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Toronto Hydro's not-so-hidden residential substations

Posted by Derek Flack / October 13, 2010

Toronto Hydro HomesI first learned that Toronto had a series of camouflaged electric substations when I was about 12-years-old. I lived near Yonge and Davisville at the the time, and would often explore the surrounding area by bike. On one such trip, a friend who was a few years older took me to 640 Millwood Road.

"What do you think that is?" he asked.

"Someone's house," I replied somewhat indignantly.

But, as he was quick to explain, this wasn't really a house at all. Instead, what appears to be a residence is in fact one of Toronto Hydro's over 250 substations. Scattered across the city, some of these "transformer homes" are easily identified (some even have large signs), while others are more difficult to spot as impostors.

Toronto HydroAfter my first visit to 640 Millwood, I mostly forgot about them until I started reading Cabinet Magazine. Having ordered a bunch of back issues, I was intrigued to find that in their Spring 2006 offering titled "Electricty," Toronto-based photographer Robin Collyer featured some of the work that he'd done documenting transformer homes.

Remembering my past discovery, I set out to find a few more of these urban anomalies. Along the way, I even ran across an old blogTO article on them. But it was actually a comment thread on a BLDGBLOG post and a Globe and Mail article archived on Urban Toronto that proved most fruitful in terms of trying to pin down a few more locations.

Toronto Hydro LinesWith a list of probable transformer homes and the addresses of a few sure things, I spent an evening shooting as many as I could fit in. The photos below, however, only brush the surface of this subject. As such, over the next month or so, I hope to continue to track down and photograph many of the substations located in Scarborough, Etobicoke and Willowdale.

Collyer's work on transformer homes was done in the late 1980s, and since so much of the landscape has changed since then, I figure it's a good time to follow up on his fascinating project.

555 Spadina Road
555 Spadina Road

2833 Yonge Street
Toronto Hydro SubstationToronto Hydro Substation

386 Eglinton Avenue East
Toronto Hydro Home

51 Blackburn Road
Toronto Hydro Substation

29 Nelson Street
Toronto Hydro Substation

Discussion

54 Comments

James / October 13, 2010 at 01:25 pm
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One in Scarborough...1 Rosscowan Gate
Andrew / October 13, 2010 at 01:36 pm
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Another on the SE corner of St. Clair Ave and Pharmacy Ave.
http://goo.gl/IJCc
Alex / October 13, 2010 at 01:44 pm
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If I recall correctly there is one on Spadina between St Clair and Eglinton on the East side of the street...near the school...
Mike / October 13, 2010 at 02:02 pm
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There is one on the west side of Brimley Rd just south of Sheppard Ave
Ari / October 13, 2010 at 02:07 pm
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There is one on the southwest corner of Elm Ridge Circle.

http://bit.ly/bQhfmY

When I was younger, my father would tell me that the bad children in his neighbourhood would be locked in the basement.
geg / October 13, 2010 at 02:22 pm
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a map would be a nice addition to this article!
Janet Berkman / October 13, 2010 at 02:47 pm
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Check out ~214 Wilson Ave (between Ave Rd. and 401 overpass. Google Street View shows a plain brick house. Google Maps (satellite view) shows that the rear slop of the roof is missing.
The Shakes / October 13, 2010 at 02:51 pm
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These substations have far better architecture than most government built buildings. The one at Carlaw and Gerrard is another beautiful example.
Ryan L. / October 13, 2010 at 03:42 pm
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The Nelson one was built in the eighties as well? Note the 1905 date in the brickwork. Now -That- is sneaky
Tulse / October 13, 2010 at 04:06 pm
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These buildings are an excellent example of the attention to detail the civic structures in this city once had.
W. K. Lis / October 13, 2010 at 04:41 pm
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I would guess one could get a real shock should they try to trick-or-treat at one of those "homes".
John / October 13, 2010 at 04:53 pm
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There's also one on the east side of Birchmount Road just north of Eglinton - I believe it's 1052 Birchmount.
Tulse / October 13, 2010 at 05:02 pm
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There is at least one example of a similar effect with TTC stations -- the north entrance to Spadina Station is disguised as a residential house, and as a result fits quite well into the streetscape there.
saltspring / October 13, 2010 at 06:31 pm
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Derek, this is an absolutely terrific article. Nicely done. Would love to see more.
Adam Sobolak / October 13, 2010 at 07:04 pm
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The north entrance to Spadina Station *is* a former house--or at least the front thereof, retained as a "heritage element" for the subway entrance.
gadfly / October 13, 2010 at 09:57 pm
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Very clever. I had no idea. I guess only the ugly ones stand out. (Like the one at Isabella/Sherbourne. I wonder if the utilities still have the funds to continue these, or will we get concrete bunkers in the future?
andrewS / October 13, 2010 at 09:57 pm
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There's a transformer station in what looks like an abandoned store/bakery type building on Chaplin north of Eglinton. From the belt line trail though it's real purpose is immediately apparent.
JB / October 13, 2010 at 10:46 pm
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Makes me wish they put the same effort into the giant station at John & Front - that thing is a black hole, and it must look terrible from the surrounding condo units.
Greg replying to a comment from James / October 14, 2010 at 12:59 am
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This is BlogTO. Scarborough is NOT in Toronto. Please.
Ryan L. replying to a comment from Greg / October 14, 2010 at 05:04 am
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Uh. Yeah it is.
Mike W replying to a comment from Greg / October 14, 2010 at 10:15 am
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From <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarborough,_Ontario";>wiki</a>: <i>"Scarborough is a dissolved municipality within the current city of Toronto"</i>

