Otis Fensom Elevator Co. Building the North American Elevator Company

Canada’s history in the elevating industry begins with The Fensom Elevator Works of Toronto. In 1867, John Fensom set up shop on Adelaide Street West, in downtown Toronto. There he remained for 15 years, first as John Fensom Iron Works, then in 1882, The Fensom Elevator Works.

Otis-Fensom Elevator Company Building. 50 Bay Street, circa 1914.

Otis-Fensom Elevator Company Building. 50 Bay Street, circa 1914.

Fensom's elevating devices were used in early department stores as well as the emerging commerce district. Timothy Eaton, of The T. Eaton Company Limited, was Canada’s largest retailer and a loyal customer of Fensom’s work. The innovative new machines added a thrilling new feature to retail shopping.

In 1902, Otis Canada started a small factory in Hamilton, Ontario as part of their expansion in Canada’s vertical transportation industry. Three years later, it would merge with the sizeable Fensom Elevator Works to become the Otis-Fensom Elevator Company. The new company immediately embarked on years of expansion and development. Properties were acquired and built in various principal cities, principally Hamilton, ON.

Photo courtesy of  www.workercity.ca  (1902) Karma Candy

Photo courtesy of www.workercity.ca
(1902) Karma Candy

Workers at the Hamilton plant produced all types of elevators and escalators. During the following years, the Otis-Fensom Company grew rapidly alongside the rest of the Canadian construction industry. For many years, the Hamilton plant was the largest elevator manufacturing facility under one roof in the world.

October 31, 1946, the retirement of Charles J. Fensom, youngest son of founder John Fensom marked the last association of the family name with the business. This led to the changing of the Company name on September 19th, 1949, to Otis Elevator Company Limited ending almost a century of association with each other. However this was a name change only, no change in ownership, policies or management of the Company. In 1976, Otis installed elevators in the CN Tower, Canada’s national landmark, and the tallest tower in the world for over three decades.

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Image Left. Otis-Fensom Elevator Company Building. 50 Bay Street, circa 1914. Urban Toronto writer Jeff Low notes the location of the fire hydrant as a reference point. Image Right. Google Street View 2018. Note the location of the fire hydrant again. Low ventures a guess that the Otis building survived until the early '70s, when this block was razed for the development of Royal Bank Plaza.

Above the Otis Fensom Elevator Factory (portion still standing). Victoria Ave, Hamilton. ON. 

1885 the new Blast Furnace “A” was fired up at Huckleberry Point, Hamilton. Over the next 50 years, much of the East End changed from farmland, fields, forests and marsh into heavy industry and workers’ housing. The colossal mills of Stelco, Dofasco and many other companies shaped Hamilton and its workforce.


Watch our Jane's Walk video


On May 5th, 2018 Joshua Nelson led a Jane's Walk through Old Toronto exploring significant buildings and their kinetic counterparts that made them possible. Walkers explored elevators and learned about their indispensable role in cities and architecture across Toronto.