Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

It’s been said that all modern innovation and progress has been made possible by the innovators and boundary-pushers that came before us — in essence, we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Ian Gibson has spent 55 years in the Canadian fabricare industry, and his perspective reminds us of that crucial fact. For those who’ve been in the industry awhile, these names will sound familar. For those new to it, let it give you perspective on why you are able to do what you do today, thanks to them.

Ian began his career in the chemical and supply business with Kenalty Industries, and then moved to large laundry equipment, OPL and dry cleaning equipment with Advance Laundry Systems. For the last 26 years he’s worked with his family at Ontario Laundry Systems selling equipment to all sectors of the fabricare industry. Here’s what stands out in his memory of the industry in Ontario.


Looking back to the mid 1960s, there were still over a 100 locally owned commercial, linen supply and industrial laundries of significant size operating in Ontario.

The only 2 independents still locally owned are Topper Linen and Faster Linen. The bulk of the remaining business is done by giant American chains: Canadian Linen (Ameripride), Alsco and Cintas. The Healthcare and Hospitality linens are done in the greater Toronto area by Ecotex, HLS, and K-Bro Linen Systems, all mega operations using the latest labour- and energy-efficient equipment.

The demise of the laundry only plants was caused by the arrival in the mid 60’s of the automatic washer and the polyester sheet, which caused generations of families who had sent out their family bundle of laundry every week to begin to process it in their own home.

Ottawa

  • Vail’s Laundry owned by Bill Bunting.
  • Blackwell Laundry owned by Lowel Blackwell.
  • Sunshine Uniform owned by the Mendelson family in Toronto.

Kingston

  • Dry Set industrial owned by Dave Sly.
  • Kingston Laundry owned by Adrian Krugi.

Belleville

  • Belle Industrial Laundry owner Mr McCutcheon.
  • Parson’s Laundry owned by Bruce Parsons — the industry’s best trumpet player, who died in his 80s playing Taps at a Royal Canadian Legion Remembrance Day Service.

Windsor

  • Essex Linen owned by the Stoyshen family then and now.
  • Whites Linen owned by Ben Cramer of London, now Cintas.

London

  • Baldwin Coat and Apron owned by Bill Baldwin, now Canadian Linen.
  • Forest city Linen owned by Ben Cramer, now Cintas.

Kitchener

  • Swan Laundry owed by Orville Tank, before being acquired by Bill Renaud and renamed Newtex. It was later acquired by Workwear/G & K.

Hamilton

  • Wright’s City Laundry owned by Alan Wright and family.
  • Langley Parisian, owned by Ed Adamson and family.
  • Whiz a Top owned by Peter Grbvac ( Still thriving under the next generation today.)

Toronto

  • Reliable Linen, Sunshine Uniform, Central Overall and Northern Industrial were owned by the Mendleson family Lou, Bert and Ben. They first sold the chain to Workwear Corp in the US, who sold the chain to G & K, who sold it in a mega deal to Cintas.
  • Topper Linen Supply owned by Ed Topornicki(still in business run by his son Tim).
  • Faster Linen Service owned by Happy and Marty Halberstadt (still run by Happy’s grandson Mark).
  • Sanitary Laundry owned by Ian Gilmour sold to Reliable Linen .
  • Sanitary Towel owned by the Rachman family, sold to Canadian linen.
  • Crown Linen — Ed Wong served the Chinese restaurants (sold to Canadian Linen).
  • Ideal Laundry owned by Eddy, Peter Gikadis and Jim Phillips (sold to Canadian Linen).
  • Bestway Linen owned by Peter, Peter and Louie (sold to Canadian Linen).
  • Star Linen and Home Laundry owned by Sam and Dave Elite ran a wash floor and flatwork ironer in the first floor of a house with a 7-ft. ceiling — a bit hot and humid in the summer. They served some of Toronto’s best restaurants (sold to Topper linen).
  • Whiteway Linen owned by Tony Bazos and family, another low ceiling operation served the creme de la creme of Greek-owned restaurants (sold to Topper Linen).
  • Puritan Laundry, where the washers and extractors were driven by belts from above. Closed.
  • Parisienne Laundry. I believe they had 8 flatwork ironers, some of them 12 roll. Closed
  • Toronto Launderers . Closed.
  • Ontario Laundry. Murphy family. Closed.
  • New Method Laundry owned by the Sheedy and Morin families. Sold to Canadian Management Corp., who sold the building and spun off the laundry business to (I think) Canadian Linen, and the dry cleaning chain Spic and Span. They merged with Parker Dye works.
  • Master Linen and Cardwell Laundry owned by Aubi Wiseman and Herb Sax supplied beautiful Belgian linen in at least a dozen colours to the best caterers in Toronto. Now gone.
  • Careful Hand Laundry owned by the Shindman brothers, later owned by a Shindman son-in-law, Sid Chelsky, now better known as the Executive Director of the Canadian Fabricare Association. Sold out Alamo Linen owned by Mario and Domenic, who sold to Dove Cleaners.

