Toronto’s garment industry, well over a hundred years old, has been centred on Spadina Avenue. The T. Eaton Company employed large numbers of garment workers in its Toronto factories to make garments for their stores.
In 1912, garment workers went on strike and some in the community rallied to show support for the (mostly Jewish) women who sewed linings into coats and who were laid off when Eaton’s decided the men who made the coats could also sew in the linings. The Eaton’s factories were the sites of huge organizing efforts by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) from the 1910s to the 1930s, and by the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in the 1940s and again in 1984, when Eaton’s workers finally unionized – until they decertified in 1987.
Up until the 1990s, the upper floors of many of the large buildings up and down Spadina’s wide avenue housed garment factories, providing employment initially for the Jewish community and then successive waves of immigrants, including Chinese, Hungarians, Portuguese, Latin Americans and Vietnamese. While much of the work has been outsourced to countries in the Global South, some is still done in Toronto in small factories and by immigrant homeworkers.