Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Berg Brick Machinery Manufacturing Company:1908-1916

From the Globe Jan 20, 1908
Anton Berg & sons arrive
Anton Berg purchased the Engine Works from the ailing Canadian Shipbuilding Co. in January 1908, for about $175,000. Once more, the doughty building at Front and Bathurst came to life -- two hundred men were to be employed in the first year.

Berg was a Norwegian mechanical engineer with about twenty years' experience in brick machinery. He was the patentee of the 'Berg brick press', which was widely used in North America -- over 200 presses were in use in the U.S. at the time Berg took over the Works, while 23 factories in Canada had been equipped with Berg presses.

A Berg press could churn out up to 20,000 bricks in a day. The Berg Machinery Mfg Co. was the successor firm to A. Berg & Sons, an engineering firm that Anton founded around 1904 (with offices in Manning Chambers, an annex to old City Hall that was demolished to make way for new City Hall).

Globe article cont'd
Coincidentally, the first Berg brick presses built in Canada were constructed on order at the Bertram Engine Works.

In 1907 Berg had contracted out the manufacture of his presses to the John Inglis company, but a machinists strike at Inglis induced Berg -- and his sons John, Severn and Charlie -- to seek a place of their own to manufacture their presses. (Interestingly, the Bergs also bid on an alternate location, the William Hamilton Company engine works in Peterborough.)

The Berg's bid was ultimately successful, despite objections by some of the incumbent Canadian Shipbuilding Co. directors.

1913 Goads Insurance Map showing the Berg Machinery plant
Click to expand. From April 22, 1916 - Workers lay track at Front and Bathurst
The details of this lovely photograph are intriguing: Workers are busy here, laying down the track for a streetcar line. Notice how all the workers are wearing hats. Look at the uniformed man standing on the corner observing us. Who is the man to his left, strolling along with his hands behind his back, inspecting the bicycle? Down the street a horse is being used to pull a wagon, yet there are also parked cars visible. Look how mature the trees are! The sign on the corner is almost indecipherable, but we know what it reads: P. Burns Coal & Wood. See the outline of the American Hat Frame building -- an Edwardian classic built in 1912 and still standing -- in the background.

And what a tangle of overhead lines!

The June 2011 view. When the Doty Works are demolished, I'll come back and take an updated photograph of the new condo development...

Berg completely remodelled and overhauled the works, which had fallen into a state of some disrepair. [It is possible that Berg was the one who added the south end tower to the main structure, which is of course what the towers of Rock Oasis were built inside. I was unable to find any records establishing that Doty (or the Bertrams, for that matter) built the tower.]

Out for a Thursday stroll. The air quality in the neighbourhood was not the best, what with the railways and coal yards. Also, immediately to the right, out of view, is the Matthews and Blackwell slaughterhouse and meat packing plant. 

Berg installed new equipment, up to date tools, and cranes inside the works. This image, from Canadian Machinery and Manufacturing News (1909), depicts the layout of the Berg plant:

Our glorious tower in sight. Also note the railway siding in use.

The corner building at Bathurst and Niagara [the Sherwin Williams store in June 2011] had formerly been a machine shop. It had a set of offices installed on the first floor, and a renovated erecting and machine shop.  On the second floor was a tool room, as well as the private office previously occupied by George and John Bertram. On the top floor was a pattern shop for pattern making.

The northwest corner building contained various offices, a machine shop and a pattern shop.
From Aug 22, 1916. The old Bathurst truss bridge has been replaced with the newer, wider bridge -- though still in its southwesterly orientation. Look at the stacks of wood in the P.Burns lot. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 5, Item 72

At the east end of the machine department was a foundry, equipped with two large cupolas with a capacity of fifty tons per day. There was a storage building, and a flange shop with a hydraulic flanger capable of exerting a pressure of 200 tons or 2,000 lbs to the square inch.

The engine room was equipped with a (then) sixteen-year-old John Doty engine of 90 horsepower. This engine supplied the plant with power. There was also a forge shop with five forges, and a steam hammer made in the Bertram Engine Works.

The machine shop
Eastern Machine shop and Erecting Shop

The boiler shop with its peaked southern tower, of course, is what we unmistakably recognize today as the building for the Rock Oasis climbing gym.

