Starting in 2000, the city of Toronto accepts applications from individuals and organizations to help name the city’s un-named back lanes. In 2014, the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association submitted a request to name four lanes in our neighbourhood, including Barbed Wire Lane, which runs north off of Lombard just west of Church Street across from The Spire’s driveway.
It is named after the Ontario Lead and Barb Wire Company, which had a building adjacent to the lane and most likely used it for deliveries. The 1899 Goad’s map clearly shows the company’s premises. Their building fronted Richmond Street East (no. 55, 57 & 59) and backed onto Lombard Street (no. 54-56).
The Ontario Lead and Barb Wire Company is first mentioned in the Toronto City Directory in 1878 as Ontario Lead Works at 151 Queen Street East (between George and Sherbourne streets). It was owned and operated by Andrew. J. Somerville. Prior to starting this business, Somerville was the manager for The Dominion Saw & Lead Works company.
In 1880, Mr. Somerville also formed the Ontario Steel Barb Wire Fence Company. He merged both of his businesses in 1885 to form the Ontario Lead and Barb Wire Company. In this same year the company moved to an existing building at 55-57 Richmond Street (the Richmond/Lombard Street site). The company made lead pipe, lead paints, putty, lead shot, lead traps, Babbitt metal, steel barb fencing wire, steel plain twist fencing, steel fencing staples, steel wire nails and brads.
By 1890, the Ontario Lead and Barb Wire Company had expanded its premises to the south end of its lot and it is also listed at 54-56 Lombard Street. This matches the 1899 Goads Map illustrated above.
This directory ad shows that the company had expanded into plumbers’ supplies in addition to lead products.
In 1908-09, A. J. Somerville changed the name of his company to Somerville Ltd., and continued occupying 55-59 Richmond Street address, but by 1910 they had moved their factory to 284 St. Helen Avenue (near the Junction). The Richmond Street premises was taken over by a plumbing supplier Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Co. Ltd.
By 1912, Andrew Somerville is no longer in the picture. His brother Fred Somerville becomes the managing directory of of the United Brass & Lead Ltd. After 1920, the 284 St. Helen Avenue location is listed as vacant and Fred Somerville is running Fred & Co. lead taps from 297 Campbell Avenue.
Ontario Lead Works operated from its Richmond/Lombard Street premises from 1885 to 1910.
Note: The city’s background file on this indicates that Lewis Samuel, an early Canadian industrialist, founded the Ontario Lead and Barb Wire Co. The Online Dictionary of Canadian Biography writes, “Lewis Samuel was anxious to participate further in Canada’s expanding economy and invested in several ventures including the Ontario Lead & Barb Wire Company.” Lewis Samuel was an important figure in Toronto. He began a successful import-export business in 1856 with his brother under the name of M. and L. Samuel and Company located in the Coffin Block at Front and Church. He was a director of the Electric Manufacturing Company and president of the Metallic Roofing Company, both pioneering firms in their fields. He also helped organize and presided over the city’s first synagogue, the Toronto Hebrew Congregation (now Holy Blossom Temple). In 1877 he became the president of the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute. Further research is needed to determine how involved he was in the Ontario Lead & Barb Wire Company and whether the success of that business was due to his cash investment in the company or the hand’s work that comes with managing the company. Because of Lewis Samuels civic standing, his connection to the Ontario Lead & Barb Wire Company may overshadow that of the president and acting manager, Andrew. J. Somerville.
Sources: Toronto City Directories, various Might & Taylor; 1899 Goad’s Fire Insurance Map (via goads-atlas-of-toronto-online.html); Toronto, Old and New: A Memorial Volume Historical, Descriptive and Pictorial, by G. Mercer Adam, 1891; The Online Dictionary of Canadian Biography