Points of Interest > Lamb’s Glue and Stove Blacking Factory
Peter Rothwell Lamb arrived in Toronto in 1834. In 1848 he established the P.R. Lamb Glue and Blacking Manufactory at the east end of Amelia Street in Toronto’s eastern suburbs. The first major industry to establish west of the Don River between Queen and Bloor Streets, Lamb’s produced a number of well-known products including Lamb’s Penney (stove) Blacking and Lamb’s Glue. A tannery was also located on the site. The business was very successful: five buildings occupied the site in 1858; the factory later grew to encompass twelve buildings.
The Lamb family were active members of the Toronto elite. Peter Lamb co-founded (with Joseph Workman) the Unitarian Church of Canada in 1846. Lamb’s son Daniel (1842-1920) was an active civic politician between 1885 and 1903; a keen civic improver, Lamb has been credited with responsibility for the public waterworks on Toronto Island, for aspects of the Ashbridge’s Bay reclamation, and for the establishment of the Riverdale Zoo in 1894. In 1860, Daniel took over the business from his father.
Operating for almost forty years, from 1849 until fire destroyed the factory buildings in 1888, Lamb’s drew many lifelong employees from the neighbouring working-class district of Cabbagetown. A number of these employees rented small company-owned houses close to the factory.
While fire may have been the most significant factor in the firm’s closure in 1888—the factory buildings being, as George Rust-D’Eye observes, “grossly underinsured” at the time of the fire—the nature of the factory’s operations, and changes to the character of the surrounding area, also played a role. Glue production is a smelly business. Prolonged boiling of animal connective tissue creates the adhesive properties of animal glue; the stench of dead animals and boiling flesh would have been palpable to nearby residents as the area south and west of the factory became increasingly built up in the 1870s and 80s. Not only did Lamb’s factory emit terrible odours, it also produced a large quantity of noxious wastes. Boulton’s 1858 Atlas shows a tiny creek or drainage ditch running from the back of the main factory building into Lamb’s Creek, which ran for less than half a kilometre before merging with Castle Frank Brook (and from there, a short distance further into the Don). Organic wastes from animal carcasses, lime from the factory’s tanning operations, and waste products from stove blacking production all found their way into Lamb’s Creek, making it one of the city’s most polluted waterways.
Incoming residents apparently objected to the prevailing stench of the area, prompting the Toronto City Council to attempt (unsuccessfully) to purchase the property in 1887. Negotiations were unproductive until the 1888 fire dramatically reduced options for the Lamb family. Not until 1904, however, was the property formally deeded to the city for park purposes in exchange for building rights along the south and west boundaries of Riverdale park. Residential development in the area worked to discourage further industrial development; with the creation of Riverdale Park in 1890, development was halted entirely on the west bank of the Don north of Gerrard.
Text: Jennifer Bonnell and Lost Rivers
City of Toronto Council Minutes, City of Toronto Archives.
John Ross Robertson, Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto: A Collection of Historical Sketches of the Old Town of York from 1792 until 1833, and of Toronto from 1834 to 1893 (Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894), vol. 2, 812.
Rust-D'Eye, George H. Cabbagetown Remembered. Erin, Ontario: The Boston Mills Press, 1984.
Toronto Historical Association. A Glimpse of Toronto's history: Opportunities for the Commemoration of Lost Historic Sites (Toronto: Toronto Historical Association and the Maps Project, City of Toronto Urban Development Services, 2002), MPLS # 177.
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