The Irwin Toy logo and font "Johnny Irwin" designed by Johnny Larocque.
|Fate||sold to LivGroup Ltd.|
|Headquarters||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|Key people||Sam and Beatrice Irwin|
The company began in 1926 as an importer and distributor of dry goods and clothing, located in Sam and Beatrice Irwin's house. Later, the company moved to a warehouse in the west end of Toronto and focused mainly on toys, Sam and Beatrice's sons had taken over management in the years to follow.
Most of Irwin's profits came from distributing other (usually American) companies' toys. Almost all popular toys available in Canada until the 1990s were distributed by Irwin. Major American companies wished to sell their toys in Canada, but did not open Canadian branches because of the lower population and tariffs which would generate less income. Irwin's success came mainly due to their licensing and contract manufacture of American companies Kenner and Parker, where Irwin was the Canadian importer and distributor of their products.
The business found success with the help of the Hula Hoop, Slinky, Frisbee, and later on in the century with the popular Star Wars action figures, Care Bears and the Easy-Bake Oven. In the early 1980s, the Atari Video Computer System was a success, and Irwin was the Canadian distributor. Irwin would also acquire the rights to the Sega video game brand in Canada later on. The video game sales helped fuel revenues of $100 million and growth for the company. The company also had a junior shareholders program to get kids interested in the toy company and introduce them to the stock market. The company had 350 employees at their downtown Toronto factory.
1972-1987 Ed Hurst, Jerry Inch and Bob Blakely, in charge of Irwins Frisbee promotions, were instrumental in the introduction of disc sports (Frisbee) across Canada. With the use of performing Frisbee athletes Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner, Irwin partnered with several major companies such as Lee Jeans, Orange Crush, and Air Canada. Together they sponsored Frisbee show tours and the beginning of organized disc sports programs in Canada. Two successful nationally sponsored tournaments were the Canadian Jr Frisbee Championships and the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships. (1972-1985)
During the 1980s and 1990s, major American companies such as Hasbro, Mattel, and Kenner, acquired many of the companies that Irwin did business with. In the 1980s, with the introduction of the Free Trade Agreement and later, the North American Free Trade Agreement, it became less expensive for American companies to form Canadian branches. Irwin lost many business deals and major toy companies began to distribute toys themselves.
In 1989, Irwin Toy challenged the constitutionality a Quebec law prohibiting advertising directed toward children. The Irwin Toy Ltd. v. Quebec (Attorney General) case reached the Supreme Court and resulted in a landmark ruling regarding the interpretation of freedom of expression provision in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As Irwin Toy faced financial and business difficulty, the company was sold to a private investment group, LivGroup Ltd. of Toronto in 2001 for approximately $55 million. Eighteen months after the buyout, Irwin Toy, now owned by Richard Ivey and Jean Marie Halde of Toronto, declared bankruptcy and entered into creditor supported liquidation. The original factory was sold to developers for $10 million and converted into a condominium called Toy Factory Lofts.
Following liquidation, the company officially closed down, and in 2003, the company was re-purchased by the former employees, George and Peter Irwin, and continued business as itoys.
Brands and toys distributed
- Barcode Battler
- Dowell-Brown Power Fighters
- Dragon Ball Z
- Kenner (prior to Hasbro's purchase)
- Kids Can Press
- Lil' Sport
- Magic Dip
- My One and only
- Mighty Max
- Pound Puppies
- Sailor Moon
- Square 1
- The G.U.R.L.Z.
- Tyco (prior to Mattel's purchase)
- Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? board game
- Dragon Ball Z Action Figures
- Frisbee manufactured in Canada under a Wham-O license.
- Girder & Panel Building Sets
- Globetrotters board game
- Interior Decorator Set (with Marvin Glass and Associates) 1964
- Lazer Doodle
- My One and Only guy dolls "Cliff the Aviator"
- Powerplay Hockey
- ReBoot Action Figures
- Sailor Moon Adventure Dolls and other Sailor Moon items
- Suzie Stretch dolls
- Top Corner Hockey
- Trouble (usually under the name "Frustration")