Brownlee Windows in the Lawson Family Gallery, Lower Level

In the J. A. Brownlee shop facade windows, a small exhibition puts the spotlight on three London businesses: Hobbs Hardware, Reid’s Crystal Palace, and the toys and games division of Somerville Industries Ltd. It complements the stories of other London industries and businesses featured in the nearby permanent exhibition, London: A History.

Showcasing artifacts the three businesses sold and/or produced, the exhibition also relays a small piece of their histories:

Hobbs Hardware, named for its founder Thomas Hobbs, was a fixture in the London hardware store landscape from 1876 until the late 20th century. There, Londoners could purchase everything from tools to dairying equipment, and from housewares to sporting goods. 

W. J. Reid & Company began around 1842 when Nathan Reid, the father of W. J., settled in London. In 1876, W. J. built the four-storey building at 197-199 Dundas Street, which became known as Reid’s Crystal Palace. On July 16, 1907, while undergoing renovations under the direction of lessee, Peter Smirlie, that structure crumbled. Seven died in the disaster.

Somerville Limited, a paper-box-making firm established in 1886, began making jigsaw puzzles in 1932. But this was only the beginning. In 1934, Somerville signed an agreement to manufacture Milton Bradley games. During the Second World War, the company became Canada’s largest producer of wooden toys. And in the postwar years, it acquired rights to manufacture Playskool toys, among others. Somerville’s London plant closed in the 1990s.

Image: Photograph (detail), 1960s, Gift of Somerville Industries Limited, 1990