Acton’s leather heritage and the history of the Olde Hide House are forever woven together. Widely known as Canada’s largest leather store, the humble beginnings of the Hide House were as a shipping and receiving warehouse for Acton’s Beardmore & Co., the largest tannery in the British Empire at the turn of the century. However, Acton’s history, and in particular, its role and reputation as Canada’s Leathertown date back even further.
It all started back in 1829 when three brothers from New York State headed north looking to purchase some farmland. Rufus, Zenas and Ezra Adams, each acquired parcels of land from the Canada Company and by 1842, their combined holdings totaled approximately 500 acres. Within a short time a settlement began to emerge and the Adams brothers decided to survey their farms into town lots, open and name streets, and call the settlement Adamsville. However, in 1844 when a post office was established in the community, the name of the town was changed to Acton.
Ownership of the various parcels, including the land where The olde Hide House now stands, changed hands several times over the ensuing years. But, in 1856, when the Grand Trunk Railway ran a line through the town and opened the Acton Train Station, things began to grow rapidly. That same year, an ambitious businessman, George L. Beardmore came to Acton and purchased a small tannery which had been operating in the area since 1844.
The buildings for the new Beardmore & Co. Tannery replaced the smaller and outdated plant of the earlier enterprise and were equipped with the most modern tannery machinery of the time. Soon the leather business became the major industry in Acton. Eventually, the main Beardmore tanneries in Acton had a combined floor space of nearly a million square feet, becoming – as noted above – the largest tanning operation in the British Empire by the turn of the century.
In 1899, Beardmore & Company also built a large brick warehouse, right next to the railway line. Even back then it was known as the “Hide House” because raw hides were brought in by rail and stored here to await transport by horse-drawn wagons to the tannery for processing. Finished leather was also stored in the building, while waiting to be transported by rail to other destinations. And so things remained until a spur line was built from the main rail line directly to the Beardmore plant. With the warehouse no longer required, it was sold in 1933. For the next several decades, the building housed various non-leather industries – including a factory which made uniforms and underwear for the military during the second world war.
It was not until 1969 that the hide house was back in the leather business. That year the property was sold to Frank Heller and Company, a firm specializing in the production of split leather. Then in June of 1980, Frank Heller and Company consolidated its three plants in the area into one larger building, rendering the hide house property surplus to its needs. Fred Dawkins, Ron Heller and Don Dawkins decided to transform the historic building into a flagship showcasing Acton’s leather-industry heritage and the concept for the olde Hide House was born.
Following several months of extensive restoration, The Olde Hide House officially opened on November 14th, 1980. More than a quarter century of further refinement, rejuvenation and growth have made the Acton landmark the largest and most popular leather store in Canada. Depending on the season, the Hide House stocks between 6,000 and 10,000 leather, suede and shearling garments – the largest collection of quality leather garments under one roof anywhere in the world – along with equally extensive selections of small leathergoods, accessories and gifts. The store’s exclusive ‘Lifetime Furniture Gallery’ features more than 30 complete room settings of top-grain leather furniture. In addition to great selection, most items are priced less – often much less – than comparable goods sold elsewhere!
The Hide House is also one of Ontario’s most popular tourism attractions: visitors from more than 40 countries signed the leather-bound guestbook in the store’s front foyer last year alone! Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the restored 19th century setting of the olde Hide House serves to showcase the unique leather industry heritage of Acton – the last small town near Toronto. Come… see for yourself why they say – “It’s worth the drive to Acton” – Canada’s Leathertown.