Anyone who has ever Hula Hooped, guided a Slinky up the stairs, thrown a Frisbee, hugged a Care Bear, participated in a Star Wars figure battle, made a snack in an Easy-Bake Oven or have challenged an opponent in an Atari video game system. it has been played by the Irwin family of Toronto.
In 1926, Samuel Irwin started a small toy and souvenir business in his home. But by 1948, Irwin Specialties was struggling and two of Irwin’s sons, Arnold and MacDonald, joined their father. Under the brothers’ leadership, Toronto-based Irwin Toy Ltd. became Canada’s largest toy developer, manufacturer, marketer and distributor.
“The Irwin brothers were pioneers in the industry, breaking new ground that would change the business forever,” says 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 “sharp elbows.”
He dropped out of college after his freshman year to join the military, where he served in Canada during the last year of World War II. After the war, when their father recruited Arnold and Mac to run the family business, the brothers traveled the world to purchase products for the Canadian market.
“It was shortly after this that an associate kept telling Arnold that he should meet this beautiful woman that he knew,” says Boyle. “She would mention this several times until Arnold would say, ‘Well, stop talking about it and let’s get to know her.’ Arnold ended up marrying the woman, Lynn Lonergan, in 1950. They had four children: Scott (1951), Craig (1953), Grant (1955) and Marylynn (1959) – whom they took on trips to Hong Kong, Australia, Italy, France and Africa, among other places.
Under the leadership of Arnold and Mac, Irwin Toy Ltd. began adding more toys to your souvenir line during the 1950s. In the 1960s, bolstered by the postwar baby boom, its toy sales surpassed those of souvenirs. Looking to expand, the company went public in 1969. When 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. toy industry. Subsequently, the company distributed sports equipment. Rawlings and Cooper brands and developed Pound Puppies and Jenga, which became mega-hits in the 1980s.
“Arnold 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, he placed child-oriented advertisements at US border stations that reached into Canadian markets and produced a catalog for consumers, something unusual at the time.
“He was a master at doing business,” recalls Bryan. “You could reach an agreement with a handshake or on a paper napkin.” Arnold challenged his employees but was always kind and fair. “When you met with Arnold, you knew you had to clarify the facts,” says Bryan. “He had a famous line, ‘That’s a very good answer, but it doesn’t answer the question I asked.’
“I would walk through the factory almost every day to talk to the workers on the factory line,” adds Bryan, “stopping to listen to any problems they might have.”
Together with Mac, Arnold spearheaded industry efforts to design acceptable broadcast code for children’s advertising, allowing just four minutes of commercials per half hour of children’s programming, instead of the usual six allowed on other shows.
As much a smart businessman, Arnold was a loving family man. We spent many fun summers at Arnold’s cabin on Big Whitefish Lake near Parry Sound. He also hosted family gatherings at his property near Meaford, where, Boyle says, “Everyone got together and had a blast playing tennis, skiing, hiking, driving go-karts and more.”
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 was always giving back to the community. “They helped individual people who needed help,” Boyle says of his parents, “but they focused much of their efforts on high-impact medical research that could affect patients with serious illnesses.”
With a passion for scientific innovation, Arnold engaged with physicians to ensure that the support he provided could be leveraged for research. equipment. After a grandson 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 established the Lynn & Arnold Irwin Advanced Perioperative Imaging Laboratory at the Peter Munk Heart Center and the Arnold B. Irwin Fund at the University Health Network Foundation, helping to advance dementia, neurodegenerative diseases, cardiology, heart failure, anesthesiology, and urology. . .
“Many people will remember him for many good things,” says Boyle, “but most of all, he will be remembered for his charity.”