Authors: Gerald Taylor & Gerry O’Hara – 2008
A Local Vancouver Manufacturer of Radio Products and Black & White Televisions 1933 – 1964
For three decades in the middle of the 20th century, Chisholm Industries Ltd. manufactured radios, Hi-Fi sets, TVs and assorted electronic equipment in the Vancouver, British Columbia region on the west coast of Canada.
The founder of Chisholm Industries Ltd., Edward Chisholm, came from a modest family of farmers of Scottish Ancestry, living in Nova Scotia. Edward Chisholm was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, in 1908 and he had two sisters. The Chisholm family moved to the Chilliwack area in the Fraser Valley when he was just a boy. The family continued farming in the “Dairy Business”.
Edward Chisholm attended Vancouver Technical School, and attained grade 13. He married Clara Lougheed, the daughter of dairy farmers from the Richmond area. Clara and Edward Chisholm had two sons, Gordon, who was born in 1932 and Jim, born in 1934.
The Chisholm radio and television product line was a family-owned and operated business. The original company was registered under the Partnership Act in 1933 as ‘Vancouver Radio Engineers’. The business operated under this name until 1936 when the business was incorporated by the name of ‘Vancouver Radio Laboratories Ltd.’ (VRL), which included the assets of Vancouver Radio Engineers. (Read also some VRLbyJonHall ). At this time, the business was primarily operating as a radio-related service industry, which soon followed with the wholesale distribution of radio components. The business was located in the downtown Vancouver core in the Hornby and Howe Street area.
By 1939 the Company was heavily into designing and manufacturing commercial radio equipment, such as ship-to-shore receivers and transmitters, together with smaller portable radios for the marine and BC forest industries. The wholesale parts distribution was discontinued in favour of manufacturing. In 1940 the business moved to a new location at 4515 Main Street, south of the downtown core, into a building with approximately 12,000 square feet of space.
Both of Edward Chisholm’s sons worked in the family business from time to time, Jim more so then Gordon. After a couple of years of college, Jim joined the family business and learned from the ground up. Jim Chisholm fondly speaks of his father, and say’s “He made me start at the bottom – I started working for dad by sweeping the floors at VRL”. Jim Chisholm complemented the family business by training in a mechanical engineering background. When Edward Chisholm retired, Jim went on to create the business of Glenayre Electronics Ltd. which was also a very successful company. The oldest son, Gordon, spent some time in his dad’s business in the design department, as well as in marketing and sales. However, Gordon’s passion was for the logging industry, where he spent most of his working career.
During the Second World War the company was commissioned by the Canadian Government to produce military receivers. During these years the receivers were built on specifications provided by the government. Therefore, it is not unusual for that period of time, to see military receivers from different suppliers look very similar. In 1946, the name of the corporation was changed from ‘Vancouver Radio Laboratories Ltd.’ to ‘Chisholm Industries Ltd.’ At this time, the company began focusing on the production of table radios, radio-phonograph ‘combination sets’, and – in 1953 – black and white television sets were added to the product line.
Rebuilding after Fire
In the spring of 1947 the company suffered a serious fire loss which hampered production for nearly two years. Edward Chisholm was a persistent man however, and moved forward with his vision. In 1950 he purchased 23 acres of land in Port Moody. The city of Port Moody is located east of Vancouver, at the end of Burrard Inlet, about 30 minutes drive from downtown Vancouver. The Port Moody facility was a huge state-of-the-art complex with a floor area of 56,000 square feet. This new location had excellent transportation access for road, water and rail. The Port Moody plant construction started in 1954 and was completed in 1955. The new facility was partitioned as follows:
- 4,000 square feet of prestige office space;
- 4,000 square feet of engineering offices, drawing offices and general laboratory offices;
- the balance of the floor space consisting of a single floor plant area, containing warehouse, stockroom, sheet metal and tool die shop, radio and television assembly line, paint finishing department plus a cabinet and woodworking department.
The building was a unique design for the day: the office block was a steel frame building with some masonry construction of 2 floors and the main plant building was of timber construction with a width of 100 feet, giving 50 foot clear spars and a height beneath the lower cord of the truss of over 14 feet. The plant portion of the building was heated by an external steam boiler house, and the office and engineering block had a separate heating plant. At the time of this writing (2008) the building is still in commercial operation with new tenants.
