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The slow fade of industry on Geary Avenue

Posted by Derek Flack / February 28, 2011

Geary Avenue TorontoGeary Avenue might be a candidate for Toronto's ugliest street. Running parallel to the CPR tracks north of Dupont, it starts at Ossington Avenue in the east and runs a short 1.4 kilometres before coming to an unceremonious end halfway between Dufferin Street and Lansdowne Avenue. A mix of commercial and residential properties, the street is defined by something of an identity crisis. Although its mixed use legacy goes back a hundred years, it remains remarkable to track just how many different types of businesses currently make Geary their home. Along with a variety of autoshops, here one finds a hydroponics outfit, a mixed martial arts training facility, a costume rental warehouse, a couple of Portuguese bakeries and a karaoke bar (to name only a few).

Geary AvenueMuch like suburban commercial plazas, Geary attracts a bit of everything except good architecture. While there are a few interesting looking buildings that remain from the early 20th century, for the most part, the street is marked by the anonymity of its structures. That's almost a shame considering the etymology of the street's name, which comes courtesy of former Toronto mayor, George Reginald Geary. But like the origin of its moniker, there's plenty of interest to be found on Geary Avenue should one care to take a closer look, which is exactly what I did last weekend.

2011229-DovercourtDupont1913.jpgTaking a look at archival photos, one realizes that Geary wasn't always such an insular street. Prior to the building of the railway "subways" just north of Dupont, it was more connected to the busier thoroughfare below. But in the years that followed, it appears to have become something of an afterthought. To a great degree, this remains the case to this day.

2011229-DovercourtDupont1915.jpg2011229-GearyDovercourt.jpgIn the mid 1950s Geary's industrial character had yet to give way to mix of businesses it currently houses, and even today it doesn't look like much has changed when looking west toward Dufferin Street. 2011229-Geary-West-1958.jpg2011229-GearyNow.jpg2011228-geary-noca-ara.jpgPart of the reason for this is that the buildings that house the restaurants, bars and bakeries are still ostensibly warehouse-like structures.

2011228-Gearyresto.jpgWhere this architecture does give way to turn of the century houses, there remain signs that Geary ain't much to look at.2011228-GearyBoardedHouses.jpgBut from a photographic standpoint, there's always something compelling about places like this. Perhaps it's because the street looks and feels so different from everything around it, but spending an hour or two shooting it was worth the suspicious stares, the angry guard dogs and slushy streets.

2011228-GearyMattress.jpg2011228-GearyMirzaTransportation.jpg
2011228-Geary-West.jpgOn a visual level, there's a sense that the city has turned its back on Geary, and this actually makes it all the more rewarding to explore. 2011229-GearyHydroCorridor.jpg2011229-GearyPlayground.jpgThe anything goes vibe that one detects when examining the manner in which the street has developed over the years leads to the discovery of all sorts of oddities, like the little structure below. But there are also other features that make the street interesting, like the nondescript rehearsal spaces at its western reaches. Although not easy to spot visually, when the bands do their thing, it's pretty obvious what they're used for.

2011229-GearyOddHouse.jpg2011228-geary-rehearsal.jpgEven the putatively ugly elements of the street are enticing, if only because they're a challenge to capture in an interesting manner.

2011229-Brick.jpg2011229-GearyCutler.jpg2011229-GearyGraffitiTruck.jpgDespite its lingering presence throughout the city, it's easy to forget just how important the railway has been to Toronto's growth. But stretches like this one offer not-so-subtle reminders that industry grew up around the tracks.

2011229-GearyTracks.jpg2011229-GearyFence.jpg2011229-GearyHouses.jpgIt's tough to know exactly what's next for Geary Avenue. One suspects that it'll continue its diversification, but things move slow here. No one's much interested in overhauling an industrial relic such as this, so it'll likely continue to attract an oddball mix of businesses in the years ahead.

2011229-GearyBenRossAlum.jpg2011229-GearyRustCheck.jpg2011229-GlobalPartyRentals.jpg2011228-geary-dovercourt.jpg

Historical photos from the Toronto Archives.