In case you still weren't sure.
Donald replying to a comment from Greg / October 14, 2010 at 02:22 pm
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Greg, Scarborough IS in Toronto.
Are you from downtown?
Donald / October 14, 2010 at 02:23 pm
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And on topic: there's one on Guildwood and one on Morningside. In Scarborough. Which is part of Toronto. In case any dingbats were wondering. (Greg)
Ali / October 14, 2010 at 05:20 pm
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Sometimes these look so much like real homes you see mail flyers on the doorstep. My Dad used to point these places out to me. There is one in Etobicoke, south of Bloor in the Prince Edward Area. It's not beautiful but fits in with the 50's sytle bugalows in the area.
irina / October 27, 2010 at 07:02 pm
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this is really interesting!! wow, i didn't know these existed. cool!
a / November 14, 2010 at 10:59 pm
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Scarborough is actually the largest part of Toronto.
Greg / January 4, 2011 at 10:12 pm
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Three that I know of in my neighbourhood which I am fairly certain about:

191 The Westway, on the SW corner of Islington. It's well disguised but there is actually a hydro vehicle parked in the driveway if you check it out on Google Maps Street View.

141 Summitcrest Drive @ Waterford. Odd-shaped little house with strange brickwork and lots of little, odd-shaped windows. Even has a mailbox.

63 Hunting Ridge on the southeast corner of Kipling. This one is the most obvious of the three, especially if viewed on Street View from Hunting Ridge looking up the driveway. Odd that it has it's address on the Hunting Ridge side of the house, but the "front door" faces Kipling. That's not the norm. Also very odd fencing going on when viewed from Hunting Ridge.
Larry / January 4, 2011 at 10:49 pm
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A not terribly well disguised one on Lippincott south of Bloor: http://bit.ly/fvVYnY

Macpherson Ave: http://bit.ly/exN8rC - looks a bit like a school and has a narrow alleyway between it and some neighbouring houses, enabling you to look through some side windows and see ... not much really.



Larry replying to a comment from JB / January 4, 2011 at 10:54 pm
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The Hydro building where Huron and Davenport meet is nice, but the pylons on the Macpherson Ave side are really noisy: http://bit.ly/eIlFrc
Larry / January 5, 2011 at 10:15 pm
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Islington & Norseman: http://bit.ly/h0goJo

Bill replying to a comment from Larry / February 10, 2011 at 08:10 pm
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The Lippincott south of Bloor sub in a TTC owned substation. It transforms the 13.8kV supply voltage from TH to 600 volts DC for use on the Bloor subway line.
jay / October 6, 2011 at 04:12 pm
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there's a really big one on tecumseth north of king.
Rainier / January 2, 2012 at 11:54 pm
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The company I work for does all the Plumbing repairs in all of the stations. Quite a step back in history in some of them. Someone should upload a picture of the 25-foot high arched oak doors at Glengrove (the one that looks like a castle). The amount of power running throuh these stations is awe inspiring, but its always safefy first. The city may come to a halt without them.
loud / January 3, 2012 at 12:56 am
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I've not seen a plaque on this site, but I believe there's a station on the west side of Islington across from Rexdale Mall, next to the old age residence at the south-west corner of Bergamot.

And there's another less house-like station I always pass but forget how far north it is, that I know has a blue Bell logo on the front door, which I expect is a different thing altogether...
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Marcelo / August 24, 2012 at 02:59 am
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Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and
I will be waiting for your further write ups thank you once
again.
Lynda / November 2, 2012 at 09:42 am
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An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment.

I think that you ought to publish more about this issue,
it may not be a taboo matter but generally people don't discuss such topics. To the next! All the best!!
Relmar Boys / December 23, 2012 at 05:28 pm
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555 Spadina was immortalized and ionized in this Garage Punk Gem !

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0U06RG7xF8
louis vuitton handbags / May 17, 2013 at 11:13 pm
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desig
kiz / September 10, 2013 at 09:28 am
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I believe theres one at Annette and jane area

and st claire and davenport
Liora Ipsum / September 10, 2013 at 09:44 am
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There's one on Royal York between The Queensway & Bloor, on the west side.
Ofina / September 10, 2013 at 09:56 am
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40 Torrington Drive in Etobicoke
Saw it every day of my early years.
d / September 10, 2013 at 12:11 pm
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There's one in Mississauga at the north-east corner of Stavebank Rd and Pinetree Way
Lorem ipsum / September 10, 2013 at 12:20 pm
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Another location is 253 Wellington Street West
NV / September 11, 2013 at 01:55 pm
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There is one on the corner of Cactus Ave. and Homewood Ave. in in old Newtonbrook, then Willowdale, then North York, now Toronto.
xred / September 11, 2013 at 05:17 pm
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An old but pretty complete list of Toronto Hydro assets (scroll down)

http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/bylaws/1999/law0374.htm
Carrie / September 12, 2013 at 06:33 pm
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I guess this answers my question to what is in that house/building on Islington just north of Queensway
Allan / September 14, 2013 at 11:28 am
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I first became aware of these 'houses' when my childhood friend moved to Sloane Ave. in the Victoria Park and Lawrence area! There is one on Sloane, just south of Lawrence. Since then I have noticed many, and try to pick them out in my travels! I have not noticed many like those elaborate ones you have photographed! I'll have to watch out for the nicer ones!
Thanks for sharing!
ellyn peirson / September 25, 2013 at 10:48 am
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I finally hunted down (not easy and it should) the picture that most fascinated me as I took it10 days ago on a little stay in Toronto:

the Toronto Hydro-Electric Dynamo House, 532 Bay Street: http://www.flickr.com/photos/writing/9921988784/

I would love to have some history on it if anyone has that info. I love "seeing these gems, by surprise, and hunting for info on them.

Thanks for any help,

ellyn in Guelph
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