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Toronto's Forgotten Landmarks: The Canada Malting Company Plant

Posted by Jonathan Castellino / September 9, 2008

Canada Malt PlantAt the base of Bathurst street, marking the western limit of Toronto's shoreline proper sits an odd conundrum - one of the last remaining sets of industrial silos in Toronto - The abandoned Canada Malting Company Plant.

Sister to the Victory Soy Mill silos (the remaining structure in plain sight from the Gardener on Toronto's eastern shore), these massive grain elevators were erected in 1928 to store malt hops, with further additions to the preliminary (slightly shorter) silos in the mid 1940s. Before its construction, Toronto had not seen grain silos in years, due to the explosive and unstable nature of grain dust, and the (then) wooden construction of the grain elevators, which did not last more than a decade or so. The new 'modern style' of the Malting Plant, with its 'form following function' motif made it quite an impressive addition to the Toronto skyline, even until its closure in the 1980s. What is most special about this building, however, is not its history, but its current state and statement against what lies all around it.

Canada Malt PlantViewing these decaying silos, with their tall, oddly shaped offices of shattered glass and crumbling metal and concrete, we get a sense initially that they are part of some bygone era, so distant and obsolete as to be relegated to images of sped-up soot-covered workers in black and white, feverishly shoveling god knows what onto endless conveyor belts, an ACME logo prominent in back, and a plump, fat-cat foremen at front, cracking his whip. We consider ourselves quite 'modern' as a city, but don't realize that edifices such as the Malt plant are actually perfect examples of 'modernism'; architecturally, what we consider 'new' in our society is quite often 'postmodern' architecture (think: OCAD's tabletop, the ROM's crystal) - 'postmodern' being an odd 'anti-name' for a period, as it says that the modern imagination is merely 'after' something.

The reason we often neglect structures such as this as part of our 'city milieu' is that living in a large urban centre such as Toronto, we are used to low-rise service sector architecture as 'industry', forgetting that we still rely heavily on silos, grain elevators, and many manners of 'smoke-stacked' buildings which seem so out of place in a city which strives for the eco-friendly, clean-air metropolis we are told to imagine.

Since the Malting Company building was titled as a Heritage site, a group called 'Metronome' stepped in, wishing to turn the 'unsightly' silos into a contemporary Music Museum - a plan which has yet to yield any progress. This is not to say that it, or a similar project will not eventually ensue, for as we saw with the old Distillery District, and are now seeing with the Don Valley BrickWorks factory, given the right attention, transformation is not impossible (unfortunately however, this often results in a more bark-than-bite excuse for 'fusion architecture').

So, what is the architectural excuse for the presence of the Malt (and buildings like it, for that matter)? I propose a reverse-Malthusian example of time versus technology, when it comes to architecture: Time moves along at an arithmetic rate, whereas technology moves somewhat more geometrically, and the result? We have to fit newer and newer technologies into buildings which do not progress as rapidly, with the result of derelict structures in plain sight, even if they are perfect models of 'modernism', now outdated.

In order to make use of these buildings to the modern urban imagination, then, we need to approach them somewhat tangentially; take a stroll down by the old Malting Silos when you have a chance - really take a look at the old structure, and you begin to see a new kind of beauty emerge. The city recently set up an Irish Potato Famine parkette just beside it, almost hidden away by the concrete and metal behemoth. Walk out back and realize that although it resembles a huge ship from afar (observe the obtuse upper-tower), it is actually an incredibly narrow structure, with huge metal arms reaching out over the water on its eastern side. Observe its many catwalks, the infamous western 'stairway to heaven' on the silo's side, just below the enormous company font, and looking up to the Plant's highest point, imagine one of the most unique and beautiful views of the city Toronto has to offer.

Here's a slide show of some of the snaps I took at this intriguing building:



Ratpick / September 9, 2008 at 12:35 pm
Thanks for a great piece.

I propose that we leave this thing where it is, as it is. Let it overgrow and crumble, as Rome did with their ancient version of the SkyDome.

After all, this silo complex is a monument to the Great Lakes rust belt, once one of the most formidable agricultural-industrial regions the world has ever seen.
Kevin / September 9, 2008 at 01:27 pm
I was reading yesterday in Toronto Life there are talks/plans to make this structure the Toronto Museum.

After reading this article, I quite like the idea.
The Beerad / September 9, 2008 at 02:06 pm
Great article.

Editor, I 'think' the "quotes" could have 'been' used better ("eg much less").
richelle / September 9, 2008 at 02:19 pm
Wicked shots, awesome piece!
Jonathan Castellino / September 9, 2008 at 02:22 pm
re: use of 'quotes'
it was actually my own fault and not the editors - perhaps I should have used italics instead of single-quotes; that's just how I usually write, but will watch for this in the future,

thank you for your comment,

Catherine / September 9, 2008 at 02:49 pm
I love these buildings. Ireland Park is framed on its North side by the silos and it creates such an impressive, haunting visual that fits perfectly with the mood of the park.
tomms / September 9, 2008 at 04:46 pm
great article, i wonder how it looks from the inside hmmmm

love the pics too
Jonathan Castellino / September 9, 2008 at 04:57 pm
Tomms: hey, some of those shots ARE from the inside...hehe.

RG / September 9, 2008 at 06:16 pm
Sure could be a great place for giant installations, like the Tate's Turbine Hall.
Shannon / September 9, 2008 at 06:29 pm
great article.

it should be turned into a micro brewery (like whistle stop in the roundhouse) or a beer museum.
miles / September 9, 2008 at 09:02 pm
The building is in a fantastic location, ideal for a landmark building like a museum. It would be great to see this used to make Toronto a better place to live/visit rather than as another friggin' condo.
I77 / September 9, 2008 at 11:41 pm
If anything, the Malt should be changed into something that the public can enjoy (not to say they can't the way it is now).

