and low lighting, employees often wore clean white uniforms and carried “safe” flashlights, much like these two employees in the film processing department.

Letter (excerpt), October 31, 1913. A Kodak plant engineer describes the result of an insurance inspection in which Associated Factory Mutual Fire Insurance deemed the plant too risky to insure unless hazardous film was produced and stored in a separate building from photographic paper.

2005.001.08.03.01.01. Letter (excerpt), October 31, 1913. A Kodak plant engineer describes the result of an insurance inspection in which Associated Factory Mutual Fire Insurance deemed the plant too risky to insure unless hazardous film was produced and stored in a separate building from photographic paper.

Nitrate film production table, early 20th-century. Plant design had to accommodate the production of hazardous flexible cellulose nitrate film base, which was cast on 200-ft long tables such as this one.

2005.001.06.03.216. Nitrate film production table, early 20th-century. Plant design had to accommodate the production of hazardous flexible cellulose nitrate film base, which was cast on 200-ft long tables such as this one.

A New Home for Kodak
By 1916, the original seven buildings of Kodak Heights were complete and the company began its move from the King Street premises—a move that would finish in 1917. Kodak Heights was a source of pride for Canadian Kodak. The facility was often opened for tours and played a significant role in the company’s marketing. The property would become Canadian Kodak’s headquarters until its closure in 2005.

Kodak Heights Aerial Photograph, 1918

2005.001.3.484.001. Kodak Heights Aerial Photograph, 1918

Kodak Heights, promotional material, 1919

2005.001.07.03.05.01. Kodak Heights, promotional material, 1919

Kodak Heights Pond, 1916

2005.001.06.03.541. Kodak Heights Pond, 1916

Kodak Heights Gateway, ca. 1960

2005.001.06.03.233. Kodak Heights Gateway, ca. 1960

Billing and entering office, 1917

2005.001.3.499. Billing and entering office, 1917

Camera assembly, 1923

2005.001.06.03.373. Camera assembly, 1923

Kodak Heights Expansion
Kodak Heights grew steadily over its lifetime. In 1939, construction began on the Kodak employees’ building (Building 9). This 4-storey building was designed to accommodate the activities of the Recreation Club, the Department Managers’ Club, and the Kodak Heights Camera Club. It housed an auditorium, cafeteria, gymnasium, club room, locker room, and camera studio and had an adjacent lawn bowling green. The building opened in 1940. Expansion at Kodak Heights continued until the late 20th-century. By 1987, the property housed 18 buildings.

Building 9, 1988

2005.001.06.06.2.027. Employee Building (Building 9), Kodak Heights, 1988

Cafeteria, Building 9, Kodak Heights, 1948

2005.001.3.271. Cafeteria, Building 9, Kodak Heights, 1948

Ladies Lounge, Building 9, Kodak Heights, 1964

2005.001.3.272. Ladies Lounge, Building 9, Kodak Heights, 1964

Kodak Heights Demolition and Remains
On December 9, 2004, Kodak Canada announced the closure of its manufacturing operations. June 30, 2005 would be the last day of operations at Kodak Heights. In the subsequent months, most of the plant was demolished. Today, only the Employees’ Building remains.

Chimney demolition, 2005

2005.001.06.03.371. Chimney demolition, 2005

Chimney demolition, 2005

2005.001.06.03.371. Chimney demolition, 2005

Employees’ Building (Building 9), Kodak Heights, 2014

Employees’ Building (Building 9), Kodak Heights, 2014. Photograph courtesy of author.

Kodak Heights, 2014

Kodak Heights, 2014. Photograph courtesy of author.

To learn more about the history of Kodak Canada, the history of Canadian architecture, and the history of photography, visit Ryerson Archives and Special Collections on the 4th floor of the library.

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