What did I get for Christmas? Vintage building blocks!

Sta-Lox Blocks under the tree

Under our Christmas tree, my new (old) set of Sta-Lox Building Bricks. Just like the set I might have played with under the Christmas tree (in the exact same place here at the Manse) back when I was a very young child. All thanks to my friend Lynn, whom I thank for such a wonderful vintage Christmas gift!

“What did you get for Christmas?” Remember how all the kids used to ask that of each other when we reconvened at school after the Christmas holidays, in early January?

Knowing what I know now, but failed to see through childish eyes then – which was how very poor some of the families around us here in the Queensborough area were, and how probable it was that a fair number of those kids got nothing for Christmas except, hopefully, a decent meal – I wish I hadn’t ever asked it.

But I did. We all did. Can’t change that now, though I sure wish I could.

Anyway. Even though Raymond and I decreed this a gift-free Christmas (which, let me just tell you, really alleviates the stress of the season), I did get a gift. And I want to tell you about it, because it is (of course) a vintage classic. Which, by the way, cost the giver precisely nothing, so so much the better. It is: a set of Sta-Lox Miniature Building Bricks! Does it get any better than that?

All right, I know perfectly well that you’re yawning at this revelation. But people, look at those blocks! Here is another image:

Sta-Lox blocks, closeup

Two words for you, people (okay, maybe only one word if you count the hyphenation): pre-Lego.

These Sta-Lox blocks are the building blocks that all us North American kids – or at least us Canadian kids – had, and loved, before those Scandinavian Legos conquered the world, which was sometime around the time when my younger brothers (John and Ken) started playing with building blocks in the later ’60s and early ’70s. Sta-Lox were perfectly good building blocks, if you didn’t mind the fact that they were small enough to readily make their way into a child’s mouth and choke him or her. Which, come to think of it, might well be the reason why Sta-Lox were eclipsed, or, actually (truth be told), obliterated by Lego.

Our good friend Lynn, who visited Raymond and me at the Manse just before Christmas on the way from her home in Nova Scotia to spend time with family in Toronto, had picked up this wonderful tube of Sta-Lox for me from – get this! – someone who had been throwing them out! She saved them from the dump! And she brought them to me in Queensborough, knowing I would recognize and love them. Which of course I did. I took one look at them and remembered being about four years old, on the tiled linoleum floor of my maternal grandparents’ comfortable home in the leafy Toronto neighbourhood of Leaside, trying to build homes and maybe even castles with those same blocks.

Which were, by the way, made right there in Toronto! Back in the days when we actually manufactured things in Canada! Here’s the evidence, from the back of the tube of building blocks that Lynn gave me:

Sta-Lox Peter Austin Manufacturing

Oh, and one last photo. I was pretty useless at making good stuff from those little flexible red bricks, but obviously others were not; get a load of this Sta-Lox suburban masterpiece, courtesy of the internet:

Sta-Lox built

Anyway, this has perhaps been a longer post than it needed to be. Long story short: Sta-Lox Building Bricks were a brilliant and important part of my early childhood, which was mainly at the Manse. Where Raymond and I now live again; and so a gift from Lynn of some Sta-Lox bricks for the Manse was just a perfect Christmas present.

And so: what I got for Christmas could not have been better.

14 thoughts on “What did I get for Christmas? Vintage building blocks!

    • That sounds rather familiar, Elinor – I am thinking that maybe we called them that too. But my goodness, it’s such a long time ago, and the memories are ever so foggy. I will check with my sister and brothers when I see them at New Year’s, to see if they can remember.

  1. I think we had some of these. Probably your old set! Glad to hear you and Raymond had a good Christmas – best wishes for a very happy new year!