Aug 1916. The dark paint scheme gives the building a hulking presence on Bathurst...
City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 5, Item 6

June 2011. Do you think the utility posts are in the same location? What about the streetcar stop? (I trust that's not the same fellow waiting as in the 1916 photo!)

The Boiler Shop -- this is what the inside of the gym looked like 100 years ago!

"The boiler shop is fully equipped with the heaviest and most costly machinery on this content, Scotch, German and United States manufacturers' names showing upon the nameplates of the builders. A radial drill from Smith Bros. & Co., Glasgow, will accommodate work 14 ft. wide, and 10 ft. high. A large set of rolls each 26 in. in diameter will accommodate work 22 ft. long. A 50-ton crane has an 80 ft. lift and is used in connection with an hydraulic riveter built by A. Thompson, Fitchburg, Mass.
There is a large assortment of other rolls, punches, planers, boring mills, radial drills, etc., all arranged so that work will pass through the shops with greatest facility. Each machine has its own jib crane. Large marine boilers and hardening cylinders for brick are manufactured here. These latter are three-quarter-inch steel plate, 76 in. in diameter and 65 ft. long. Each cylinder will cure 20,000 bricks under steam pressure in from ten to twelve hours. These each weigh 27 tons. An elevated foreman's office has been erected at one end giving a full view of the boiler shop."
- Canadian Machinery and Manufacturing News, 1909
A glimpse of the Berg Works from the other side of the tracks
The Matthews and Blackwell building on the right was an abattoir. The huge round cylindrical structure on the left was a gas container (there were two of them, and they can both be seen on the Goads maps)

April 5, 1916. Another view of the gasholder structure.
P Burns & Co. was still selling wood... City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 5, Item 5
May 12, 1916 - The 'thin' steel truss bridge was taken down and replaced with one from the Humber River.
Toronto Mights Directory, 1913. Apparently there were only two Brick Machine Manufacturers in town -- and Berg was the larger one
From Canadian Carpenter, 1913. Many buildings were built with bricks from Berg presses.
Canadian Carpenter accompanying text
"It is expected that when the plant is working to its capacity it will employ about five hundred hands. The works having been remodelled and made ready for manufacturing, the Berg Machinery Mfg. Co. expect that with the present bright prospects, this will be at no far distant date".  - Canadian Machinery & Manufacturing News

April 18, 1916 - View from south of Front. The older, thinner bridge, angled SW, would be replaced later that year with the 'Humber river' bridge (still angled SW, and then realigned in 1931) 
June 2011. The GO trains run a bit cleaner than the Grand Trunk Railway engines. The perspective in the photo is shifted to the right, so that a sliver of the spire of St. Mary's church on Bathurst (1905) can still be seen (in green scaffolding immediately to the left of the Oasis tower). The bridge's 1931 shift masks this effect. Note the archeological excavation happening in the forefront -- these are believed to be the remains of an 1855 engine house for the GTR.

Interestingly, from around 1913 to 1916, Berg shared the lot at Front and Bathurst with the Collins Inlet Lumber Company -- the corporate presence of the Bertrams still lingered.

A photograph of what we now call the 511 Bathurst streetcar line opening; Berg Works in the background. Mayor Tommy Church presiding - front, with cane to the left of the woman. Streetcar service to the Canadian National Exhibition began on August 25, 1916. The Humber River bridge was moved to the foot of Bathurst, allowing tracks to be extended along it and the edge of old Fort York. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 5, Item 75

The arrival of the war meant that industrial factories were often repurposed for martial ends. The A.R. Williams Ammunition took over the site from the Bergs around 1916, and invited munitions manufacturers to contract with them to use the facilities.

Amalgamated Ammunition Machinery Co.: 1917-1918
In 1917 the Amalgamated Ammunition Machinery Company took residence in the Engine Works. I have read speculation that the tower was used as a 'shot tower' (where molten lead is dropped from a height into a water filled basin), however, I don't find this credible as the tower is too short to be effective for making larger shot sizes, and also because the works were capable of making much more sophisticated wartime machinery.

Dec 9, 1916 advertisement in the Globe for use of the Berg Machinery plant

Amalgamated produced ammunition at the Works from 1917 to 1918. After the end of the war, the building then passed into the hands of the HW Petrie Company...

Read the next section:

You're reading: Farewell to Rock Oasis, the secret history of my home climbing gym.   

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Bonus Reading:
The Star coverage of the Berg acquisition of the works: