Kitchener-Waterloo Ontario – a city of fashion in 1940

Found this interesting article from the July 15, 1940 issue of MacLeans Magazine, about the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. A large part of the article ensures readers that although the population has a large German heritage, it is not in support of Hitler. Details in how the cities raised money for the war effort then gives way to an overview of local industry, of which fashion related industries are detailed. 

According to the article, the Kitchener Board of Trade boasts that the city “makes more shirts, builds more furniture, manufactures more tires, fashions more footwear, and tans more leather than any other city in Canada.’’ 

Twenty-five percent of the 42,000 who live in the two cities arrived in the previous twenty years (1920 – 1939) and were employed in the city’s industries that included:

“The B. F. Goodrich Rubber Company of Canada makes not only Goodrich tires, but rubber footwear there. The Kaufman Rubber Company, a Kitchener institution from away back, also makes rubber footwear, as does the Merchants’ Rubber factory, now affiliated with the Dominion Rubber organization…

There are ten Kitchener companies engaged in the manufacture or processing of textiles, two of them rating international status. Here is the head office of Cluett Peabody and Company of Canada, producing the Arrow lines of men’s shirts and furnishings. This organization, of course, is linked with the original Cluett Peabody company of the United States.

John Forsyth, Limited, making Forsyth shirts, underwear, pyjamas, cravats and handkerchiefs, is entirely a Kitchener enterprise, and its growth is a matter of considerable local pride. The Forsyth company has two plants, one in Kitchener, the other in Waterloo. Mr. J. D. C. Forsyth, president of the organization, maintains two homes in the Kitchener-Waterloo district, a city residence and a farm where he raises prize cattle.

Other Kitchener textile products include glove linings, knitted fabrics, rayon, jersey cloth and twine. There are five companies making buttons—the town has always been a big button producer—and three of these, the Dominion Button Manufacturers, Limited, Kitchener Buttons, Limited, and the Mitchell Button Company, sell their goods all across Canada.

Twenty-three Kitchener companies manufacture boots and shoes and other leather products. Eleven companies, Ontario Shoes, Limited; Valentine and Martin. Limited; the W. E. Woelffe Shoe Company; Western Shoe Company; Charles A. Ahrens, Limited; the Bauer Shoe Company; the E and S Shoe Company; the Galt Shoe Manufacturing Company; the Hydro City Shoe Manufacturers Limited; and the Kitchener Shoe Company, make leather footwear. The Bauer and Western shoe companies also make skates. Other concerns turn out cut soles, shoe patterns, leather washers, and leather ties and braces.

The L. McBrine Company makes the widely known McBrine line of trunks, bags and other travel accessories in Kitchener. The names of Breithaupt and Lang, associated with the leather industry since its first beginnings in this area, are represented by three companies; the Breithaupt Leather Company, the Lang Tanning Company, and John A. Lang and Sons. There are three companies producing gloves, mitts and gauntlets; the Barrie Glove and Knitting Company, the Huck Glove Company, and the Ontario Glove Company. Canadian Consolidated Felt Company, and the W. G. Rumpel Felt Company make commercial felts.”

Click here to read the full article

Canadian Fashion Connection – Kaufman Rubber Company

The Kaufman Rubber Company plant in Kitchener, Ontario. Designed by Albert Kahn. The building was historically designated in 1996 and recently converted to luxury condos

In 1907 Jacob Ratz Kaufman founded the Kaufman Rubber Company in Berlin, Ontario (the name of the town  changed from Berlin to Kitchener in 1916.) The plant opened in 1908 with 350 employees and began producing rubber boots, galoshes, and sports shoes  for the domestic and international markets.

Here is a complete winter 1912/13 catalogue.

A.R. Kaufman became president of the company after his father, Jacob, died in 1920. During the 1920s and 30s, the product line was expanded to include rubber clothing for fishermen, miners, and the police. In 1953 the company began to manufacture slippers using a newly invented material – foam rubber – under the brand name ‘Foamtread’.

In 1954 Kaufman began making vinyl overshoes under the brand name ‘Showertogs.’ That same year Kaufman began manufacturing rubber soled leather workboots which by 1959 had grown into a line of winter sport boots under the brand name ‘Sorel.’ The new lines were successful and created enough capital for Kaufman rubber to expand, buying out competitor companies L.H. Packard & Co. of Montreal in 1961, and Prospect Shoes Ltd. of Sherbrooke, Québec, in 1966, among others.

In 1964 A.R. Kaufman retired, and the company was handed over to his son William H. Kaufman. The name of the company was changed from the Kaufman Rubber Co. to Kaufman Footwear Ltd. to reflect its wider range of products.

Like everywhere else in North America, the shoe industry was on the decline after 1967. Over the next thirty years Kaufman Footwear Ltd. went through various reorganizations to manage the shrinking market and maintain profitability. The company incorporated in 1973, and in 1979 Kaufman Footwear became a division of William H. Kaufman Inc. In 1997 Tom Kaufman, the son of William H. Kaufman, was named president but the company could no longer compete with cheap imports and in 2000 Kaufman Footwear declared bankruptcy.