Allen Wood Products
August 31, 2022
Workers on the Floor at Allen Wood Products
For a generation after the Second World War, Fenelon Falls’ largest employer was Allen Wood Products who manufactured a great variety of wooden toys that were marketed nationally, including the Tinkertoy. Kids across Canada grew up playing with toys from Fenelon Falls, in the decades just before manufacturing went offshore and practically everything started being made of plastic. Fenelon Falls was a great location for manufacturing woodenwares, being located at a hub of the Trent Watershed’s lumber production, and being home to a family that saw how turn these natural resources into a brighter childhood for countless children.
Allen Wood Products started out as the Standard Pattern and Handle Company, who took over the Mickle and Dyment Company’s sawmill on the south bank of the Fenelon River, just at the entrance to Cameron Lake. The Mickle and Dyment Company had been one of the large timber companies participating in the rush to get out the old-growth forests. By the 1920s, the virgin pine was for all practical purposes gone and the log drives that once fed the mill had become rare. In place of exporting wood in bulk, George R. Allen started manufacturing handles for axes, picks, shovels and various other tools, as well as patterns for industrial use. The company continued to grow leading up to the Second World War, and employed 100 people by 1942. To support the war effort, they were manufacturing rifle butts and wooden doorknobs (a wartime stopgap, allowing more brass to be used for shell casings).
The Standard Pattern and Handle Company burned in 1942, but George was determined to carry on. The factory was rebuilt as Allen Wood Products. His wife Edith was the company treasurer, 21 year-old William worked in production, while 14 year-old Jim was making deliveries and picking up supplies (during the war, 14 year-olds could get a driver’s license). The factory primarily worked on war contracts, but branched out into making its first few toys.
The peace that followed the Second World War brought unprecedented prosperity to families. Before long, practically every home had electricity and many appliances that made life so much easier. Refrigeration became a norm, as did a great variety of convenient foods, many of them produced far from where they were consumed. In the dirty thirties, kids would have been fortunate to have a toy truck or a doll and many of the games really relied on imagination. After the war, children could expect to have many toys, and with transport trucks coming into their own, the distribution networks now existed to market toys nationally.
Allen Wood Products made the most of the postwar boom, producing a variety of toys that would enliven childhoods across the country. In the 1950s, many corporations only marketed nationally, so popular toys from other nations could be imitated for the Canadian market. Charles H. Pajeau invented the Tinkertoy in Illinois in 1914, but it was not available locally, so Allen Wood Products came out with Allen’s Canadian Toy Builder. For several years it was one of Allen Wood Products’ most popular toys.
By the time that Allen Wood Products was making Allen’s Canadian Toy Builder, Spalding held the trademark for Tinkertoys. Since the factory was already set up to make the toy, Spaulding licensed the factory to become the Canadian Tinkertoy producer. Both parties benefitted, the Tinkertoy brand could reach another country, and the brand recognition made Allen’s product much more saleable. Producing the Tinkertoy brought national recognition for the company, but in the postwar era kids could enjoy a relative abundance of toys. Allen Wood set about making many classics, like abacuses, bowling, and action figures that were made of wooden beads. The Bingo Board (also known as a pounding bench) was a really popular toddler toy. Children amused themselves for hours pounding the wooden pins down with a hammer, flipping the toy and pounding them down again. CLACK, CLACK, CLACK, CLACK, CLACK… driving their parents crazy in the process.
The company also developed characters with a personality all their own. Rider Jim was a cowboy, named after Jim Allen, the founder’s son who had grown up playing with their toys and had worked for the company since he was an adolescent. Peter Graham, Edith and George’s first grandson, loved to ride his tricycle. His joyous trips up and down the driveway inspired Pedal’n Pete.
By the late 1960s, plastic was beginning to displace wood as the material of choice for toy manufacturing. With the advent of container ships it was becoming less expensive to make consumer goods in Japan and ship them across the Pacific Ocean, than to pay North American workers the going rate. Before long, the prices that toys might fetch were just too low to support Canadian families. In 1972 the toy factory closed, and the site was reincarnated as Swedfurn, where Maud and Ingvar Skoog made fashionable pine furniture.
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