‘When Canadians still made things with their own hands’

vintage card table

I am sure many of you remember a card-table set exactly like this being in your family home, or maybe (like me) at that of your grandparents. What better place for a game of Chinese checkers?

So there’s been some good action in the comments section of my recent post on vintage tabletop hockey games (you can skip to the comments section here). One of the things that my friend Earl (whom we have to thank for this whole tabletop-hockey thread) said in a comment today really stuck with me. He was writing about the Munro Hockey Game, a bare-bones tabletop model that brought endless hours of fun to kids in the middle of the last century. As you can read here, the game was invented and produced by Donald Munro in his Toronto home, and it caught on thanks to being picked up and marketed by the two Canadian retail (and catalogue) giants, Eaton’s and Simpson’s. As Earl put it so well, it was back in “that halcyon Murray Westgate era when Canadians still made things with their own hands.” (As opposed to importing them from China, as we do today.)

Anyway, that got me thinking about a couple of other things that I’ve happily collected for the Manse, including the folding card-table set that you see atop this post (placed in the Manse’s children’s corner, which features a lot of vintage Fisher-Price toys). You do remember this table-and-chair set, right? Of course you do. Your grandparents had it. Everyone’s grandparents had it back in the 1960s. It was where you played your first-ever game of Monopoly, after you were given it for Christmas in about 1968. Where your grandparents played Canasta with friends. Where your little brother was parked to do crayon drawings when he was underfoot.

Oh all right, that’s all me (and my little brother). But I know that most readers have most certainly seen just this chair-and-table set before. And I’m guessing that the reason is that it was probably sold, like Donald Munro’s tabletop hockey game, through the Eaton’s and Simpson’s catalogues. The ubiquity and popularity of those handy retail tools made many such items equally ubiquitous in Canadian households.

You know me well enough by now to know that I was very happy indeed when I found such a table-and-chairs set for sale at the Stratford (Ont.) Antique Warehouse and so could add it to my midcentury collection. But it was only when I got it unloaded at the Manse that I discovered something that  added to its niftiness, aside from my childhood Monopoly memories. Look at this label, still affixed to one (and only one) of the chairs:

vintage card-table label

Made in little Brighton, Ont.! (Not very far away from the Manse in Queensborough, as it happens.) Given the aforementioned ubiquity of these sets, I’m guessing that Cooey Metal Products Limited of Brighton was just pumping them out for a few decades to fill demand. (In fact, thanks to the internet and more specifically a post on an interesting blog I’ve just discovered called Progress is fine, but it’s gone on for too long, I have learned that Cooey Metal Products was “a manufacturer of utility metal furniture, such as stacking chairs, folding card tables and chairs which were sold through large retail chains and furniture stores across Canada. The plant was in operation from 1941 (to) 1989.”

It’s interesting to think that once upon a time in small towns and cities across Canada there were modest-sized factories manufacturing all manner of things – things that Canadians needed, wanted and used.

I miss those days.

24 thoughts on “‘When Canadians still made things with their own hands’

  1. We had that EXACT set, and my mother still has it at her farmhouse in Saskatchewan, along with that EXACT metal Chinese checkers tin, with the marbles rolling around inside. Now you need to find a set of TV tables!

    • Wow – too funny, Elinor! Yes indeed, the marbles are rolling around inside the Chinese-checkers tin. (Which, as you will know, is also a regular checkers game if you turn it over.) And you are so right about the need for TV tables! I keep looking, but I haven’t yet found just the right (c.1965) set. But I will!

  2. Cooey was also a manufacturer of firearms. Most of the young local hunter grew up with their first rifle a single shot .22 by Cooey. Cheap, safe and effective rifles…I learned on one, in fact I still own a Cooey repeater .22. Ahh, the memories….

  3. Oh, well … at least, I was able to support a Canadian (and local) business today: Hawkins Cheezies! The 210g bag is on for $1.99 at Shoppers Drug Mart, if anybody feels the urge.