Discussion

47 Comments

cosmosuave / February 28, 2011 at 03:52 pm
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Been to a few good techno parties at Geary and Salem...
Bubba / February 28, 2011 at 03:55 pm
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Grew up near this area during the 70's and 80's, it was always an odd neighbourhood, but some of those industrial buildings make for great studio spaces, quite a few photog's are set up there, and are pretty close to 2 subway stations (Dupont to the east and Dufferin to the south). It's a quirky area but that's what makes it interesting.
Mark replying to a comment from cosmosuave / February 28, 2011 at 04:00 pm
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Druggie.
Phil / February 28, 2011 at 04:08 pm
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Perhaps the most interesting part of Geary is the Rehearsal Factory spaces at the West end of the street. Many an interesting scene have played out on the driveway and on Geary.
rick mcginnis / February 28, 2011 at 04:14 pm
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Hammond Organ used to have a warehouse/importing facility on Geary - pretty sure it's not there now. They had a concert there once in the early '90s, IIRC - David Murray's quartet with Don Pullen on organ. An amazing little one-off show, all the more fascinating because it was so out of the way.
Randy McDonald / February 28, 2011 at 04:32 pm
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I live just across the railroad tracks from Geary, on Dupont. Fantastic post! You've gotten its ethos, I think.
a / February 28, 2011 at 04:36 pm
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you should probably blur out the license plates next time
Milton / February 28, 2011 at 04:56 pm
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Oh gods; why would anyone build structures with all the aesthetic flare of a concrete bunker?

I got depressed just looking through this series.

And what is up with signage in this city? We really need some sort of standards committee in place.
Nick W / February 28, 2011 at 04:58 pm
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One of my favourite structures in the city is featured in these photos. Some of the most interesting streets in the city are where ugly and beautiful bump noses. I hope Dupont never changes.

http://photo.nickwarzin.com/2011/02/toronto-ontario/
Pgav / February 28, 2011 at 05:10 pm
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Are you kidding me? THis is a fantastic street. It has texture, layers and history. Beauty and identity has many dimensions. I believe this street represents a quitnessential Toronto!
sezme replying to a comment from a / February 28, 2011 at 05:21 pm
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Because...?
Joel / February 28, 2011 at 05:28 pm
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If this is Toronto's ugliest street, then we're in good shape. This street has more character, history and detail than 90% of streets in Scarborough. Perhaps the writer should take a trip there sometime.

I do appreciate the article and the tour of the street. Just not in the context of "Toronto's ugliest street".
Matt / February 28, 2011 at 05:36 pm
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@cosmosuave: Were the techno parties you went to the underground "Milkrun" parties?
Derek replying to a comment from Joel / February 28, 2011 at 05:39 pm
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The first line reads that Geary "might be a candidate for Toronto's ugliest street." That doesn't mean that it is or that I'd personally evaluate it in such a manner. There's plenty of competition for such a dubious mantle, from Scarborough and elsewhere. But what makes Geary wonderful isn't that it's pretty — but rather those qualities that you point out, "character, history and detail."
Randy McDonald / February 28, 2011 at 07:07 pm
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Below the only photo set of mine I can find of geary, of a then-abandoned grocery store at Dovercourt and Geary.

