14 McCaul St and Harold “Carload” Ritchie

Banner photo is of 14 McCaul St in 2015.  Photo by K Taylor.

There was a time, beginning with its birth in the late 1870’s, when McCaul St. was but a poky residential neighbourhood.  Its most notable resident was a fellow named William Beer, and he’s only notable (no offense to the man) because I’m a bit childish and happen to think Mr. Beer’s a pretty funny name.  A close second would be his one-time neighbour, Hercules Lennox  – a great name for a  boxer or an old locomotive, wouldn’t you say?

Anyhow, as the decades passed and downtown real estate demands rose, the three houses south of Mr. Beer’s fell to a new development in 1913.  I can’t attest to the beauty of the homes it replaced, but 14 McCaul is quite a handsome example of early industrial architecture.  As for the business it contained, well, it was something of a novelty for the era.

Harold F. Ritchie & Co Ltd were manufacturing agents.  So while they didn’t actually manufacture anything, they sold practically everything under the sun. This was a fairly new concept at the time as salesmen generally traveled around pushing just one product.  The bright idea of selling multiple lines came to Ritchie when he was a young boy, watching as salesmen pitched products to his father at the family’s general store on Manitoulin Island. Overhearing that a salesman could make 5% commission on a sale, little Harold wondered why a fellow didn’t sell other product lines to up his payout. With this idea percolating, he moved to Toronto in 1904 and got a job selling grocers’ supplies for the Capstan Manufacturing Company. Apparently he was quite successful there but his own vision of what salesmanship could be pushed him to strike out on his own.  And boy, did he blossom.  Before long he had earned the nickname “Carload” Ritchie and was described as a “doctor of salesmanship.”

In 1906, Ritchie travelled to London, England to speak to the Eno’s Fruit Salt company about selling their product in Canada.  They turned him away at the door – three times.  The following year he returned and this time they gave him the chance to bring Eno’s to Canada.  22 years later he purchased the entire company.

 

Harold Ritchie 10 McCaul St Canadian Grocer 1922
From the Canadian Grocer, 1922.

 

Here’s a sampling of a few other products he handled …

“Insects CAN be exterminated in all public buildings and SHOULD be-”  My sentiments exactly.  Unfortunately, the creepy creature holding the powder doesn’t appear to be repelled by it.

HF Ritchie Ads - Hospital World 1919
Keating’s Powder – Hospital World 1919

Build a bonnier baby …

Glaxo HR Ritchie - Canadian Veterinary Record 1923
Glaxo, The Super Milk –  From the Canadian Veterinary Record 1923

Are you prematurely decaying?  Perhaps Phosferine’s the answer.

Phosferine – From the Retail Druggist 1913

The awkward layout of the first line seems to anticipate Yoda-speak, though “It’s the come-back that counts” is a pretty good slogan.

Harold Ritchie 10 McCaul St Canadian Grocer 1922 3
Sunset Soap Dyes – Canadian Grocer 1922

I love this one, it looks like they’re arguing. “Listen pal, I always prescribe Pluto.”

Pluto Water - Hospital World 1919
Pluto Water – Hospital World 1919

By all accounts Harold F. Ritchie was a workaholic and worked himself into an early grave in 1933, just two days after his 52nd birthday.  At the time of his death he was one of the wealthiest men in Canada, controlling companies here, in England and the US, with offices in ‘every civilized country in the world’, according to his obituary in The Barrie Examiner.  I suppose you could say that’s the American Dream, Canadian style … minus the early grave bit.

With Harold Ritchie’s death, 14 McCaul found a new tenant: Malabar Ltd., a costume house originally opened by Sara Mallabar in Winnipeg, Manitoba around 1900.  The business proved so successful there that Sara’s son Harry came to Toronto in 1923 to open a second location.  In a bid to avoid confusion with its Manitoba counterpart, the second ‘L’ in Mallabar was dropped (something, I confess I do not understand the point of.)  After a stint on nearby Spadina Ave., he moved the whole operation to the roomier digs on McCaul and they have been there ever since.

Not much appears to have changed from Ritchie’s day to this.  I’d bet the Chicago-style windows are original to the building, and happily the cornice looks to be in good shape.  Other than the paint job on the lower half of the southern wall, Malabar’s only addition to the building seems to be a ghost who occupies the freight elevator.  The spirit is supposedly that of the men’s wear manager who was killed in the 1950’s.  Apparently he’d poked his head into the shaft to see where the elevator was just as it was descending.

A true institution in this city, Malabar seems to hold a soft spot in many Torontonians’ hearts.  I myself often shopped there for odds and ends and once accompanied a friend who was renting a gorilla costume – though for what purpose now escapes me.

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