The Continental Can Company of Canada was officially incorporated in September of 1935. After making a careful survey and with the co-operation of town officials, New Toronto was selected as a factory site. Ground for the big building was broken in January of 1936 and the first shipment of cans was make five months later. (New Toronto in Story and Picture: A Souvenir of the July First Celebration 1937).
It caused quite a stir of excitement in New Toronto when Continental Can purchase the A.R Whittall Can Company in Montreal, Quebec and chose New Toronto as the place to build their new plant in Ontario. At the time, construction of homes was just beginning on Third and Fourth Streets, north of Lakeshore Road.
The ground was broken during the fall of 1935 and construction work went on all winter. This was most unusual, because normally the construction industry closed down for the winter months. Local citizens marveled when they heard about cement being poured by construction workers in their shirtsleeves; so warm was it within the tarpaulin-covered walls, which had been created to enclose the entire structure.
In May 1936, the plant was opened for business and provided employment for 30 employees. Extra warehousing space was added in 1940 and millions of round cans were produced for meat products, which were sent overseas to Allied armies and refugees. Seventy-two Continental employees served overseas.
In 1944, Continental took another step forward with the purchase of The Ideal Can Company on Lakeshore Road. This necessitated another addition to the plant to take care of the production of a new line of fibre cans with metal ends. Also in 1944, with the acquisition of Canadian Mono Cup Company of Leaside, Continental moved further toward diversification and started producing a wide range of hot and cold drink paper cups and food tubs.
With the end of the war, Plant 54, Metal Division, had grown by leaps and bounds, so the Customer Equipment Service Department moved into its own building in 1948. At the west end of the plant, the Lithograph Building was added in 1951 and seven years later this was enlarged.
[In 1963], The New Toronto Can Plant was further expanded to provide additional warehouse facilities, along with 60 foot truck docks, each of which [provided] completely enclosed loading space for large, modern tractor-trailers. Thus, after 28 years the original plant with floor space totaling 155,800 square feet, and providing employment for only 30 employees, had grown to three plants and two sales offices totaling 420,400 square feet, on an area equivalent in size to four city blocks, employing 900 people. (Celebrating Our Golden Jubilee: New Toronto and New Toronto Hydro, 1963).
I am told that there was a pipe extending between the Continental Can plant and the neighbouring Campbell’s Soup Company. Many residents thought the pipe was there to ship cans from Continental to Campbell’s, but in fact the pipe was used to transfer steam, which Continental Can bought from Campbell’s.
The plant was eventually taken over by Crown, Cork & Seal and soon thereafter came to its demise, and from what I’ve read, the closure came mostly as a result of the impact that the Free Trade Agreement had on the industry. Residents have also commented that commercial taxes were increased so much that it drove out many of the industries in New Toronto. (Residential taxes had so much more potential for the city coffers. In fact, a Toronto Staff Report from 2001 recommended options where the site would be rezoned as commercial/residential)(it006 Staff Report) In the early 1990’s, the plant was demolished.
The site was sold in 2003 to the Toronto Police Service for a Firearms/Defensive Tactics and Applicant Testing Facility (http://www.city.toronto.on.ca/legdocs/2003/agendas/council/cc030224/admcl013a.pdf). Mark Grimes, City Councillor for Ward 6 Lakeshore-Etobicoke recently stated at a New Toronto Historical Society meeting, that he has seen the plans and is very excited about the development. He feels that a new police presence in the area, with hopefully an increase of police officers on foot and bicycle, will be extremely valuable to the community. The shovel is expected to go in the ground (pictured below) in 2006.