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Bond & Elder, Robert Elder Carriage Works, Robert Elder Ltd.
Bond & Elder, 1870-1882; Robert Elder Carriage Works, 1882-1920s; Robert Elder Carriage Works Limited (aka Elder Motor Bodies / Elder Superior Bodies) 1920s-1944; Robert Elder Ltd. 1944-1972, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Robert Elder Ltd., 1948-1972; Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Associated Firms

Elder Motor Bodies, is remembered today for the streamlined delivery vans and beverage trucks the firm constructed for Toronto-based businesses from the late 1930s-into the early 1950s.

The firm’s founder and namesake, Robert James Elder, was born in Scotland in 1844, where he was apprenticed in the carriage building trade. He emigrated to Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1869, establishing a partnership with a blacksmith named James Bond in the style of Bond & Elder in a small manufactory located at 312 Queen Street West.

Bond & Elder were listed in the 1872-1873 and 1874-1875 Toronto City Directory under carriage and wagon makers as follows:

“Bond & Elder, (James Bond and Edward Elder) blacksmiths, 312 Queen w.

“Bond & Elder, carriage and waggon builders, 312 Queen w

“Bond, James (Bond and Elder) h 116 Osgoode

“Elder, Robert (Bond and Elder) blacksmith, h. 16 Osgoode.”

Bond & Elder were listed in the 1874-1875 Toronto City Directory under carriagemakers and blacksmiths as follows:

“Bond & Elder (James Bond and Edward Elder) carriage and waggon builders, 312 Queen w

“Bond & Elder, carriagemakers & blacksmiths, 312 Queen W.

“Bond, James, of Bond & Elder, 23 Maple lane

“Elder Robert, of Bond & Elder, 128 Vanauley”

In 1876 Bond and Elder relocated from 312 Queen St West to a larger factory located in St Patrick’s Ward at the corner of Soho and Phoebe Sts.

Bond & Elder were listed in the 1879-1880 Toronto City Directory under carriage and wagon makers as follows:

“Bond & Elder, (Jas Bond and Robt Elder), carriage makers. cor Soho and Phoebe

“Bond, Jas, of Bond & Elder, 7 Phoebe

“Elder Robert, of Bond & Elder, 2 St Andrew

“Elder Thomas, blacksmith, 2 St Andrew”

Bond & Elder were listed in the 1881-1882 Toronto City Directory under carriage and wagon makers as follows:

“Bond & Elder, carr works, cor Soho and Phoebe

“Bond & Elder carr bldrs, 20 Soho

“Bond, Jas, of Bond & Elder, 7 Phoebe

“Elder Robt, waggon builder, 2 St Andrew”

“Elder Thomas, blacksmith, 2 St Andrew”

Bond retired in 1882 and Elder purchased his share in the firm, which was conducted thereafter as Robert Elder, Carriage and Waggon Builder. Thomas Elder was Robert’s younger brother.

Robert Elder’s 1871 marriage to Jessie Roy (b.1849 in Scotland) resulted in the birth of several children. Norman (b.1872-d.1949); Christina (b.1873); Edwin (b.1875); Emily (b. 1877); Jessie R. (b.1880); William B. (b.1883); and Margaret (b. 1886) Elder.

Robert's eldest son, Norman Elder, born October 23, 1872, would succeed his father as president of the carriage works upon his retirement.

Norman Elder married Ethel Fanny Miller (b. 1873-d.1936) on June 26, 1902, and to the blessed union was born two children: Lucie Blakeway (b. March 9, 1903) and Robert Gordon (b. July 23, 1905) Elder.

A visit to the Elder works by a representative of the Carriage Monthly was included in the August 1904 issue of the magazine:


“I started on my last lap, as it were, homeward, namely, for Toronto. This is a thorough American city, and I once more felt at home. I was not long in making myself known to the dealers. I found in the establishment of J. Dixon a fine quality of work, equal to any turned out in New York City. Hutchinson & Son are conducting a large business in all lines. Their repository was well stocked. The Robert Elder Carriage Works are recognized leaders in the wagon line, and they had all kinds of styles, sold at prices suitable to all classes of buyers. They had on hand a very fine selection of high grade delivery wagons, of which they made a specialty. I visited all of the dealers and makers of carriages in that city, and was delighted with what I saw.”

In late 1910 the firm commenced construction of a new $12,000 4-story brick factory at the corner of Soho and Phoebe Sreets which was better suited to manufactured bodies for auto trucks, the November 24, 1910 issue of American Machinist reporting:

“The Elder Carriage Works, of Toronto, is building a large plant for the manufacture of automobiles.”

The Elder Carriage Works, Limited, listing in the 1913 Vehicle Yearbook (Chiltons) follows:

"Elder Carriage Works, Robert, Soho and Phoebe Sts (W) Norman Elder, president and general manager; N. C. Newport, secretary and treasurer."