The dry cleaning sector of the fabricare industry in the late 1960s and ’70s had ten times more processing plants than we have today, serving about half the population. Almost all the garments of the day were made of natural fibers. Only the bravest or most knowledgeable would attempt washing the garments at home. The key drycleaners seem to have survived better than the commercial laundries.

Ottawa

  • Brown’s 2 generations of the McGregor family, still strong in the market.
  • Hillary’s, started by Fraser Hillary, followed by Dave and Bruce.

Kingston

  • Flindal’s, owned by Ralph Flindal, is gone.
  • Patton’s, owned by an old hockey player Wally Elmer, is long gone.

Sault Ste Marie of the late 1960s had 12 operating dry cleaning plants, as I remember. They included:

  • Lusterway
  • Parkway
  • Truway
  • Ray’s Tailoring & DC
  • Bonnie
  • Snowhite
  • Soo Cleaners
  • Hi Fashion
  • Foch, and others.

Some of the owners were Vic Chiarelli, Guido Suriano, Vic Gardi, Mike and Phil Surachi, Frankie Guido, Art Tombari Sr., the Scarfone’s — Joe, Rocky, Carmen and Sparky; Gene Chiarelli (past president of the DCLI/OFA), Larry Suriano. What a cast.

Sudbury was dominated by:

  • Sudbury Steam Laundry and Dry Cleaner, owned by Herb Bissett, who a couple of years ago I nominated as my Industry Star.
  • Deluxe, owned by the Lorne Haddad.
  • Starlight Dry Cleaning and Laundex, where the owner Abby and 3 of his friends drove to Toronto for every home game of the Maple Leafs (minimum 4 hours each way.)

The players today are the Haddad family, who own Sudbury Steam and Deluxe. The Bissett family is still present with the largest independently owned laundry North of Toronto, Northern Industrial Uniform, owned by Jim Bissett.

North Bay which had a thriving dry cleaning presence into the 1970s is not worth mentioning. Going farther north the best operation is North Star Linen and Dry Cleaner in Kapuskasing, operated by the second generation of the Belanger family.

Western Ontario

Windsor was a great dry cleaning center.

  • Blondies
  • IXL
  • Golligers
  • Master and others

These were owned by the Rivards, Kidds, and Golligers. Today, Master Cleaners and Sam Abouzeeni seem to be well positioned, along with Blondies operated by Dick Rivard.

London

  • Wellman’s now Sketchly.
  • Swan owned by Mac McNamara of Dalex fame.
  • Jarmain’s owned by Ed Jarmain, later owned by Ben Cramer.
  • Canada’s Cleaner, Bill Burdock — later Burdocks — owned now by Ed Gouthro.
  • Orr Cleaners operated by Shelly Clair, a third generation of her family operating the business.

Kitchener-Waterloo had some fine operations.

  • Newtex Cleaners, Bill Renaud
  • Swan Cleaners, Orville and Jim Tank
  • Jessop & Whelens

Today we have Newtex and the Renaud family and Sketchley Cleaners, owned by Dan Yancy.

Toronto of the late ’60s seemed to have more DC plants than we have convenience stores today. Some were large factories processing for fleets of trucks doing home pick up and delivery, serving their own depot stores or wholesale for others. As well in that era, some chains of package plants had started to open with the arrival of large shopping plazas. Some of the prominent ones were:

  • Cleaniteria(Stan Walsh) plant and over a 100 discount depots
  • Langley Cleaners (George Langley), which closed due to union activity and became Langley’s Cleaning Carousel.
  • Package plants and coin laundries operated by Gord Henning.
  • Cadet Cleaners (Herb Wahl) came in from upper New York state and opened over a 100 discount depot stores served from 1 plant, which his son, Quenton, used during 1 shift to start one of the most successful industrial uniform rental companies. Quentin later sold the industrial division to Cintas.
  • Christie Cleaners (Sam Christie), strictly wholesale cleaning
  • Danforth Cleaners (Sol Katanaka) was the largest provider of wholesale shirt laundering and finishing.
  • Keiths Cleaners (Merv & Lloyd Keith) was a large plant processing for truck routes, also package stores. Merged with Parkers Dye works.
  • Parkers Dye Works (Roger Clarkson). Many truck routes, depot and package plants.
  • Spic & Span Cleaners/New Method Laundry had a large chain of package plants and depots operated by Ray McGillvray and Chris Morin.
  • Gibson’s Cleaners {Lorne Gibson, no relation) managed by Tom Hopkins, had truck routes and a large plant store
  • Bestway Cleaners (Hagano Family) operated package plants. They had the best locations in Toronto at one time.

For quality, the two that stand ahead of the rest were Century Cleaners (Jack Snitzer and Werner Herman) ran a truck route and factory store, as did Baker Brothers (Abe Baker).

There were so many more . To those I didn’t mention, I apologize.

The late 1960s saw the beginning of a new generation of 1-hour, same-day service dry cleaners and shirt launderers. The leader by far was George Fine and his Embassy Cleaners, which grew quickly to over a 100 stores and plants before he and his partner, Mike Wineberg, sold to Shoppers Drug Mart — who in turn sold the chain to Sketchley of England. A few years later after trying some other business ventures, George returned to the dry cleaning arena to buy Parkers cleaners from Canadian Management Corp., which included what had once been the Spic & Span chain of stores. He quickly grew this again to more than 100 plants and stores with the help of partners Bill Foley and Chris Morin.

The 1-hour franchise plants arrived about the same time. One Hour Martinizing, Betty Brite Cleaners(Chris Platis), Hutone 1-Hour Cleaners (Bill Eckelstone) and other franchise operators who attracted customers in 1968 by doing folded business shirts at a price of five for 99 cents.

All these various types of laundries were supported by a cast of chemical, supply and equipment companies that called on their prime clients at least once a week and lesser customers every other week. By far the leaders at the time were Dalex Industries and McKague Chemical.

  • Dalex, owned by Darcy McConvey Sr. and Bob Dolphin, was a powerhouse supported by the dry cleaner from London, Mac McNamara, as sales manager who drove sales of the top lines of equipment, chemicals and supplies.
  • McKague, owned by Giles McKague and driven by his chemist sales manager, Whit Green, seemed to have the rest of the best lines available and a great sales force.

There were many others.

  • Regal Sales, Mo and Donny Rich partnered with Wilf Fink.
  • Nottingham Sales, Bert Wickett.
  • G H Woods with GM Alex Milne.
  • GBA Refineries.
  • Apco Industries with Cam Eckelstone and Ralph Bryant.
  • Adco with Sam Cohen.
  • National Silicates with Len Austin and Don Hubbs.
  • G. A. Hardie, owned by the two Hardie Brothers. GM Cliff McCauley and their wonderful sales manager, Gord Middleton, who after he retired took a job as Santa at The Eaton Centre.

Kenalty Industries was my entry to the industry in 1966, owned by BJ (Ken) Kenalty. He was a fine chemist and we blended liquids and compounded powders to make a fairly full line of dry cleaning and laundry products. I went on to become sales manager and later a partner with his three sons Ben, Chris and Kevin.

Eastern Ontario cleaners and launderers also were supplied out of Ottawa and Montreal by McGowan Chemical, Cliff McGowan; Groulx Robertson, Camile Groulx; and Ametek, Gaston Albright.

I think it was in 1968 that the Gala dinner dance for the DCLI fall convention held at the Hyatt Yorkville Hotel had a sold out Back Tie crowd of over 400 in attendance dancing and enjoying the prosperity of the time. Orville Penrose of Chester Cleaners (Weston) was the president at the time.

What has changed since 1968 in our industry.

  • Commercial laundries lost out to the automatic washer, and the advent of polyester that made it easier to wash at home.
  • Linen Suppliers and Industrial Laundries were acquired by the American giants.
  • Dry Cleaners also lost out to the automatic washer and easy care fabrics. What started out in the ’80s as Casual Fridays, twenty years later was casual everyday.
  • Costs incurred in meeting environmental legislation, coupled with rising labour costs in a labour-intensive process and the high occupancy costs in locations lucrative to business, became almost punitive for an industry with a shrinking customer base.

On the optimistic side, as we look to reduce our carbon footprint and the use of oil. There might be a reversal to the use of natural fibers in more garments, such as wool, silk, cotton and linen. None of those are easy to wash properly at home.

The Gibson family

Kenalty Group, consisting of Kenalty Industries, Bell Textile and Advance Laundry Systems, wrapped up in 1994. I started a new company, Ontario Laundry Systems, with my son and partner, Craig. Later we were joined by my wife Marina and son Warren. Over the last 26 years we have had some wonderful co-workers in sales, service and administration. The friends we made along the way are still considered part of our family.

Our future, as does the industry we serve, depends on the success we make of our opportunities going forward after Covid.

In closing

If I had to do it over again I don’t think I would have changed very much. I take this opportunity to thank you all for a lifetime of wonderful memories.

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