Remembering Arnold Irwin, pioneer of the toy industry

Anyone who’s ever hiked a Hula Hoop, guided a Slinky up the stairs, thrown a Frisbee, cuddled a bear, engaged in a Star Wars minifigure battle, cooked a snack in an easy-bake oven, or challenged an opponent on a game system video Atari was touched by the Irwin family of Toronto.

In 1926 Samuel Irwin started a small toy and souvenir business in his home. But in 1948, Irwin Specialties was in trouble and two of Irwin’s sons, Arnold and MacDonald, joined their father. Under the direction of the brothers, Toronto-based Irwin Toy Ltd. has become the largest developer, manufacturer, distributor and distributor of toys in Canada.

“The Irwin brothers were industry pioneers, breaking ground that would change the business forever,” said John Boynton, Arnold’s nephew and vice president of NordStar, owner of the Toronto Star.

Born in Toronto in 1926 to Samuel and Beatrice Irwin, Arnold Beatty Irwin was the older brother of MacDonald (Mac), Bryan and Marilyn. He attended Forest Hill Collegiate and the University of Toronto, where he studied actuarial science and played hockey. His daughter, Marylynn Boyle, says he was known for his “nudging”.

He left university after his freshman year to enlist in the military, where he served in Canada during the last year of World War II. After the war, when his father enlisted Arnold and Mac to run the family business, the brothers traveled the world to source products to market in Canada.

“It wasn’t long after that that an associate kept telling Arnold that he should meet this beautiful woman he knew,” Boyle said. He would mention it a few times until Arnold said, ‘Well, stop talking about it and let’s meet her. “Arnold eventually married the wife, Lynn Lonergan, in 1950. They had four children – Scott (1951), Craig (1953), Grant (1955) and Marylynn (1959) – whom they took on a trip to Hong Kong, Australia, Italy, France and Africa, among others.

Under Arnold and Mac’s leadership, Irwin Toy Ltd. started adding more toys to his range of memories during the 1950s. In the 1960s, reinforced by the post-war baby boom, their sales of toys exceeded those of souvenirs. Seeking to expand, the company went public in 1969. By the time Samuel passed away in the early 1970s, leaving Arnold – as chairman and later chairman of the board – and Mac at the helm, Irwin Toy Ltd. dominated the Canadian market. toy industry. Later the company distributed sports equipment Rawlings and Cooper brands and developed Pound Puppies and Jenga, both of which became mega-hits in the 80s.

“Arnold has always thought outside the box,” recalls his brother Bryan. Irwin Toy Ltd. was the first Canadian toy company to advertise on television, even before Canada had its own network. In the 1950s, she placed advertisements aimed at children at American border crossings that reached Canadian markets and produced a catalog for consumers, which was unusual at the time.

“He was a master of negotiations,” Bryan recalls. “He could make a deal with a handshake or on a napkin. Arnold challenged his employees but was always kind and fair. “You knew when you first met Arnold that you had to clarify your facts,” Bryan says. “He had a famous line, ‘That’s a very good answer but it doesn’t answer the question I asked.’

“He walked around the factory almost every day talking to the workers on the production line,” adds Bryan, “stopping to hear about any problems they might have.”

With Mac, Arnold led industry efforts to design an acceptable broadcast code for children’s advertising, allowing only four minutes of commercials per half hour of children’s programming, instead of the usual six allowed in d ‘other emissions.

As much as he was a smart businessman, Arnold was also a loving family man. Many fun summers have been spent at Arnold’s Cabin on Big Whitefish Lake near Parry Sound. He also hosted family reunions at his property near Meaford, where, says Boyle, “everyone got together and had a blast playing tennis, skiing, hiking, karting and more. Again.”

Arnold never did anything by halves, especially when it came to helping others. As a founding member of the Craigleith Ski Club and the longest-serving member of the Toronto Kiwanis Club, he always gave back to the community. “They helped people who needed help,” Boyle says of his parents, “but focused much of their efforts on high-impact medical research that could impact patients with illnesses. serious. “

With a passion for scientific innovation, Arnold engaged with physicians to ensure that the support he provided could be harnessed by research. teams. After a grandchild was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis 30 years ago, Arnold and Lynn funded projects primarily through SickKids Hospital and the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, support that continues to this day. They also created the Lynn & Arnold Irwin Advanced Perioperative Imaging Lab at the Peter Munk Cardiac Center and the Arnold B. Irwin Fund at the University Health Network Foundation, helping to make advancements in the areas of dementia, neurodegenerative diseases, cardiology, heart failure, anesthesiology and urology. .

“Many people will remember him for many good things,” Boyle says, “but most of all, he will be remembered for his charity.”

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