The Business of gardening

Toronto city directories, trade catalogues, billheads, trade cards, postcards and other printed ephemera provide us with the location of Toronto businesses, details of their product lines, and views of the company headquarters.

Between 1871 and 1900, the major seed companies in Toronto were William Rennie, George Keith, Steele Briggs and J.A. Simmers. Toronto seed companies developed mail order operations, providing materials and equipment for domestic, amateur and commercial gardeners.

The Steele Briggs Seed Co. Limited
Catalogue: season 1905


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These businesses prospered with the expansion of the railway network. Product lines grew to include a wider selection of seeds, bulbs, plants and fertilizers used by farmers in Ontario and across the country.

Rennie’s jubilee seed annual and garden guide for 1920

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In 1900, Toronto’s William Rennie Seed Company was the largest mail order seed house in Canada. The 1904 Toronto city directory listing for the company gives a brief description of its product line and the location of its greenhouses. The 1904 classified listings under Seeds indicate that there were at least six seed companies in Toronto.

Toronto city directory, 1904
Might Directories Limited

This postcard provides an exterior view of the Steele Briggs Seed Company headquarters in 1921, at the corner of Spadina Avenue and Clarence Square.

Steele Briggs Seed Company Limited
Postcard, December 24, 1921
1921? Steele

This colourful trade card from J.A. Simmers Reliable Seed Store confirms the location of the company’s retail outlet.

J.A. Simmers Reliable Seed Store, n.d.
Trade card
n.d. Trade cards S

The Steele Briggs Seed Company took over the William Rennie Seed Company 1960, and was in turn bought by A.E. MacKenzie in 1970. A century of mail order seed operations in Toronto ended when the business subsequently moved its mail-order operations to Brandon, Manitoba.

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Source: Special Collections, Toronto Public Library.