Drake Commissary: Old School Values in an Old School Building

Posted by Nicole Wetmore, May 11, 2017

One of my favourite things about working at the Drake is the building’s unique history and its legacy in the community. Built heritage and its preservation are a huge passion of mine, so the announcement of the Drake Commissary’s location in a historic building on Sterling Road excited me. My only knowledge of the building was that it's decorated with some recently-restored ghost signs - including one highlighting “The T.A. Lytle Co. Limited” and its “pickles, catsups, sauces, and fountacanvas goods.” I decided that I wanted to learn more about the building and more specifically its ties to food production in Toronto (who doesn’t love pickles?) so I headed over to the City of Toronto Archives to get started.

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Goad's Fire Insurance Map

With many of Toronto’s historic industrial buildings dating to the Victorian era, I looked to Goad’s fire insurance maps to start my research. These maps exist at varied intervals between 1884 and 1924. According to the Toronto Archives, these maps were leased to insurance companies, who then used the information about building sizes and construction materials to determine the fire risk and, as a result, the cost of insurance premiums. They used colours to differentiate construction materials; red means the building was made of brick, yellow buildings were made of wood.

I love using Goad’s maps whenever I can – not only are they full of useful information, but they are BEAUTIFUL.

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1903 Goad's Map of Sterling Road

Just ten years later in the 1913 map, the factory (and future site of the Drake Commissary!) is clearly identifiable – it’s the large rectangular building in Block E. I couldn’t help but be amused by its simple description. This would have undoubtedly jacked their insurance premiums way up!

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Map from 1913

After some time spent scanning through assessment rolls to pinpoint the date, I determined that the building was constructed in 1908. It was around this time that several other factories farther south on Sterling were also constructed, including what is now the Nestle factory. With Sterling Road developing into a centre for industry (especially food production) by the 1920s baking supplies, chocolate, and even popsicles were all being manufactured near T.A. Lytle Co.’s condiment-focused operation. The convenience of the location for many manufacturers stemmed from its proximity to both the Grand Trunk and Canadian Pacific Railways.

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1924 Goad's Map of Sterling Road

This influx of factories + industrial complexes dramatically changed the landscape of Sterling Road, but the pickle factory remained - as seen in the Goad’s map from 1924.

Just as intriguing as the building’s history is the history of the company that built and first occupied it over a century ago. T.A. Lytle Co. was one of many manufacturers that supplied the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush, with references to their “vinegar, syrups, jellies, pickles, [and] relishes” found at outfitting centres in Dawson City as early as 1898 – predating the factory on Sterling Road by a decade. This advertisement is from a Canadian Grocer magazine printed in July 1898.

I perused hundreds of pages of Canadian Grocer magazines from this year and onwards, finding that the T.A. Lytle Co. was creating and promoting a line they called “Sterling Brand” a decade before their move to Sterling Road.

The address listed in the pickle ad above (124-128 Richmond Street West) was that of their first office and factory. The ad, from January 1908, reads: “a pickle that has stood the test throughout all the years" and "famed Canadian-made pickles”. Both are bold statements, touting products of the highest quality, a theme that extends throughout most if not all of the company’s advertising. Considering we make our own pickles, you could be talking about the Drake!

Just a month later, in the February 21st, 1908 weekly edition of Canadian Grocer, the T.A. Lytle Co. announced the location of its new facility on Sterling Road.

2017 Commissary

T.A. Lytle Co. remained in business here until the mid-to late 1920s; all traces of advertising and promotion disappear after this time. It seems their tenancy of the factory on Sterling was taken over by a textile company named Scythes & Co. Limited, who remained in the building until recently. Despite their longevity at the site, the story that most resonated with me was the story of the building’s beginnings with T.A. Lytle Co.

What started for me as a simple investigation of the history of the building led me to find startling similarities between the building’s past and its future as the Drake Commissary. The parallels are too eerie – both were buildings founded out of a need to expand, increasing production of in-demand, high quality foodstuffs. Joining Henderson Brewery to create a “gastronomic town square,” we’re blending the lines between guests, bakers, chefs, and makers. We’re taking our values for high-quality food and local ingredients to the next level with naturally-leavened breads, pastas, charcuterie + pantry items for you to enjoy on the spot or take home. We share the same level of pride in our high standards and, just like the products T.A. Lytle Co. created, everything that comes out of our Commissary kitchen “will invariably delight the most exacting palate.” We can’t wait to delight yours!

Nicole Wetmore is the Food + Beverage Manager of the Drake Hotel and as a self-professed nerd, she cultivated her love of Toronto history as an intern at Heritage Toronto, an agency of the City of Toronto devoted to advocating for the city’s heritage.

Posted in: Drake Commissary

Tags: drake commissary  sterling road  toronto history