You're the best, Jono.
chephy / September 10, 2008 at 12:50 am
They'll eventually demolish it to build another condo...

And he residents will end up writing letters to newspapers about how suddenly, out of nowhere there appeared this airport in what they consider their yard. And how it should be shut down because it is a real blight that's destroying our waterfront. *rolls eyes*
Jonathan / September 10, 2008 at 01:27 am
Not that I am standing up for the historical board, but to demolish this area and re-zone it for condos is a bit much - at least for the time being. Keep in mind that, although a very solid-looking structure, due to the massive amounts of grain-dust in the caverns below the silos-proper (where all the bikes are..haha), it would be incredibly hard to implode/disassemble this place; I would look to its sister in Montreal (also Canada Malting), where they have attempted several times to turn the area into an art-park.

This place was locked-down (slightly more so than it is now) for a few years due to the work of the Graf. group 'Dead Police' (DP), who wrote (you guessed it) 'DP' on the north side of the upper silos, which the city had re-painted within weeks...

Have a glance at Montreal's malt:

drh / September 10, 2008 at 08:52 am
user-pic has a great article written by some adventurous souls who dared to explore the Malt Plant from the inside.

You can read it here:

Jonathan / September 10, 2008 at 10:06 am
Thanks for posting that - Ninj (of infiltration, RIP) is actually the first person I went into the malt with; the torontoexplorer archives also has some of my/other people's journeys in there, over the years:

Hannah / September 10, 2008 at 07:32 pm
Yeah, the 'quoting' is a little 'pretentious'.
Jonathan / September 10, 2008 at 09:19 pm
Haha - thank you Hannah - your note was actually addressed a little earlier on; again, I will try to use italics instead, in the future-

Jerry Newton / December 16, 2008 at 08:54 am
I enjoyed the photos, I worked at the Canada Malting plant from 1973 - 1990. (18 years). and there are many old tales to tell. I knew the location of every photo. E.P. Taylor had alot to do with the malting plant back in the late 60,s. We used to load the boxcars with 1,100 x 100 Lb bags of malt that were shipped to Mexico to make Carona beer. . unload the Great Lake ships. the Franquelin and the Chicago Tribune. 445 feet long built back in the late 20;s. the basement of the grain elevator and the pit at the bottom of the bucket elevators were frequented by rats that would jump over your shoulder to escape being swatted with a steel shovel or corn brooms. the winters were extremely cold as there are no heated areas in the building other than the offices. Pigeons, Canadian Geese and Mallard ducks by the hundreds would wander everywhere and the geese would become stuck in the frozen harbour ice. We had a cat from 1973 until the plant closed in 1990 we named Jenny to keep the mice and rats in line. she even tangled with the odd Racoon. They were good days for the old gang that worked there. the company treated us very fair.
Mark / May 17, 2009 at 12:59 pm
Interesting article. Thanks for the write-up.

I also worked for Canada Malting in Calgary from 2000-2007 (Jerry Newton, I worked with a couple of techs that worked in the lab in Toronto). Part of my job was to travel to all the North American malting facilities owned by the parent company (then ConAgra) to perform quality control and food safety audits. I have audited the operating plants in Montreal, Thunder Bay, Calgary, Pocatello ID, and Vancouver WA (the U.S. plants operate under the Great Western Malting banner). I have also audited the loading facility in Vancouver, B.C.

Since the malting and brewing industries have fallen on fairly hard times in the last decade, there has only been 1 new style of malthouse (a tower type) built in the 90's in Calgary. The remaining plants are just patched up to maintain operations with minimal cost, and the storage silos you speak of are typical for all the facilities.

Toronto Icarus / July 26, 2009 at 03:17 pm
Legend stuff. This building should be preserved and used for the public good. I have yet to brave a trip over the fence...
Ken Howard / January 28, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Glad to see the articles here about a company that I worked at for 43 years. It was a great place to work for and the company was very fair to all of their employees. Great bunch of guys to work with. Hope to see some more names here of some of the past employees such as "Jerry Newton". Oh--by the way I still have some of the great cartoons he made for me!

Ken Duke replying to a comment from Ken Howard / March 6, 2011 at 01:01 pm
There are 2 names I remember from my Canada Malting Days, Ken Howard and Jerry Newton. I think Jerry's dates are a bit out of whack though as the plant actually closed in 1985, not 1990, and had been closed for several years when I moved to Barrie to work at the Molson Plant on the 400 in 1989. It too is now closed and torn down and I have moved on to other things. But I still have fond memories of working at both Canada Malting plants in Toronto. I hope they can do something constructive with those old silo's. As is they are a bit of an eyesore and I am sure hazardous. But they are also a part of Toronto's heritage as a port city (and they probably still look better than another condo)
Helen / February 7, 2014 at 10:39 am
I think that this would be a wonderful idea to have a museum or more there, and with a park and Restarants in the building and outside with cafe's. The silos could be turned into stores like they have done in St. Jacobs. Keeping the history of the Canadian Malt company alive and to bring culture to the waterfront area, and beautify it rather than condos. Look how they transformed the distillery.
Jamaal / August 25, 2014 at 04:31 pm
The towers are still standing strong in 2014:
Luis Salazar / May 17, 2015 at 11:26 pm
The city definetly has the historic accountability to preserve such a wonderful Heritage valuable architectural piece, otherwise let's open doors to the developers and give up to our patrimonial wealth
Jerry Newton / October 3, 2015 at 12:54 am
Ken Duke. the Canada Malting Parliament street plant closed in 1990. Bathurst street plant closed two years earlier.
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