UrbanToronto has partnered with Heritage Toronto to capture a moment in Toronto's past. On a weekly basis, we will both be highlighting a historic photo of the city's people, places and events, and will be telling the stories behind them.
Many thanks to both Gary Switzer of MOD Developements and Maya Bilbao for putting together the photos and research. This week's photo:
Seen here in 1917 are employees taking a break from work in a building at King and Duncan that once manufactured cars for the Russell Motor Car Company. Located west of University Avenue and east of John, the Russell Motor Car Company was once part of a large manufacturing area that has evolved into the entertainment district.
The story begins in 1905 when Tommy Russell, General Manager of the Canadian Cycle and Motor Company, spearheaded a new division in the company of gasoline powered motor cars. These were among the first Canadian motor-powered cars in Toronto, known for being “the thoroughly Canadian car”. The first was the Model A Car with progressive features including shaft drive and a sliding-gear transmission, followed by the larger Model B and Model C cars as well as a touring car. CCM also built delivery trucks, buses, ambulances and fire trucks and by 1911 had evolved into the Russell Motor Car Company.
Despite great success locally and abroad, an economic depression in the early 1900’s and other factors slowed production and the company stopped manufacturing cars around 1916. Around this time, the company devoted a large part of its factory to munition work during the First World War. As seen in this photo, many of the workers were women who were called to called to duty during the First World War (and Second) to assist men in various sectors of the economy both at home and abroad. For the next few years, these young women helped in producing not only trucks and armoured vehicles for the Canadian government but also munitions. Eventually, the Russell Motor Car Company was taken over by Willys-Overland automobile and womens' roles in society continued to change as a result of their participation in this war.