Canadian Toy Makers

By the time of Confederation in 1867, a small metal toy industry had blossomed in the manufacturing centres of Toronto, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec. Toys of this era are rare and thus not well represented in museum collections. Manufactured toys were, however, still not common in Canada, and most available toys that were available were imported from Britain, the United States or Germany.

Later, between 1930 and 1960, at least 30 companies with a significant local production of toys were operating in Canada. Ten of these were major Canadian producers, three were U.S. firms, and one was a British firm. The other sixteen companies were relatively small and little is known of them or their products. The apex of the toy-making period in Canada, centered around World War II, represents a whole chapter of Canadian industrial and social history.

Truly Canadian toys, that is, toys designed, manufactured and sold in Canada, whose design is based on Canadian vehicles or other subjects, that were also designed and manufactured in Canada, are rare. One example of this sort of toy is the Reliable Toy Company’s plastic Avro "Canuck" jet fighter of 1955. Others are the various "CPR" and "CNR" trains, from the cast-iron floor trains of the early 1900s to the 1950s ride-on trains made by Minnitoys of Orillia, Ontario.

The use of Canadian symbols to identify a Canadian toy is a typical feature of our toys. The maple leaf was commonly employed to reinforce nationality, and one company, "Lil' Beaver Trucks," not only used the beaver in their name, but also used both the beaver and maple leaf in their early labels.

The advances in toy manufacturing made over the previous quarter century were wiped out in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the Canadian toy industry virtually collapsed under the pressure of increased competition from American and Japanese companies.

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