Toronto's Smith Bros. (1843-1979) are remembered today as the builders of the streamlined tractor-trailers used by London, Ontario's Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. during the late 1930s, and 40s. Although most Canadian Provinces repealed Prohibition during the mid-twenties, Canadian brewers, vintners and distillers were prohibited from advertising their beverages in the Province of Ontario into the 1950s. The brightly colored aerodynamic delivery trucks provided publicity for the beverage manufacturers during a time when the advertising of beer, wine and spirits was banned.
The most outrageous of the bunch featured aluminum-skinned wood framework built by Smith Bros. and designed by the Russian-born industrial designer Count Alexis de Sakhnoffky. However, most of Smith Bros. work was far more utilitarian and its reputation was built upon the sturdy horse-drawn delivery 'waggons' constructed by the firm's founder William Smith (b.1821-d. Jan 2, 1892).
William Smith, waggon-maker, was born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1821, to John and Mary (Mason) Smith, William being the eldest of a family of two sons and two daughters. In 1832 the Smiths embarked upon the ship "Alexander" for a perilous journey across the Atlantic. On the voyage out smallpox and cholera broke out among the passengers and William's 2-yo sister succumbed to the former.
At Montreal William's uncle and grandfather died from the cholera and while waiting at Prescott for a boat to take the Smiths on the final leg of their journey to York, William's mother Mary succumbed as well, leaving his father John, to provide for his 3 young children on his own. With the remainder of his savings he rented two small rooms on Yonge Street, and obtained work as a mason's clerk ending his career as a laborer at Helliwell's Brewery, passing from this mortal coil in 1849.
By that time Alfred Smith, William's younger brother, had become a cooper in Drayton, Ontario, and William, a wheelwright, learning the trade as an apprentice with Reuben Parkinson. The 1833 & 1837 Toronto Business Directory lists Rueben Parkinson as a wheelwright, Duke St. East.
Parkinson (b: May 2, 1795-d. September 3, 1879), was a well-known wagon and boat builder who in 1850 constructed a hotel at Maskelonge Point, (now Mugg's Island), one of the small islands in York Harbor better known today as the Toronto Islands. Parkinson and his wife Emily relocated the hotel to the west of Privat's Peninsula Hotel three years later, but it was washed away in the great storm of 1858. In 1859 Mrs. Parkinson erected a new hostelry on Centre Island which was later known as Mead's Hotel, the entire 12 acres of which was purchased by the City of Toronto in 1887 and renamed Toronto Island Park.
What education Smith had, he received in the old country, his first job in the new one being a bricklayer's apprentice. After a short time on the trade he longed for something more challenging and 1836 became apprenticed to Parkinson serving with him for a period of seven years. In 1843 Smith began a wheelwright and wagon-building business of his own, becoming so successful that in in 1847 he purchased a plot at the southwest corner of Parliament and Duke Sts. (now the southwest corner of Adelaide & Parliament Sts. near the present site of the Toronto Stock Exchange), and erected a waggon shop, that eventually provided employment for eight hands.
By 1855* the 33yo Smith had married Edith Dellamore (b.1831), the 23yo daughter of William Dellamore, a farmer in York Township, and to the blessed union was born the following:
(*The actual year of Smith's marriage is open to conjecture, three dates are listed in his various biographies and obituaries: 1858 (unlikely); 1845 (doubtful – his wife would have been 14) and 1855, which fits best with the ages of his children as included in the 1871,1881, and 1891 Canadian Census. One obituary states he had nine children, two of which preceded him in death – however the Census only provide the names of eight.)
One obituary notes the importance of religion in William Smith's life:
In 1848 Toronto was divided into a group of wards, each named after a Christian saint. St. David's Ward was bounded by Ontario, Don Mills Road (now Broadview Ave), Bloor and Queen Sts.