The sheet-metal shop was equipped to manufacture a wide range of metal products which could be made from medium sheet material up to 1/8″ plate. The shop had five punch-presses from 70 tons down to smaller sizes. The cutting shears would handle sheet stock up to 4 feet in width. Also included in the sheet metal shop was a wide variety of other tools, including lathes, universal milling machines, heat treating devices, drill presses and various jig borers.
The radio and television assembly area consisted of 400 feet of conveyorized assembly lines which included all the necessary test equipment, small tools, soldering irons etc.
The paint finishing area had two large self-contained spray booths and several hundred feet of conveyor for handling cabinets and other products. Also included was a large baking oven for baking finishes on metal products.
The cabinet-woodworking section had machines for every type of operation for manufacturing high-quality cabinets or furniture, including belt sanders, drum sanders, jointers, mortising machines, rip saws and equipment necessary for the pressing of veneers to hardwood cabinets.
The plant had the capacity to produce 200 units per day on the assembly line process.
Edward Chisholm did his best to produce and sell a high quality product. His plant went beyond that of most of his competitors. All metal chassis were cadmium plated before components were installed. The wooden cabinets were marketed as having the famous ‘Moisture Barrier System’. This was a technique that involved heating the cabinet wood materials to reduce the moisture content before construction. Sales literature of the time claimed that this process reduced the possibility of cabinets warping in the ‘west coast damp climate’.
The Chisholm product-line was sold in many retail outlets that sold furniture. These included Eatons, Hudsons Bay, Sears, Woodwards, Wosks, and many smaller family-owned furniture businesses. For the most part however, the Chisholm product was sold under the ‘Chisholm’ brand-name. There were a couple of exceptions made in favour of some retailers, for whom a ‘stencil line’ (re-branded) product was produced. Jim and Sherry Chisholm believe that Woodwards may have been one of those firms.
A Changing Market
In the early 1960’s, colour television was becoming popular and the marketplace was very competitive. As Edward Chisholm was nearing retirement age and the cost of re-tooling for manufacturing colour television sets was enormous, he elected to close the business and retire.
The Port Moody plant actually closed early in 1964. During the plant’s manufacturing days it was known as a place that produced high end products with well trained staff. The cabinet quality of the Chisholm product line was well known in the industry. During the last year of operation they produced cabinets for other manufacturers. As an example, many box-car loads of cabinets where shipped toPackard-Bell in California.
When the plant closed, the tools and equipment were sold off, with the exception of the metal-fabrication shop tools. These followed son Jim to the Glenayre manufacturing plant in Burnaby. The Port Moody plant was rented out to commercial tenants.
Edward Chisholm passed away in 1968, still a young man by today’s standards. The following is a brief insight into his passion for life and hobbies, as recalled by his son Jim.
Edward Chisholm was a keen boater and an avid outdoorsman. Jim said that his dad “would buy a big old sailboat needing lots of repair, bring it home, and have some of the shop boys fix it up and fit it out, then go sailing and take us two boys as deckhands to do the heavy work”. Jim Chisholm fondly remembers his dad, known as ‘Edd’, going to England and purchasing the Romaine, a steel-hulled yawl built in 1925, that someone was living in on the Thames river. This yawl was reported to have been owned at one time by the famous movie star Errol Flynn, and even had a fireplace in the main salon. The boat was brought back to British Columbia, refitted, and used by the Chisholm family.
Jim also reports that his dad was a keen hunter and competitive skeet shooter. The family had a place on Quesnel Lake, near Horsefly, British Columbia. Jim has many fond memories of the hunting and skeet shooting trips to the interior of British Columbia.
This article and information on Chisholm Industries Ltd. would not have been possible without the great help of Edward M. Chisholm’s son Jim Chisholm and his wife Sherry Chisholm. They opened their home to SPARC interviewers, and made available many family items including photos, newspaper ads, letters, resumes and copies of articles written by others in the past.
We took a photo of the Chisholm plant in Port Moody in 2009, for comparison to the period photo. Getting exactly the same vantage point as the period photo was not possible as fencing has been installed along the railway tracks and trees and underbrush have grown up along the railway.
In November of 2010, after years of intermediary uses for other businesses, the Chisholm plant was demolished. A local observer, Francis Lemieux, noted the demolition in his blog, including the following two photos: