At the turn of the 20th century, the 401 Richmond building was occupied by the Macdonald Manufacturing Company, which operated a factory producing the finest lithography on tinware in Canada. The original building, which began construction in 1899, was followed by four four-storey expansions between 1903 and 1923 to the west, north, and northeast. From the sky, 401 Richmond looks like a capital "A" with a crosswalk or bridge (what we now call the skywalk) connecting the north and south buildings.
The Macdonald Manufacturing Company was purchased in 1944 by Continental Can of Canada who then occupied the premises until 1967. Over the next twenty-five years the building fell into the hands of several owners, and by 1994, was bankrupt and ready for the wrecker's ball. That same year the building was purchased by the Zeidler Family and Margaret Zeidler took over as President.
The intention from the very beginning was to create a vibrant mixed-use building with a focus on the arts. As Margaret Zeidler explains "when we first bought the building in 1994, our aim was to retain its current atmosphere and low rents while slowly making improvements. One of the things that impressed us about 401 Richmond was the interesting mix of tenants that already existed in the building. This synergy of people is something we wanted to expand upon, and so, we came up with a few ways we hoped would foster community spirit: create a regular newsletter, have periodic tenant get-togethers, and renovate the building with central, communal spaces."
Since 1994, 401 Richmond has undergone a dramatic transformation from rundown factory to a thriving centre for the arts in Toronto. Today the 200,000 square foot structure houses over 140 artists and entrepreneurs, a vibrant urban community of fine artists, designers, milliners, architects, filmmakers, galleries, musicians, arts organizations, and magazines.
As a sign of respect for 401's past, in 1995 the former employees of Continental Can Company visited the revitalized building. A group of over 30 toured 401 Richmond and heard wonderful stories en route. We have also kept in contact with members of the "Ex-Cons" (retired Continental employees) to maintain this vital link to the history of this extraordinary building. You can read more about our most recent visit with Ben Pawluk and Don Moffett in the Spring 2007 issue of our newsletter.
Born in Warsaw, Ontario Loftus Lloyd was the Factory Manager at 401 Richmond when it was the Macdonald Manufacturing Company. He retired in 1950 after 51 years of service, and, in 1976, wrote a history of the company which was published in 1993. Mr. Lloyd died in 1982.
We spoke to Mr. Lloyd’s son, Douglas, who edited and arranged the manuscript written by his father. Mr. Lloyd junior remembers visiting 401 Richmond long ago and listening to his parent’s dinner conversations about the building through the 1920’s, 30s and 40s. Compiling his father’s book was a labour of love for Douglas Lloyd. He sent copies of the historic document to various libraries and archives throughout Toronto, but no one expressed any thanks. Our inquiry was the first positive feedback he’s received.
“David Macdonald, artist, was born in Scotland. He left his native land and came to Canada, settling in Toronto in 1874. It was his wish to start a company to lithograph on metal. He had been encouraged in this by the National Policy of Sir John A. Macdonald. Sir John advocated the development of manufacturing in Eastern Canada with tariff protection to help it along; food would be grown in Western Canada which would make a market for the manufactured goods; the country was to be held together by a railway which ran from coast to coast. The last spike on the CPR had been driven on November 7, 1865.
David Macdonald secured financial assistance from Major Tassie and opened the first factory in Canada to lithograph on metal at 245 King Street East, Toronto. The business prospered and the company moved into a building at the north-west corner of King and Simcoe Streets. This structure had been the former home of Upper Canada College. It had been built in 1830 but was vacated when the College moved to the new buildings north of St. Clair Avenue. The intersection of King and Simcoe Streets was known as “Education, Legislation, Salvation, Damnation Corners”. Government House on the South-west corner had been built in 1829. This property was acquired by the City of Toronto in 1976 to be the new site for “Massey Hall”. (This new hall was later named “Roy Thomson Hall”). St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, built in 1875, was on the south-east corner and is still active. The hotel and saloon on the north-east corner has had many changes over the years.
The Macdonald Manufacturing Company was burned out of its new home about 1899 and moved back to its old location on King Street East while a new factory was being built on the south side of the McLean homestead property, located at the rear of lots at the corner of Queen and Spadina Streets. The entrance was from Catharine Street, a short, blind street running into the property from Peter Street. The original building was 240 feet long, 60 feet wide, two stories high, with a basement”.
The tins made at 401 Richmond have been hailed internationally for their beauty and design. Many can still be found at antique shows and stores throughout the country; they are identified by the M.M. Co., or Macdonald Manufacturing Company, insignia on the bottom or sides of the tin. Once the company changed hands in 1944, the tins that were produced at 401 Richmond began to be marked with the Continental Can Company, or three C's logo. The only way of knowing if a Continental tin was in fact made a 401 Richmond is if the number 90 is included indicating that they were produced at Plant 90 - 401 Richmond.
You can find a collection of images of these tins in the lobby of the building and a collection of the real thing in the management office. These tins have been collected by the owner of the building, property management staff, and many passed along as gifts by friends of 401 Richmond. We also often get out some of the more exciting examples for special events like Doors Open Toronto.
The rest of this website is reflective of the more recent history and development of 401 Richmond.
Thank you to Lesley Soden for conducting research and preparing much of this historical information.
The building has had three addresses: originally it was listed on Catharine Street near Spadina Avenue (also known as Brock). Then, when Richmond, (which used to stop at Peter Street) was extended to Spadina, the building became known as 145 Spadina Avenue. Eventually, when an additional structure was built on the south-east corner of Spadina, our building assumed the address 401 Richmond Street West.
Macdonald Manufacturing was the first factory in Canada to lithograph on metal.