      • I wish these snacks were not quite as “evilly delicious”, but they are. Out of all the various cheese snacks (puffs, crunchy types, etc.), the Hawkins have always been my favourite (even though I’m sure their sodium level is far too high for my blood pressure!)

  4. Sad but true tale. Must say I appreciated the link to the ‘Progress is fine…’ blog – what a hoot. You can be sure I forwarded the homemade trials bike item to Denis! Hope all’s healthy and well in your part of the world, and slowing down for the holidays.

    • Thank you, Lindi – all well here in Queensborough, though very busy still. After next week is when we will be able to slow down and (I hope) enjoy the holidays. Hope and trust you are doing/planning same!

  5. I too own 2 Cooey firearms. Cooey made firearms in a factory in Cobourg Ontario. While I working in Western Canada the last 2 summers I was able to buy Hawkins Cheezes while I was out there. One night after work I stopped at my co workers trailer for a visit. When I walked in I noticed he had a full bag of Hawkins Cheezes on his table. I told him they make them cheezes not too far from where I live. He was kinda surprised what I told him.
    Talking about where things are made. I used work at Invar Manufacturing in Batawa. One job I worked on there. I machined turbo housings for a diesel engine. The raw casting came from Kansas USA. Then the machined housing was shipped to a plant in Mexico to be assembled. After assembled the turbos were shipped to plant in Michigan and installed on diesel engines.

    • That’s pretty cool, Greg! Both the discovery of Hawkins Cheezies way out west, and the business about those big engines travelling all the way from Kansas to Mexico and then Michigan – by way of Batawa, of all places!

      • I thought it was pretty cool too about finding Hawkins Cheezies out west. Considering I hardly find them here.

      • Too funny, Greg. You can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that you could sometimes (at Shoppers Drug Mart, or Pharmaprix as it’s called there) find them in Montreal!

  6. That is a beautiful set. I have a children’s set. I cannot get the chairs to fold. Any tips on how to close them?

    • Hi Jolene! Was your children’s set also made by Cooey Metal Products of Brighton? As for folding the chairs, they are a bit stiff, but if you kick the back legs inward they should fold up. Good luck!

      • Hi Katherine, thank you for your response. Cooey is stamped into the metal on the back of the seats. The table has nursery rhyme characters on it. We can’t get the chairs to budge. I oiled all of the joints and they seem to move ok. We were wondering which way the seat folds. Up? Or down? Before we force too much and break it.

      • Hi again, Jolene! So I went upstairs at the Manse and did a bit of research for you. Our chairs fold up by the backs of the seats coming up. There are slots on the inside of the front metal legs for the back legs to slide up inside them when you kick the back portion inward and raise the back of the seat up. Does that make sense? Good luck – I hope it works! Keep me posted!

      • Dear Katherine, thank you very much for your kindness. I appreciate you taking the time to help me. I did not have luck getting the chairs to fold. Although it is not obvious to me, I suspect that the chairs may have been painted in spots. Perhaps that is preventing them from closing. I tried some paint thinner but no success yet. I will keep working on them. If memory serves from the last time I saw them closed, the seat flips down as you suggest. Thank you again for replying…

  7. hi katherine

    just picked up an exact set of folding table and chairs. do you know what years the cooey red and black square table was made??

    • Hey Kevin, lucky you! I hope that you, like I, have good childhood memories of those folding-table sets. I’m afraid I don’t have information on the exact years they were made, beyond the information I reported in my post that Cooey was in operation making such furniture between 1941 and 1989. (There is no date on the label on my set.) My grandparents had a set when I was a kid of eight or so, and I think it was reasonably new at the time; my best guess is that they had bought it sometime in the early 1960s, though it certainly could have been before that. I’m hoping another reader or two might have some information for you. Meantime, enjoy your vintage find! Time to break out the Monopoly game!

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