  2. I went back east this summer under unpleasant circumstances and my mother gave me four canisters of stalox building blocks when I used to play with them endlessly until next Christmas when another toy would present itself being the next play thing. Be well

      • The visit was bittersweet but when I say my childhood toys out of the canisters they came and I played with them. Out of curiosity I looked them up on Ebay and a canister in good conditions was going for $84.00 which was the primary bid. I won’t sell mine. Thanks for responding

  3. Hi Katherine,

    Just just stumbled in here via random Googling. While growing up in Cornwall Ontario I put a lot of childhood hours into Sta-lox engineering, and used to combine them with other building sets, sometimes to make contraptions of various sorts. I remember building propeller driven tramways running on live wires between Sta-Lox towers. Often I’d sketch a house plan and try to reproduce it with the building set, and then tell my parents earnestly that one day I’d build it for them. Never pulled that off though. Many years on, in a fit of nostalgia, I picked up several semi-complete sets from garage sales and Ebay. Haven’t done a blessed thing with them, though I probably how have somewhere down in the cellar the equivalent of three times the red brick inventory that I had as a kid. Just waiting on that second childhood. Shouldn’t be a long wait.

    I remember the ‘mini-brix’ label being applied to them, but I think that may have been more of an American term. In the US there were nearly identical building sets called City Blocks and Auburn Blocks, with only minor variations in accessory components. I have considered, with gentle encouragement from She-who-must-be-obeyed, to pass them on to a real kid. Don’t think they’d go for it though. To the extent that building sets are available today they tend to have over-determined design uses as set pieces for the construction of a particular theme item: think Lego + Star Wars, and so on. It would be better for the imagination if the possible outcomes were more open-ended.

    R.J. Gault

    • Hello, R.J., and thank you so much for your wonderful recollections of being a Sta-Lox engineer in your Eastern Ontario childhood! You were obviously far, far advanced from my humble construction efforts on the floor of my grandparents’ kitchen. How thrilling that you’ve acquired the material to have another go at it all! (Okay, maybe your wife doesn’t think so.) I have to ask, given those childhood proclivities: did you become an engineer as an adult? An architect?

      • Sadly no. Like the Miner in the old Brit comedy skit, I could have been a joodge, but I dinna have the Latin. Or rather, the Math. Though there was enough of that to hurdle in the course of the Geology degree I did finally get, albeit rather late, and I worked in oil & gas. Just a klutz gardener and bicycle mechanic now. What of yourself? I note that of we two you at least wound up in a brick house.

        After reading your opening blog entries I of course resorted to Google Earth to seek you out, and maybe not surprisingly found ye olde manse right away by toddling up the roads in your neighbourhood and looking around. I take it that the large patch of land on the corner next to your house must have once held the church associated with it? And it looked like there was a mill (weir + pond) sited to the north. Nice setting. I’ll bet it’s a riot of wildlife most times of the year.

        – Ranald

      • Ranald, you sure are right on the “riot of wildlife” front. In any given day on my drive to and from work (teacher of journalism at the local college), I might see deer, baby foxes, turtles that need help crossing the road, a bittern, a bald eagle, wild turkeys, raccoons – it’s amazing and delightful. The mill that you saw on Google Earth is the longtime grist (flour) mill that, with a neighbouring sawmill, was basically what our village grew up around in the 19th century. Our Manse was built to house the minister of the Methodist Church (no longer extant, save for an interesting set of steps); it switched denominations when Queensborough’s Methodists joined up with its Presbyterians, a few years before the same thing happened across the country as the United Church of Canada was created. From then until we bought it, it housed the minister who served the former Presbyterian, later United, church, St. Andrew’s, which is just up the road from us. If you’re ever in Eastern Ontario, come see our “nice setting” in person!

  4. All very interesting reads! I had the AQUA color Sta-Lox bricks! I can’t even find one picture of them on the internet. Knowing what they are worth, (and what the emotional worth would really be) I sure wish I had held on to that canister! I played with those for hours, back in the mid 60’s.
    Cheers to all, Merry Christmas fellow Canadians!

    • Wow, Diane, I didn’t know there were aqua-coloured Sta-Lox – rare indeed! Isn’t it something how often we find ourselves as adults ruefully wishing we’d held on to cool things that we had as kids? Wishing you a wonderful Christmas holiday in lovely North Carolina, from us here in winter-wonderland Queensborough!

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