The 1871 Canadian census lists William Smith and family (all P. Methodists) in St David's Ward, East Toronto, York County, Ontario, Canada as follows:
The 1881 Canadian census lists William Smith and family (all C. Methodists) in St David's Ward, East Toronto, York County, Ontario, Canada as follows:
A short history of the firm was published in the 1886 edition of 'Industries of Canada':
The 1891 Canadian census lists William Smith and family (all C. Methodists) in St David's Ward, East Toronto, York County, Ontario, Canada as follows:
Their eldest two children, Mary Catherine Smith, age 35, and Frederick, age 33; are not included in their father's household. William's occupation is left blank, Sydney's occupation is listed as carriage builder and Herbert's is listed as hardware draughtsman. Although I could not locate a listing for Mary Catherine Smith, it's assumed she is married and living with her husband who's surname is unknown.
The 1891 Census lists Frederick Smith, age 33, occupation carriage builder, separately from his father's household, although it remained in St. David's Ward. During the interim he had married He had married Isabella Frances (Manning), b.1870, and their union had been blessed by the birth of two children; a daughter Ethel Winifred, (b. Nov.22, 1883); and a son, Dallimore, (b.1889) Smith.
Shortly after the 1891 census, Sydney Smith married Elizabeth Myers and to the blessed union was born a son, Percival William Smith, his birthdate May 21, 1892. Unfortunately William Smith had passed away on January 2, 1892 and missed the birth of the future leader of his business empire.
Frederick W. and Sydney Smith, succeeded to their father's business in 1885, and branched out into the manufacture of all kinds of carriage and commercial vehicles, their heavy-duty lorries and light-weight delivery and patrol wagons being some of its most popular sellers. They were the sole Ontario manufacturer of the Jones Patent Street Sprinkler and also outfitted and manufactured fire equipment for the City of Toronto and outlying municipalities.
In the early 1890s the firm's hodepodge of wooden structures was replaced by a modern 4-story brick factory located at the southwest corner of Parliament and Duke Sts. A brochure from the 1895 Canadian National Exhibition entitled 'Toronto Industrial Fair: An Illustrated Souvenir of Canada's Great Exhibition, September 2nd to 14th, 1895' contained the following description of the firm's new factory:
1902 display advertisement in the Toronto Business Directory:
The Smith Bros. built their first automobile and motor truck bodies under Frederick W. and Sydney Smith's tenure, a field which became so popular that they adopted the 'motor bodies' part of their name at the end of the First World War.
1917 listing in the Toronto City Directory:
Save for census data, very little is known about William Smith's two sons, other than Sydney's son Percival assumed control of the firm following the retirement of his father and uncle during the Second World War.
Pervical's address at the time of his enlistment in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Forces on May 21, 1917 was 32 Douglas Drive, his religion Methodist, his profession, chauffeur. 32 Douglas Dr. was the home of his parents, Sydney and Elizabeth (Myers) Smith. A picture of the home can be seen to the right, its description (from 1920) reads:
In 1929 the Toronto Police department used a few armored vehicles such as a Graham Paige, a McLaughlin-Buick and a Buick. Shields were welded across the front fenders of the car protected the tires from puncture and Bovite was allegedly used in the doors and side panels. The armored bodies were built by the Smith Bros. Motor Bodies Ltd.
The company built some of Toronto's first city and highway buses as well as many early transport trucks. In 1931 the firm produced a custom convertible sedan body for Winston Barron on a long-wheelbase McLaughlin-Buick chassis. The exceptional car survives and is in the collection of the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.
Smith Bros also built the famous 1931 Barron Buick, the subject of an article in the March 1973 issue of the Classic Car (pp38-40) The Barron Buick was an unusual custom dual windshield phaeton that was built on a 132” Buick 8-92 chassis. It was featured at the 1931 Canadian National Exhibition’s Automotive exhibit.