The firm's exhibit at the Canadian National Exposition was included in the September 8, 1915 issue of the Toronto World:


“The exhibit of the Robert Elder Carriage Works, under the grand stand, shows the remarkable progress has been achieved since the organization of the business in 1871. The latest innovation in the bodies of motor trucks, and with the evolution of this industry the products of the Elder Company have come to have an enviable reputation for durability and economical service. Business wagons of all varieties are show in this company’s exhibit, as well as the auto truck bodies, which have become a specialty of the concern. High-class workmanship and an elegant finish characterize all the articles shown. This exhibit has become a rendezvous for all users of commercial vehicles.”

The firm often photographed vehicles in front of the entrance to the CNE, which was one of Canada's best-known landmarks at the time. Elder's founder, Robert J. Elder, passed away in 1920 at the age of 75.

The firm's bodies were marketd unnder the 'Elder Superior' trade named starting in the late 1920s and although they weren't as well known as Toronto's Smith Bros., Elder constructed a fair number of streamlined trucks and tractor-trailor combinations during the late 1930s and 1940s, many of which featured trailer subframes supplied by the Canadian branch of Fruehauf.

During the Second World War Norman Elder's son, Robert Gordon Elder, assumed the day-today operation of the firm which was reorganized as Robert Elder Ltd. in 1944, Autobody reporting:

“The name of Robert Elder (Carriage Works) Ltd., 26 Soho St., Toronto, has been changed to Robert Elder Limited.”

According to ‘PUBLIC ACCOUNTS of the DOMINION OF CANADA’, during the Second World War the firm engaged in a number of lucrative wartime contracts. During fiscal year 1945 (April 1, 1944- March 31, 1945) the Canadian Department of Munitions and Supply made payments of $185,465.53 and $11,513.71 to Robert Elder, Ltd., Toronto. The Canadian Department Of National Defense— Army Services paid $203,330.63 to Robert Elder (Carriage Works) Ltd., during the same period.

During fiscal year 1946 (April 1, 1945- March 31, 1946) the Canadian Dept. of Reconstruction and Supply paid out $41,730 to Robert Elder, Ltd., while the Department of National Defense paid out $53,363.23 to Robert Elder (Carriage Works) Ltd.

In 1948 Robert Elder Ltd. merged with the Gilson Manufacturing Co of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, manufacturer of small stationary engines and compressors for the refrigeration industry. Norman Elder, the firm’s longtime president, passed away in 1949 and his son, Robert G. Elder became president. By that time Robert had married and produced four children; James, John, Norman (II) and Margaret Ann Elder.

In 1948 Walter Dale, Elder’s long-time production manager, resigned and took a position with the Canadian Top & Body in Tillbury, Ontario as its body engineer. At that time Elder’s truck body sales manager was Gordon A. Burns.

Elder constructed numerous refrigerated truck bodies using the technology it acquired via the 1948 merger with Gilson Mfg. Co. During the 1950s Elder engineered a ¼ hp refrigeration machine in which the compressor was placed on top of the motor, instead of beside it, in order to better fit the space available in the firm’s self-contained refrigeration units. They also expanded into the manufacture of AC-powered stand-alone units for use by the food service industry, which were easily identified by their bright orange paint scheme.

At one time or another Robert G. Elder’s sons, James, John and Norman Elder (II – b. July 7, 1939), worked in the family’s Soho Street workshop where they learned how to weld truck bodies, a skill Norman used to much acclaim later in life when he became a well-known Toronto sculptor.

Norman soon left the Soho St. factory to concentrate on the Elder family’s long-time hobby of horsemanship, representing Canada in the 1959 Pan-American games, where he won gold and bronze medals in various equestrian events. A year later he represented Canada at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy where he was the houseguest of actress Gina Lollobrigida. Both Norman and his older brother Jim competed in the 1967 Pan American Games after which Jim won a gold medal at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City.

By that time Robert Elder Ltd. had devoted most of its energies on its profitable refrigeration business and when Robert G. Elder retired in 1972 he sold the Gilson refrigeration business to McGraw-Edison of Canada Ltd., and ended production of truck bodies at its Soho Street factory, which was subsequently sold.

By this time John Elder was a well-known Ontario Ophthalmologist, Jim had an executive position with McGraw-Edison and Norman (II) had become one of Toronto’s best-known artists/adventurers. An overview of his most interesting life (b.August 12, 1939 – d.October 15, 2003) can be found at

Your author had the pleasure of meeting Norman Elder and touring his Museum at 140 Bedford Rd., during the mid-1980s. The 4-story brick carriage factory constructed by the firm in 1911 at Soho and Phoebe Sts. remains standing today and is currently utilized as executive offices and apartments.

© 2013 Mark Theobald for







M.G. Bixby - Industries of Canada, Historical and Commercial Sketched of Toronto and Evirons, pub. 1886



Stephen Franklin - Look Who Just Popped Out Of the Establishment, Winnipeg Free Press, March 28, 1970 issue

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