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The corset man’s corner (4 photos)

In this edition of Remember This, Mary Harris tells us how Crompton Drive got its name

In the mid-1880s, during the height of the wasp waist fashion mania, the largest manufacturer of ladies’ corsets in Toronto was the Crompton Corset Company.

At one time, they employed close to 400 workers and produced some 8,400 corsets a week.

Unlike other corset makers of the day, they did not utilize whalebone or steel for support but instead used a Mexican plant-based material called ixtle, claiming it was far superior in durability and comfort.

Crompton corsets enjoyed great success well into the 20th century, only losing popularity as fashion tastes changed.

If the name Crompton seems just a little familiar to you, it should.

In the north end of Barrie, just off Livingstone Street, you will find Crompton Drive. This street was named for Edwin Blackburn Crompton, a man who left his mark on this city over 130 years ago, and whose time here is still represented by at least one Victorian building that he had constructed.

The corner that E.B. Crompton is most associated with is the northwest intersection of Owen and Dunlop streets where the Dollarama store and the National Bank are situated today.

Numerous businesses existed here, both before and after Crompton’s day, but his presence there can still be seen.

Very early on in Barrie’s existence as a commercial town, Henry Fraser’s Hotel stood on the south side of Dunlop Street. It was located more or less where J’Adore sits today at 123 Dunlop St. E., on what was then the water’s edge.

Those were the days before the shore was infilled for the coming of the railway in 1865.

During that time, the Owen and Dunlop corner was the site of William and Henry Bowes’ General Store which was followed by Sanford’s Store.

When Fraser’s Hotel burned down in the Boys Block fire of 1873, the business was removed to the corner of Owen and Dunlop. This hotel, too, was lost in the fire of 1875 that took out most of the block of wood frame buildings from Clapperton to Owen Street on the north side of Dunlop Street.

E.B. Crompton saw an opportunity to have a fine brick shop built for himself in the suddenly vacant business block.

He opened his new mercantile, with the rather opulent and decidedly Canadian name of Golden Beaver, in late 1875. This store was located in what would be the western half of the present-day Dollarama store.

Almost at the same time as Crompton moved into his new brick building, he set in motion the construction of another brick structure next door on the actual corner of Owen and Dunlop streets.

The western third of that building, now also part of the dollar store, was originally occupied by chemist, John Woods. The remaining section was for many years Henderson’s Hardware.

The entire cost for this impressive corner building was $4,000!

Jonathan Henderson retired from business in 1900 and was followed by another hardware man by the name of Hambly.

James Vair, grocer and one-time mayor of Barrie, moved his grocery business to this corner soon after and remained until 1914. Vair vacated the corner when the Bank of Toronto took a very long lease of the building that year.

E.B. Crompton carried on his varied mercantile business in Barrie, in more than one location, from about 1870 until 1888. He sold dry goods, clothing, millinery and, of course, the famed line of corsets manufactured by his brother Frederick’s company in Toronto.

In 1888, Crompton learned that a long time Brantford merchant, W.H. Brethour, was retiring and he decided to leave Barrie and take over that business. His Barrie store was then sold to George Reedy.

Mr. Crompton carried on in Brantford until a 1915 fire destroyed his shop. He and his employees barely escaped with their lives that day.

In his later years, E.B. Crompton moved to Toronto. He took some business interest in his brother’s corset company, but largely spent his time cultivating roses and grapes in his garden.

He passed away at the home of his son, Dr. Charles Crompton, of Toronto in 1929.

He was 82 years old.


Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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