http://rfmcdpei.livejournal.com/2164556.html
Jeremy Wilson / February 28, 2011 at 07:11 pm
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The building with the rusty garage door is for sale! I seriously considered buying it as I'd like the space to work on cars, but the area is so awful, I couldn't convince my girlfriend to move there.
vroom / February 28, 2011 at 08:26 pm
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geary = awesome shortcut west instead of dupont or davenport at least for a lot of blocks
k386 / February 28, 2011 at 08:35 pm
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My favourite street in the city, second only to Wallace. Lovely walk, interesting but the only freaky part is the playground underneath the high voltage power lines.
The Liquor replying to a comment from Pgav / February 28, 2011 at 09:03 pm
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If this street is quintessential Toronto then Toronto is a shit hole. The street may be interesting from an urban industrial history/hodge podge of brutally ugly architecture sort of way, fantastic it isnt.
Adam Sobolak / February 28, 2011 at 10:08 pm
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For ugliness, I'll offer Lappin over Geary, even though Lappin's almost exclusively "residential".
Reg / March 1, 2011 at 12:06 am
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Live nearby have appreciated this part of town for years. Another example of TO's multiple personas, as it feels alien and familiar. Good job covering this.
K-A / March 1, 2011 at 12:06 am
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Derek, would you consider writing a piece about a little gem at the end of Geary? It's a not-for-profit charity called Drum Artz Canada www.drumartz.com. The building has recently been equipped with a Green Room and the view of the city from the roof-top patio might be worth the photo op for you...wait 'till you catch a glimpse of the amazing arts programming that takes place inside!
E DUB / March 1, 2011 at 12:29 am
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for real though!!!
Cedric / March 1, 2011 at 04:52 am
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Good article. This is an interesting part of the city not many people know about. Too bad my friend who lives near there is a total luddite who has no use for computers. She'd enjoy this article.
rapi / March 1, 2011 at 06:58 am
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i think dundas st east from church to parliament and beyond is the ugliest that can be in toronto...
Judylicious / March 1, 2011 at 08:17 am
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That's not ugly. <i>This</i> is ugly.

http://bit.ly/glrSWR
cosmosuave / March 1, 2011 at 08:48 am
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@Matt...

No the parties were thrown by one of the people behind the Break&Enter crew... As for the Milkrun parties they were mostly on Carlaw a street similar to Geary... I take it you went to a few of those parties...
Jerry / March 1, 2011 at 08:54 am
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Geary is probably the best kept secret in Toronto. The rents are lower than they should be and the lack of pretentiousness is far better than Liberty Village could ever wish for.
Thehell? / March 1, 2011 at 08:54 am
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Apparently the writer hasnt been on Coxwell south of Danforth to Queen East.
Now thats frigging ugly.
Is it actually possible to donkey punch a street?
Michael / March 1, 2011 at 08:58 am
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Great article. It would be great to see more pieces like this from outside the general downtown area (i.e. York, Etobicoke, Weston, North York, etc). I find this site almost exclusively leans towards "old" Toronto. The content is amazing, but it would just be nice to see more T.O. range. Again, fantastic piece.
Brandon / March 1, 2011 at 10:32 am
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Ugliest? Try looking at Toronto's waterfront of condo's. Poster would cringe at the thought of living in New York.
rick mcginnis replying to a comment from Adam Sobolak / March 1, 2011 at 12:04 pm
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Lappin ugly? Surely you don't mean that, Adam - I've always thought of it as the great boulevard of the working class west end, really. Now you've given me an idea for a post...
andi / March 1, 2011 at 12:22 pm
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Interesting article about an area I'm often in - it's interesting to see it from someone else's perspective. I don't know if the industry in the area is so much declining as shifting - there are a lot of small businesses making things on Geary.
Nick / March 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm
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Our studio and workshop is on Geary. When our small design firm was looking for a place to call home, units along this strip were ideal. Big, open, cheap, un-used industrial spaces that allowed you to do whatever you wanted with the interior. The area is rough around the edges, but that makes it affordable and attractive to young, creative upstarts. And there's quite a few along this strip. It's one of the last areas in the city where you can get a lot of space for cheap and allow people to get creative with what they have. This is not King West with your pre-packaged "post-and-beam-exposed-brick-venti-latte-asshole-mono-syllabic-named" developments. But don't you worry, once it starts getting all Liberty Village up in here, we'll see a Blog TO article proclaiming how they're "over it".
nippleholic replying to a comment from Phil / March 1, 2011 at 02:18 pm
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around 10 years ago, i went to a kegger at the yellow-bricked building beside the rehearsal factory...it appeared to be part of some kind of recording studio and there were random old Rastafarian dudes playing some kind of board game i'd never seen before (or since)...good times!
Sarah / March 1, 2011 at 03:40 pm
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It might be so pretty outside on Geary but there are some pretty nice things happening indoors.

