Did you know……Iconic Canadian fashion designer Alfred Sung was once an instructor in the Ryerson School of Fashion?
Now one of the most established Canadian fashion designers on the international scene, Sung began his career as a fashion entrepreneur in the 1970s when he opened retail clothing store, Moon, in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood. In 1979, he and fellow fashion entrepreneurs, Joseph and Saul Mimran, established the Monaco Group Inc. and began designing and distributing ready-to-wear clothing to fashion retailers throughout North America under the Alfred Sung label. Five years later, the group opened a series of free-standing retail stores under the now-well-known name Club Monaco.
In 1986, Sung signed on with Ryerson for a one-year term to teach Apparel IV, a fourth-year course in tailoring and sportswear design. The course was meant to give students practical experience creating a comprehensive collection and to teach burgeoning designers the business side of the industry. Sung knew this side all too well: the year he joined Ryerson, his company had just branched out into sportswear with Sung Sport, was launching its first perfume line, and was the first Canadian designer brand to be traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
As described in The Ryersonian, Sung agreed to take on the teaching post because he wanted to give back to an industry that had been so kind to him. He even donated his salary to the School, creating two scholarships in Apparel Management and Design, each equal to a year’s tuition . His hiring kicked off the School of Fashion’s practice of recruiting leading contemporary fashion designers to teach Ryerson students. This hiring trend, not yet common in Canadian fashion programs at the time Sung signed on, continues to benefit students in the School today.
For those who can’t get enough of Gatsby fashion, RULA Special Collections recently acquired a small donation of 1910s- and 20s-era stylebooks from American clothiers Hart, Schaffner & Marx and The House of Kuppenheimer.
The companies date back to the late nineteenth-century. Hart, Schaffner & Marx began operations as Harry Hart & Bro. in 1872, when brothers Harry and Max Hart opened a small men’s clothing outlet in Chicago. By 1887, the company had undergone two name changes and a series of new partnership agreements but settled on the name Hart, Schaffner & Marx. It was soon the largest manufacturer of men’s clothing in America, selling nearly $1 million worth of clothing annually.
The company’s rival, The House of Kuppenheimer, was also based in Chicago. Established by Bernard Kuppenheimer in 1876, the company reached sales of $1 million per year by the 1880s. By the 1910s, it employed nearly 2000 workers.
The companies specialized in tailored clothing for men, young men, and boys and distributed their catalogs through the retailers that sold their products. These catalogs capitalized on the allure of the wealthy American elite as the companies hired well-known illustrators to create images that associated the brands with the fulfillment of the American dream. Taglines referring to “prep school boys” and “stylish business men” accompanied images of young men and women hunting, horseback riding, attending lavish banquets and performing other activities associated with America’s burgeoning leisure class.
Yet, much like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic literary portrait of the era, the catalogs also reveal the tensions underlying the pursuit of this elusive lifestyle. Indeed, the catalogs’ subjects are, like Gatsby himself, often as remarkable for their gaiety as for their unshakeable ennui. Meanwhile, the catalogs’ recurring concern with ‘rightness’ and ‘correctness’ betrays the intense pressures of conformity that governed the American upper classes.
Despite the catalogs’ glamourous subject matter, their emphasis on value and economy additionally reveals a target consumer more likely to pinch pennies and aspire to upward social mobility than to enjoy the breeze from an already-purchased yacht. In their most disconcerting form, the images flatly expose the American dream as a reality accessible to only a precious few in terms of race and gender.
The catalogs thus stand as a rich resource not only for those interested in the history of fashion, graphic design, or advertising, but also for anyone exploring race, class, and gender politics in America in the 1910s and 20s. Stop by Ryerson Special Collections on the 4th floor of the library to see these small but powerful documents of American history (call numbers: TT620.K87 1916-1921 ; TT620.H36 1911-1925) and to peruse other resources related to the history of fashion in North America, Europe and elsewhere.
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)
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.
King Street (1901 – 1917)
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.
Kodak Heights (1913 – 2005)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.