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- City of Kitchener Corporate Archives
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John Derby Claude Forsyth was 18 years old and clerking at Boehmer’s General Store in Berlin in 1903, when he indicated the desire to be in business for himself. In that year, he left the general store and started to work for his father, John Forsyth in the button industry.
In 1905, with the idea to manufacture men’s shirts, he contracted with a company to make garments to order. But he found that his smaller orders were being passed over for larger orders. In 1906 he contacted Henry Hagen, a partner in Hagen & Sippel, a shoe firm where Mr. Hagen would cut and make the shirts and J. D. C. would supply the materials and sell the garments. On July 4, 1906, the first shirt to bear the Forsyth label was produced. During that year, the plant had 20 machines and 4 women working to produce shirts.
During 1907, business increased and larger space was needed for the increased in machinery. There was a staff of 30 women with 24 machines. In 1910 the business expanded again and moved into the space vacated by his fathers’ button business. There were a total of 48 machines, with a staff of 60 women working in the space. J. D. C. Forsyth assumed the entire industry in 1912. In 1915, underwear and pajamas were added to the product line. In 1916, more space was needed and the underwear/pajama production was moved to Waterloo.
On July 29, 1917 the company moved to new quarters previously occupied by the Breithaupt Company on corner of Young and Duke Streets. The underwear/pajama production moved back to the more spacious new building in 1918 and then moved back to Waterloo in 1920. Between 1920 and 1928 the total number of shirt machines grew to 152. By 1928 a new warehouse and modern laundry were added to the Duke Street factory, which now had 500 employees and 26 salesmen. At the time of purchase of the new building a residence named the Smyth House stood between the Duke Street side of the building and the street. In 1929, the company purchased the Smyth House and the residence and vacant space between the house and the building were rebuilt to serve as office space.
In January 1931, a new endeavour began with the manufacturing of ties, scarves and handkerchiefs. Expansion was taking place again and a 4-storey addition with a dining room and a roof garden were added for employees to the Kitchener building. In 1939 another expansion took place with a 3,600 sq. ft. addition to manufacture products other than shirts.
The Forsyth Athletic Association, a voluntary organization formed by employees began in 1935. The association began so that Forsyth employees had the opportunity to engage in a variety of sports and activities. They expanded and published a newsletter, “Shirt Tales” that began in February 1936.
The man with the vision, John Derby Claude Forsyth died in 1948 and his oldest son, John Edward Forsyth became president his other son James R. E. Forsyth became sales manager. The production of pajamas and underwear moved to a plant in Wellesley and the Waterloo plant began to manufacture sport and leisure shirts.
By 1956, the Forsyth Co. had 600 employees and over 140,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space. The company had become one of Canada’s top three shirt manufacturing companies. Lady shirts and pajamas were added to the product line in 1961. In the 1960’s Forsyth Co. began exporting shirts to Hong Kong and Hawaii as well as forming a Quebec company, St Jean Forsyth Co. The company also completed a franchise agreement with a firm in Panama. The company has 800 employees in the Waterloo Region by the mid 1960’s.
Ending 70 years as a family-owned and operated manufacturer, Forsyth Co. was purchased by Dylex Ltd. of Toronto in 1973. In 1992, the Kitchener factory closes and the employees move to Cambridge. The building on the corner of Duke and Young was put up for sale and by 1999 no buyer had been found. The Forsyth Co. label still continues to this day with the company based out of Mississauga Ontario.
Unfortunately by 2006, the building was in disrepair and was demolished. Before demolition a time capsule was uncovered within the Art Deco building which fronted Duke Street. The time capsule was placed by then president John Derby Claude Forsyth’s twelve year old son, John Forsyth on June 4, 1937. The time capsule was given to the City of Kitchener’s Corporate Archives and it was opened on May 12, 2006. The time capsule was a silver metal box with “Forsyth” engraved on the outside. Within the box was a gold inscribed box containing the 800,000th Country Club shirt in its original packaging. The shirt was well-preserved with only a little mould which was caused by plastic packaging. There were two official documents in the capsule, one signed on June 4, 1937, a tribute to John D. Forsyth who’s name the Forsyth Company bears. The second was a velum covered document tied together with a red ribbon signed by the Forsyth family and management containing 15 pages of signatures of employees working at the factory and their length of service. There was also a photograph of John Derby Claude Forsyth in his office dated June 4, 1936. Also in the capsule were two editions of the Kitchener Daily Record newspaper June 2, 1937 with the headline “Building Values Best in 7 Years” concerning the Forsyth building and another newspaper dated May 12, 1937 with the headline “George then VI crowned King”. Also in the time capsule were the first two editions of “Shirt Tales”, the newsletter of the newly founded Forsyth Athletic Association, dated February 18, 1936 and March 27, 1936. All of the contents found in the time capsule were found to be very well preserved. The opening of the capsule was attended by some Forsyth family members.