Its description follows:
1931 issue of Canadian Railway and Marine World:
Although most Canadian Provinces repealed Prohibition during the mid-twenties, Canadian brewers, vintners and distillers were prohibited from advertising their beverages in the Province of Ontario into the 1950s. The brightly colored aerodynamic delivery trucks provided publicity for the beverage manufacturers during a time when the advertising of beer, wine and spirits was banned.
The most outrageous of the bunch featured aluminum-skinned wood framework built by Smith Bros. and designed by the Russian-born industrial designer Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky (b. 1901-d.1964).
Born in Moscow in 1901, de Sakhnoffsky emigrated to Switzerland in 1919 and by the late 1920s had become a well-known designer of European sports cars. After his work with Van den Plas attracted the attention of H. Jay Hayes, the owner of the Hayes Mfg. Co. brought him to Grand Rapids, Michigan where he designed a striking Cord L-29 coupe that won 'Grand Prize' at the 1929 Monaco Concours d'Elegance and the 'Grand Prix d'Honneur' at the 1929 Beaulieu Concours d'Elegance.
He worked for Hayes from 1929-1932 working on designs for the firm's numerous customers who included American Austin (Bantam), Auburn, Cord, DeVaux and Nash. He left to become a free-lance design consultant, contributing designs to General Motors, Briggs Mfg. (for Chrysler), Packard and the White Motor Co.
In 1934 he accepted a full-time position with Esquire Magazine as technical and mechanical editor and his distinctive renderings quickly made him a household name. Each month readers were treated to de Sakhnoffsky's futuristic cars, trucks, boats as well as an occasional bathtub, swimming pool, escalator, kitchen or movie theater.
While working for Esquire Sakhnoffsky continued to produce free-lance designs for various manufacturers, one of which was the White Motor Co. of Cleveland, Ohio. Headquartered in Toronto, the associated White Motor Co. of Canada, Ltd. maintained a working relationship with Smith Bros. so whenever a special project presented itself, it was constructed in the Smith Bros. shops.
In 1935 White received an order from the
brewer John Labatt Ltd. to create an eye-catching show-piece for the
(Canadian National Exhibition - opened on August 28, 1936). White's
presented the project to the firm's Cleveland-based designs studio who
for the design portion of the project.
According to Labatts, de Sakhnoffsky
streamlined tractor-trailers designs, whose introduction was to be
over the upcoming decade, each one more futuristic and streamlined than
The first, of which 4 examples were built,
It featured a basically stock White Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. single
& chassis mated to a Fruehauf of Canada Ltd. single-axle drop-frame
chassis which bore aerodynamic Smith Bros. coachwork built using an ash
maple framework sheathed with hand-formed sheet-aluminum panels.
Smith Brothers customized the tractor/cab, adding custom running boards that flowed into the rear fenders, whose distinctive spats matched the ones on the rear of the trailer. According to Labatts, the distinctive firm's red paint and striking gold graphics were applied in Labatt's own paint shop.
In a 1978 article Toronto-based Canadian
transport historian Rolland Lewis Jerry (b.1924-d.2002) states that the
Chicago-based de Saknoffsky "came to Canada in the mid-30s" but
provides no further details.
In 1937-1938 the second series, a more advanced design - which included a streamlined White model 812 cab mated to a matching Fruehauf drop-deck trailer - debuted. Twelve examples were constructed in Smith Bros. shop, all of which wore Labatt's red & gold color scheme, which was once again applied in Labatt's London, Ontario paint shop. Labatt's sent one to the 1939 New York World's Fair where it was awarded 'Best Design'.
The tractor and trailer combined were 37 feet long, 10 feet high, and eight feet wide. The body was made from aluminum sheets pinned over a frame made from hundreds of pieces of hard wood. The empty trucks weighed as much as 10 tons and had a trailer capacity of about 825 cubic feet. They could carry eight and a half tons of beer and were still capable of about 50 miles per hour.
