Review of Kodak Canada presentation last February

Alison Skyrme of Ryerson (left) and PHSC VP Ashley Cook

Toronto. I wrote the following review of our Toronto meeting last February when Alison Skyrme presented her overview of Kodak Canada and some other items in the Ryerson University Archives (Love that Kodak).

In spite of the sniffles season and iffy weather, we had a full house Wednesday when the charming Alison Skyrme of Ryerson joined us to speak about the history of Kodak Canada. People were invited to bring along their personal examples of Kodak Canada items.

Alison opened her talk with an overview of the Ryerson Library, Archives and Special Collections which includes the Kodak Canada records. 

She gave a fine illustrated overview of the Canadian Kodak Co beginning with its inception in 1899 as a distribution centre at 41 Colburne St under John Palmer the year before production in Rochester of the famous inexpensive Brownie camera line. Kodak Canada moved to 588 King Street in 1902. Adjacent lots from 582 to 586 King St were purchased and buildings constructed for the rapidly expanding young company.

41 Colborne St – Goad Fire Insurance Map

In 1913, a 25 acre site was purchased in Mount Dennis, northwest of the city. It would become Kodak Heights. Another 23 acres was later purchased for the campus. Construction of the first seven buildings got underway a year later. Construction continued through 1915 as camera assembly and shipping was conducted at Kodak Heights. In 1916, emulsions were made on site for black and white paper.

Aerial View of Kodak Heights

To help the war effort (first world war), Kodak donated space as a barracks. 114 of the Kodak Canada staff enlisted. The company expanded again in the late 1930s adding an employee building (Building 9). In the second world war, some 287 Kodak Canada employees enlisted. As in the great war, Kodak encouraged enlisted men and those at home to take and share photos with each other. Kodakery, a Kodak magazine for amateurs even featured pictures of soldiers during the war.

Drawing of Employee Building (No 9)

Kodak Heights had a strong employee culture. The employee building (Number 9) had cafeteria, lounge, recreation and theatre facilities. Plays in the auditorium attracted employees, their families, and friends. Kodak held picnics such as the 1919 picnic at Wabash Park which employees reached via a steamship ride from Toronto’s wharf. (Note that editor Robert Lansdale has two Kodak Canada articles in Photographic Canadiana Volume 42, Number 2: Kodak Heights (p18) , and Kodak Canada & WW1 (p20))

Kodak – Ladies Softball Team – 1945

The Kodak Athletic Association (KAA) was formed and board members were elected. Kodak fostered teams in softball, lawn bowling, shuffleboard, badminton  and basketball. Sports often took place during lunchtime. An employee news publication was produced with contents of interest to employees – including gossipy items and weddings – with lots of pictures, of course. The company  supported many causes including the Olympics. One time, Kodak promoted Special Kolorkins (soft toys) by dropping some 250,000 of them from the air.

Kolorkins Toys

A museum was created in building Number 9 in 1999, to celebrate the centenary of the company in Canada. Kodak employee Bonny Chapman was the force behind the museum’s creation (our own Larry Boccioletti helped Bonnie identify and date many of the cameras in the museum). The museum opening on June 10, 1999 is on Youtube here.

Bonny Chapman of Kodak with Michael Oesch and Larry Boccioletti of the PHSC

The PHSC held its 25th anniversary in building Number 9 with cake and a commemorative digital photograph courtesy of Kodak. Sadly, Kodak Canada met the same fate as the American operation in the face of the digital era. Kodak Heights was closed and razed in 2005 (that is, all but building Number 9 which was saved at the last minute by local resident opposition.) A year later, the property was sold. Recently, as shown in a CBC video Alison provided, Number 9  was placed on massive rails and wheels to be moved into position to become the future Mount Dennis station on the Eglinton crosstown subway system.

Alison explained how Ryerson became the beneficiary of all Kodak Canada historical papers and ephemera courtesy the efforts of Robert Burley who recorded its demise along with Rochester Park in his epic book “ Disappearance of Darkness”. She acknowledged the contributions of PHSC members including Lorne Shields, Nick Graver, and Willie Nassau to Ryerson’s library holdings.

Graver Collection

Other collections in the library include the Lenin collection, Canadian Architect Magazine collection, Paddy Samson fonds (from CBC production archives), Robert MacIntosh collection, Heritage camera collection, Historical photograph collection.

Theatre Program Collection

In addition to the extensive Kodak holdings, Ryerson also has a large collection of none Kodak cameras. When the Eisenberg collection purchased by Thompson was moved to Ottawa, Ryerson was able to obtain all its foreign language books for Ryerson’s own collection.

Heritage Camera Collection

Wrapping up her talk, all were invited to visit the Ryerson Library. There followed  a very extensive Q&A session (significantly improved by the use of a wireless microphone which Mark Singer moved around the audience). Some of attendees including myself, Les Jones and Mark Singer brought in samples from their personal collection of Canadian Kodak Co. memorabilia.


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