The Forsyth corporate records are at Western University Archives in London Ontario.
1: Correspondence – 1903 – 2008. 5cm
This series consists of the correspondence, newspaper articles regarding municipal elections of the City of Kitchener.
An index is available in Appendix A.
2: Time Capsule – 1936-1937. 35cm
This series consists of the items contained in the time capsule and the time capsule itself.
An index is available in Appendix B.
3: Photographs/Negatives/Slides/Sound Recordings – 1930 – 2001. 35cm
This series consists of photographs of company teams to employees working machinery and promotional photographs.
An index is available in Appendix C.
4: Marketing items – 1916-1980. 50cm
This series consists of marketing/promotional items.
An index is available in Appendix D.
Series 1: Correspondence
Title Date Volume/Item Box
Bank Statement 1939-1940 1-1 11454
Book Inscription 2008 1-4 11454
Shirt Tales books 1942-1962 7-1 13268
Employee information 1960-1973 9-1 13303
Conference program 1951 9-11 13303
Forsyth timeline 1903-1935 9-12 13303
Article on cornerstone installation 1937 9-13 13303
Training Manual 1953 9-14 13303
Twenty year club invitations 1959-1964
Help Wanted signs 1920-1959 9-16 13303
Conference program 1948 11-4 13269
Forsyth building demolition 2006 13-1 12264
Series 2: Time Capsule
Title Date Volume/Item Box
Time capsule 1937 2-1 CH
“Country Club” Shirt` 1937 3-1 12830
Gold Box with inscription 1937 4-1 12828
Official time capsule document 1937 5-1 12827
Employee document 1937 5-2 12827
Kitchener Daily Record Sections 1937 5-3 12827
Shirt Tales Newsletters 1936 5-4 12827
Date stone 1937 6-1 storage
Series 3: Photographs/Negatives/Slides/Sound Recordings
Title Date Volume/Item Box
Ladies at Forsyth 1951 1-2 11454
Forsyth machinery 1950’s 1-3 11454
J. D. C. Forsyth photograph 1936 5-5 12827
Merchandising photographs 1950-1969 9-3 13303
Negatives 1930-1959 9-5 13303
Photographs/Negatives merchandising 1960’s 9-6 13303
Photographs/Negatives machinery 1968 9-7 13303
Photographs – conference 1963 9-8 13303
Photographs – conference 1951 9-9 13303
Marketing/promotions photographs 1950-1955 9-10 13303
Ad campaign slides 1950-1970 9-17 13303
Employees working at machinery 1950-1970 9-18 13303
Promotional ads 1950-1970 9-19 13303
Promotional messages 1962-1968 9-20 13303
Photographs of advertisements and displays 1950-1979 10-1 13299
Employee photographs (team) 1937-1967 10-2 13299
Sizing information 1949-1967 10-3 13299
Ladies Athletic Teams 1930-1949 11-5 13269
Forsyth President photograph 1950’s 11-6 13269
Photographs 1950-1980’s 14-1 13712
Photographs/Negatives 1998-2001 15-1 11193
Photographs/Negatives 1993-2001 16-1 14314
Series 4: Marketing/Promotional
Title Date Volume/Item Box
Scrapbook of advertisements 1955-1959 8-1 13265
Clothier and Habderdasher magazines 1916 9-2 13303
Promotional/marketing items 1950-1960’s 9-4 13303
Marketing/window displays 1920-1979 10-4 13299
Promotional/marketing items 1916-1959 11-1 13269
Logo plates 1950-1980 11-2 13269
Scrapbook of advertisements 1963 11-3 13269