What the Eff Was Tri-Ad Photo Engravers, Anyway?!

May 14, 2022by Jim Applegath0


23 Hop.

The birthplace of Toronto’s legendary rave scene.

Credit: Angel Losiggio

Ground zero for Toronto’s jungle scene.

Credit: Unknown

The Rise.

The location was used for countless raves, after-hour events, booze cans, all-ages parties, and warehouse jams.

Credit: A Place Called Bliss

If you did any late-night dancing in the early to mid-90s, you’ve definitely walked out of this address in the wee hours of the morning wishing you had brought sunglasses.

But what happened at 318 before all that mayhem? What we’re gonna do right here is go back, way back, back into time.

But first, let’s discuss the tragic fate of 318.

In the mid-90s it was transformed into a mega-club called The Joker in an area of the city that became known as The Entertainment District.

The parking lot next to it was turned into a Street Side Patio and a rooftop patio was added.

Credit: Murray Demolition

By the end of the 90s, the property was sold to a condo developer and got reduced to rubble shortly after.

Only to become a bigger parking lot for a few years.

Credit: Google Street View

Until work finally started on a 39-floor, 402 suite condominium monstrosity known as Picasso.

Credit: Jim Applegath

A Brief History of 318 Richmond Street West

The large sign above the entrance read “Tri-Ad Photo Engravers.” And when Wes Thuro and partners (including Chris Sheppard,) started leasing the venue in 1990, they left the exterior sign as is, and made zero cosmetic changes to the outside of the building. One part new-york discreet-cool, one part thrifty. All parts genius.

Plus, “Engravers,” literally has the word “rave” in it. And “raver.” And “ravers.” Maybe it was a sign. Destiny is certainly a lot more believable than some of the other rumors circulating about the building which included it being the headquarters for the Triad gang in Toronto.

A lot has been written about 318. Denise Benson did a wonderful profile of it: Then & Now: 23 Hop (that I was honoured to be a part of.) Over a decade ago, I took a stab at doing a brief history of Hop. I even attempted to recreate a basic floor plan (not to scale.) There’s also a splendid documentary about it called The Legend of 23 Hop, by Colm Hogan (also honoured to be a part of!)

Having said that, there’s little left to be said about it.

So I decided to get to the bottom of the age-old “Tri-Ad” mystery and delve into a little history. I tracked down a former Tri-Ad employee named Maria. She worked at Tri-Ad for three years beginning in January of 1972. And while she’s still probably confused as to why we’re so interested in this, she graciously agreed to answer some of our burning questions. She even sent us some neat stuff including this old company letterhead.

What kind of person saves random pieces of paper they got decades ago from a building that no longer exists?!

My kind of person.

Hi Maria, what was Tri-Ad?

In the 1960s and 70s, Tri-Ad did then what is done digitally on a computer these days. For example, take a Kleenex box and look at it. In the old days, in order to produce the images on the box you have to make an engraving plate from artwork drawn by artists; then from this engraving plate, another plate called a mold was produced. It was made of some really strong cardboard-type material like pressboard or something similar to plywood. This mold would be covered with a piece of rubber and “baked” and the result would be a rubber die. These rubber dies would be shipped to our customer who would place them on rollers that went through ink which would print out the images on the cardboard from which the Kleenex box was made.

In the early 70s, UPC codes came out and everybody had to change their artwork and dies to incorporate this string of lines and numbers onto their packaging which meant there was lots of work for companies like Tri-Ad. We had a team of salesmen, artists, photo-engravers, compositors, and the guys that made the rubber dies. I started out working in the rubber die area filing the molds, then moved to the office as the receptionist, costing & pricing, and finally as accounts receivable.

Can you tell us a bit about what went on inside the building?  

The main floor was where the molds and rubber dies were made, the main offices, the bathrooms, and an office storage area. The second floor was where the artists and compositors were and the basement was for the photo-engraving. Down in the basement is where the actual photo-engraving went on. There was another company called Ladbrook Mats at the bottom of the stairs. It was run by just one wizened little old man and he did huge double-page advertising in the newspapers.

The names of the other companies in the building were: Compositor Associates (manual typesetting), 318 Richmond Studios (art studio), Ladbrook Mats (newspaper advertising)

What about the infamous elevator that was used to sell booze after-hours and outsmart the police?

I don’t remember an elevator. I always used the stairs and I would never have a reason to be at the loading dock.

When did Tri-Ad close-up shop?

I left by the end of the 70s, so I’m not actually sure when it shuttered. But I always wondered what happened to the company and the building. I know that two of the three owners have passed away and also the bookkeeper. The third owner I can’t remember his last name so I’m not sure if he is still around.

The place next door to 318, would eventually become Sugar Mountain. What’s its origin story? 

That was that small mom-and-pop restaurant. Most of the Tri-Ad employees ate their lunch there and bought coffee, tea, etc., during their breaks. Ok food, nothing special. The owners would fight a lot and the old man was really grumpy. There were stools at the counter and in the back were booths with leather bench seats. There were no tables and chairs, just the booths. Straight out of the 1950s – maybe even the ’40s.

Credit: Toronto Archives

What was the area like back then?

The neighbourhood was different for sure. There were old houses and not as many tall buildings. If you headed west towards Spadina, that was the garment district. At 238 Queen St West between University and John Streets on the north side, there was a poultry shop where there was sawdust on the floor, live chickens were butchered in the back and you could buy this chicken to take home and cook for supper. It is a historic building and was originally a fresh produce market, then a butcher shop specializing in chicken, and now is a food court. At the corner of John and Queens Streets, was the City TV building (1972) and then in the ’80s, it housed Much Music.

What are your fondest memories of your time spent at 318?

In September 1972 during the final game of the Canada-Soviet Hockey Series, the treasurer brought in a TV and we all watched the hockey game.  The country virtually came to a standstill and what a celebration when Henderson scored the winning goal! Another awesome thing about working there was being able to see the CN Tower being built.

Jim Applegath

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