I just bought a beautiful cutting board and utensil set from custom furniture designers Joel Barkin and Reed Hansuld -their studio is at Westmoreland and Geary.

It's pretty cool to find out that there's beautiful things being made behind such ugly walls.

This the website for the building their studio is in: http://thebrandingfactory.com/tenants/artisan/

Their kitchen stuff is on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/GoodWoodShoppe?ga_search_query=good+wood+shoppe&;ga_search_type=seller_usernames
Josee Couture / March 2, 2011 at 09:24 am
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I just sold a little building on Geary avenue to someone who believes in the potential of the street and who will turn it into a beautiful place and into an asset for the street. Watch for it on your next Geary venture
Josee Couture
Re/max Hallmark Realty Ltd
416-486-5588
Nagilum replying to a comment from Milton / March 4, 2011 at 05:50 am
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What we <i>really</i> need are less snobby people who can move to those other cities that they find so aesthetically pleasing, or at least realize that not all areas of a city can look 'pretty', but must serve a function.
guest / March 7, 2011 at 01:16 pm
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hello world
Raj / March 12, 2012 at 04:26 pm
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Ugliness:Who defines it? It appears to me the analysis of this street is defined by the pseudo-intellectual urban designers,whose views are based on monochromatic,symmetrical,clinically oriented urban forms.
This type of area is also known as enterprise/incubator area where creativity thrives and pioneers'endeavors take births and many times bring changes in the society.
Sure some type of clean up job could enhance the area,but do not force civic rules to change the character of the area which may help in the demise of true democracy in the building characteristics on this street.
These type of areas are most important for many to make their living at relatively low costs.
Never forge,t there are more people who make their living out side the the multinational and big corporations.
Keep it up.
gift replying to a comment from Raj / March 12, 2012 at 04:40 pm
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Raj sounds like a pretentious dick.
zootallures / March 24, 2012 at 01:21 pm
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Nice read. I just moved into this area and yes, it's not near as pretty as my old hood at Dupont/Christie but after my divorce, this was what I could afford and still stay connected to my kids for custody. Agreed, there are some real stinkers that won't go away (that strip mall/warehouse blemish that runs the whole city block across from Nova Era) but there is still beauty here and an overwhelming amount of parkette's and greenspaces. The young and those starting out/over soon realize they're close to everything yet rent and real estate is still below average so my guess is the hipster starbucks crowd will come courting before too long.
Maze / March 29, 2012 at 09:53 pm
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As for the forgetting of the street, that fits with the idea that Toronto is not so much a city that grew larger, but a mass of smaller towns that merged together in to a confusing patchwork that became known as a city. The amalgamation of Toronto services in years past was but the tip of an iceberg to a wonderfully random urban landscape.
Bobby / March 30, 2012 at 04:30 pm
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The residential streets that run N and S off Geary are nice, Geary is very bland though, it always seems like the skies are grey around there even if it's a sunny day :)
Homer / December 29, 2013 at 11:07 am
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Let me come to your neighbourhood and say it's ugly, and don't let me find you on Geary Plaza because one of us will regret it.
SteveM / July 30, 2014 at 12:05 pm
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A little bit of Detroit in Toronto...
Tim / September 16, 2014 at 12:03 am
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Geary Ave may not be one of the nicest streets in the area, but it has a fair mix of older and newer structures from one end to the other.

It also has a not "so well known" historic gem that runs from Bartlett St to almost Salem Ave.

It is a creamish colored two story building now occupied by an auto repair shop, a hydroponics store, and a catering shop, plus The Theatrix Costume House, a very well established company that is over a hundred years old.

The building started off around 1912-1915 as one of the staging and float making shops for the Eaton's Santa Clause Parade. This alone makes Geary Ave special.

To add character, there are some nice late 1800's to early 1900's houses along it's length.

Ugly it ain't, maybe just a little bland.

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