The seldom-seen third version, two of which were constructed in 1939-1940 before the War halted such frivolous projects, featured even more sweeping curves added to the roof of the tractor and long tail fin added to the trailer which featured dark blue side panels not found on the postwar streamliners. Once again White furnished the cab, Fruehauf the trailer and Smith Brothers the coachwork.A surviving picture reveals a similarly styled straight van was also produced using the same paint scheme.
hostilities ceased, the fourth version
which 10 examples were constructed during 1947 at a cost of $16,000
were constructed using de Sakhnoffsky's 4th design, whose cab was
different from the pre-War units. Photographs exist of stock White cabs
towing post-war streamline trailers and LaBatt itself doesn't
state exactly how many of the post-war cabs were streamliners, so the
exact number of streamline trailers and streamline cabs is currently
open to debate.
The forward raked cab featured a curved windshield and side windows for great visibility when travelling forward or backing up, its roof gently arced from the top of the cab both downwards and rearwards leaving more distance between the cab and the trailer. Built on a White WA122 COE (cab-over-engine) single-axle chassis, the cabs of the postwar streamliners tilted from the rear to allow easy access to the motor for maintenance and repair. The drop-frame trailers' streamlined coachwork was slightly lower than before in order to match the all-new cabs.
The 1947 streamliners once again featured
White cabs, Fruehauf
trailers and Smith Bros. coachwork – all paint and gold-leaf lettering
again applied in Labatt's own garage paint shop – the trailers of the
versions bearing Labatt's blue and red paint scheme with gold leaf trim
A 1948 issue of Canadian Transportation featured a small article describing the streamlines constructed in 1947:
The June 11, 1949 issue of the London Free Press provided a look at Labatt Streamliner history:
The vehicles moved beer across Ontario until l955, when Labatt's sold off its Streamliner fleet and brought an end to an era.
A pair of streamliners survive, the first a complete 1937 version which is currently undergoing restoration, the second a totally restored 1947 version built using an original trailer and a re-created cab.
The 1937's owner, Campbell, California's Jeffrey W. Glenzer, reports:
While Glenzer is utilizing his own funds to restore his 1937, Labatt's footed for the restoration of the 1947 unit which was finished in time for a planned debut at the 1986 Vancouver Expo. To commemorate the event Canada Post released a 10 and 90 cent commemorative stamp in 1986 that featured a side view of a 1947 streamliner.
A short story of the 1947's streamliner's restoration follows.
In 1977, Labatt contracted Joe Scott, the former President of White Truck Sales Ltd. of London, Ontario, hoping to find and restore an original Streamliner. A $500 reward was offered and Joe and his brother Bob followed up numerous leads and dead ends, eventually coming up with six trailers, of which one was deemed restorable. Two of the original 1947 White COE tractors were located and combined to create a single usable chassis. Unfortunately the coachwork was too perished to be usable so a replica cab body was constructed using a full-size body draft generated from existing photographs of the 1947 cabs.
After six years and thousands of hours of labor, the restored 1947 streamliner emerge from their London shops in the spring of 1984, after which it was used by Labatt Breweries for numerous promotional appearances through Canada. Although rarely seen, the restored 1947 streamline is still owned by Labatt and is brought out on special occasions.
Labatts was only one of many firms that commissioned streamlined bodies from Smith Bros., during the 1930s and 40s, but unfortunately only a handful survive.
The first being a 1935 Dodge Model KCL streamlined delivery van with sliding front doors (not a humpback – built on a 'B-1-0 flat faced cowl and chassis') that was constructed for Toronto's T. Eaton Co. Ltd. (Eatons Dept. Store). Its owner, Bob Davis, is completing its decade-long restoration and reports that like the Labatt streamliners, it too was designed by de Saknoffsky, citing a photo the design in the Archives of Ontario T. Eaton Co. file which lists de Sakhnoffsky, Chicago, as the designer.
The second survivor being an unrestored 1938 Seagrams delivery van, it's 2009 listing on Hemmings Motor News states:
Smith Bros. built a streamlined 1938 Diamond T built for Seagram’s who used it as a delivery van/mobile billboard until 1949, when it was sold to Holman Construction, Rockwood, Ontario, for scrap. In the early 1980s Holman sold it to a scrap dealer from which it was acquired by Ron Fawcett Motors, a well-established restoration shop, in Whitby, Ontario, who offered it for sale in 2009.
Little is known of Smith Bros. activities during the Second World War other than the products they produced were built for the Army Services Division of the Canadian Dept. of National Defense. Similar firms produced truck bodies, truck cabs, ambulances and trailers, and it likely the same products were turned out by Smith Bros.
As early as 1940 Smith Bros were getting contracts for war work, the first, a $32,100 project for the Canadian Dept. of National Defense, Army Services div. was received during the week of September 7, 1940.
The 1945 edition of 'Public Accounts of the Dominion of Canada for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1945, states the Canadian Dept. of National Defense, Army Services div. lists total payments to Smith Bros. Motor Body Works, at $275,219.63; The following year's report (fiscal year ending ended March 31, 1946) lists a much smaller number, $29,545.21.
A 1958 directory lists 173 Bartley Dr., Toronto as another Smith Bros. Motor Bodies address, but which activites were prerformed there are currently unknown.
Smith Bros. is also known to have produced small
numbers of fire apparatus, patrol cars, hearses and ambulances
into the Post-War era, but the details are scant and only a couple of
older pictures survive.
Percival's sons, J.A. (Jack) Smith (b. 1925) and William S. (Bill) Smith (b. 1927) assumed control after his 1963 retirement, taking turns at the Presidency every three years. William held the senior post from 1963 to 1965 at which time Jack took over the reins.
In 1956, when Jack Smith met a young inventor named Ray Pitman (Raymond F. Pittman) at a U.S. convention, he saw possibilities for Pitman's rotating, hydraulic crane for setting poles for utilities. Soon Smith Bros. started producing hydraulic derrick diggers. The company then entered into a manufacturing agreement with the Pitman Mfg. div. of AB Chance Co., Grandview, Missouri. Aerial booms were added to the mix and by 1976 Smith Bros. offered a complete product range covering 36 different models of derricks and aerial devices.
In 1977 the Smith family sold a controlling interest in the firm to Wajax Industries. Ltd. a Vancouver-based distributor of industrial equipment, and relocated the firm into a modern 92,000-square foot plant located northwest of Toronto at 7400 Woodbine Ave., Markham, Ont.
In 1979 the Smith Bros, name was retired and the firm reorganized as Wajax UEC Ltd. In 1983 it became the Pitman Mfg. div of Wajax Industries, and in 1990, Pitman Crane Corp. More recently it was acquired by the Weldco division of NorTerra Group of Companies. NorTerra is owned equally by the Inuvialuit Development Corporation, representing the Inuvialuit of the North West Arctic, and Nunasi Corporation, representing the Inuit of Nunavut. Today the Pitman Hydra-Lift line is manufactured by Weldco Hydra-Lift, the firm's Edmonton, Alberta subsidiary. The firm's truck-mounted cranes are offered in sizes ranging from 8-ton to 50-ton capacities.
A couple of firms produced scale model Labatts streamliners under license and today they're highly prized by beer and transport collectors alike.
Smith just published a fantastic history of the Smith Bros. which
includes 100's of pictures never seen before, including pics of the
LaBatt's streamliners during their construction - highly recommended -
click here to purchase!
Theobald for coachbuilt.com with special thanks to Angela
Smith and the Labatt Brewing Co.
Some Pics ©2012 Labatt Brewing Co.
A small collection of 1920s-30s Smith Bros. photographs and a few later documents dating to their takeover by Wajax can be found at the Canadian Government's Library and Archives in Ottawa (www.collectionscanada.gc.ca) Their mailing address: Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0N4, Canada
Included below are descriptions of some of the photographs, which are mostly undated: