Thursday, October 20, 2016Light Rain 13°C

What the Port Lands used to look like

Posted by Derek Flack / February 24, 2012

Port Lands Toronto HistoryEven if a Ferris wheel isn't in the cards, the Port Lands is one of those areas in Toronto that will inevitably be transformed over the next decade and beyond. The plans may change around a bit in the coming years, but the remaining industrial character of the area will certainly erode as new developments proceed. To some degree it already has. Hidden behind the non-descript buildings on streets like Polson and Villiers are recording studios and other creative spaces, not to mention the massive Pinewood film complex on Commissioners Street.

So even as the full-scale revitalization of the Port Lands remains a project in waiting, the neighbourhood — if it's fair to call it that — is one in transition. Although the area might seem a picture of arrested development, a look back at its past reveals that change is taking place, just not at the breakneck speed some people would like.

Back in the 1970s, the Port Lands were very much in use as an industrial hub. The Hearn Generating Station, now a palace for urban explorers, was still operational, oil tanks littered the landscape, and the sight of a ship coming and going was a regular occurrence. Aerial photos from this period help to explain why redevelopment efforts have necessarily been a slow process. Years of industrial use contaminated the land in the area, not all of which has been cleaned up to this day.

As was the case elsewhere, the 1980s witnessed a decline in industrial use — though not to the same degree as places like Liberty Village — and the transition towards a mixed-use identity got underway. That was about 65 years after the Port Lands became an active hub of heavy industrial use at the start of the First World War. It's no mournful thing that this area is slated for clean-up and redevelopment, but if you're looking to connect with the city's industrial past, there are still plenty of signs of it here — at least for now.


2012224-cherry-street-1898-s0376_fl0002_it0080.jpgCherry Street looking south, 1898

2012224-cherry-north-1898-s0376_fl0002_it0081.jpgCherry Street looking north, 1898

2012224-truss-bridge-1915-f1244_it1505.jpgCherry Street Bridge, 1915

2012224-ship-launching-1915-18-f1244_it0863.jpgShip launching, ca. 1915

2012224-building-truss-bridge-1918-s0372_ss0058_it0759.jpgConstruction on Cherry Street Bridge

2012224-truss-open-1920-f1231_it1519.jpgCherry Street Bridge, 1920

20111114-coal-oil-refineries-port-lands-1930-f1244_it1440.jpgPort Lands refineries, 1930

2012224-villiers-east-1932-s0071_it9500.jpgVilliers Street looking east, 1932

2012224-cherry-bathing--station-1932-f1231_it0687.jpgCherry Bathing Station, 1932

2012224-cherry-beach-1935-s0372_ss0041_it0387.jpgCherry Beach, 1935

2012224-joy-oil-tanks-1938-s0372_ss0001_it1448.jpgJoy Oil Tanks, 1938

2012224-streetcar-loading-1963-s0648_fl0208_id0005.jpgStreetcar shipment, 1963

2012224-portlands-1970s-better-s1465_fl0399_it0079.jpgPort Lands, 1970s

2012224-leslie-spit-1970s-s1465_fl0148_id0001.jpgLeslie Street Spit, 1970s

2011915-portlands-aerial-1970s-s1465_fl0240_it0033.jpgAerial view, 1970s

2012224-cherry-street-1970s-not-sure-s0008_ss0004_fl0005_id0010.jpgCherry Street, 1970s

2012224-portlands-aerial-1975-woodbine-beach-s1465_fl0329_it0001.jpgLooking across Woodbine Beach, 1975

2012224-leslie-1977-garbage-s1465_fl0329_it0031.jpgFill/garbage on Leslie Street Spit, 1977

2012224-portlands-aerial-1970s-80s-s1465_fl0378_it0005.jpgAerial of Port Lands, 1980s

2012224-port-aerial-1980s-s1465_fl0154_id0027.jpgAlternate angle, 1980s

2012224-portlands-wrecked-cars-1980s-s1465_fl0378_it0038.jpgWrecked cars in the Port Lands, 1980s

Hearn 1980sHearn Generating Station, 1980s

2012224-cherry-street-1988-s1465_fl0154_id0057.jpgCherry Street, 1988

2012224-keating-chanel-1988-s1465_fl0154_id0021.jpgKeating Channel, 1988

2012224-ship-channel-1988-s1465_fl0154_id0002.jpgShip Channel, 1988

All photos from the Toronto Archives



Easton / February 24, 2012 at 04:18 pm
Some of the oil drums are still there, no?

maharaja / February 24, 2012 at 04:27 pm
nice work derek!
Derek replying to a comment from Easton / February 24, 2012 at 04:30 pm
A few, but the main concentration to the north of the Ship Channel was removed years ago.
Paul / February 24, 2012 at 04:47 pm
Anyone know if the Canary restaurant on Cherry St. is still there? A true classic!
ik replying to a comment from Paul / February 24, 2012 at 04:49 pm
The building remains, the restaurant is gone.
But there is whispers of a reincarnation of it when the area opens in time for the Pan-Am games.
Plens / February 24, 2012 at 05:19 pm
Check out the BMX set up on the left side of this photo!
Sub Art / February 24, 2012 at 07:14 pm
Hella cool step-back-in-time.
Gordon / February 24, 2012 at 08:10 pm
Love the crane unloading the streetcar shot. Great article.
Des Joseph / February 24, 2012 at 10:22 pm
I wonder how Cherry Beach got it's name? Those where the days my friend!
E Light / February 25, 2012 at 06:26 am
I believe the photo titled "Hearn Generating Station, 1980s" is flipped horizontally. The Hearn plant is East of downtown. The lake should be on the left, the CN tower should be to the left of the downtown buildings.
Derek replying to a comment from E Light / February 25, 2012 at 12:37 pm
You're right. I've flipped it back to its correct orientation.
Paul replying to a comment from ik / February 25, 2012 at 01:07 pm
It's amazing that a place like that lasted as long as it did. Thanks for the info.
reva dolgoy / February 25, 2012 at 02:07 pm
We left Toronto in 1958 and returned just 4 months ago.As Toronto natives and schooled here it would have been important to have learnt the built history of this place at an early age and perhaps would not fall prey to demagoges who don't give a damm.
the lemur replying to a comment from Des Joseph / February 25, 2012 at 05:39 pm
Presumably from Cherry St; there seems to be a minor tree theme in that area (Cherry, Sumach, Oak, Spruce).
luciana / February 25, 2012 at 06:06 pm
Look how clear the water is in the woodbine beach shot in '75! The condition of present lake Ontario is deplorable. Would've loved to have been able to swim in it.
Rico replying to a comment from luciana / February 26, 2012 at 10:57 am
Actually, today's lake is quite clean. Go down to Cherry Beach now and have a look. The water is quite nice.
Rico replying to a comment from luciana / February 26, 2012 at 10:58 am
In the picture "Ship launching, ca. 1915", the small crane to the left is still there in the Keating Channel. It's in the parking lot beside the Keating Channel Pub. Saved as part of our past.
Steeplejack / February 26, 2012 at 10:35 pm
Still gets regular visits from ships - The cement haulers Stephen B Roman and the English River are both home-ported in the Port Lands, while if you go down there now, you'll see lakers like the Quebecois and the Montrealais tied up for the winter.
brenda webster replying to a comment from Plens / February 27, 2012 at 09:33 am
EC / February 27, 2012 at 10:51 am
LOVE the pic of the streetcar delivery!
Gerda Grice / February 28, 2012 at 01:09 pm
Very interesting story well told in the set of photos chosen. I've lived in Toronto for 55 or so years, and while I'm often down at Harbourfront and The Beach photographing, I knew much less than I should about the history of the Port Lands area than I should until I saw these photos today.
Bandi / February 15, 2014 at 06:30 pm

What about the first Volkswagens in Canada at the Cherry St. Docks? (1952)
Greg Hannah replying to a comment from luciana / February 15, 2014 at 06:53 pm
Thanks to mother nature (and zebra muscles), and industry moving off the Great Lakes to a large extent, Lake Ontario is very clean now. I remember in the 80's there were water quality warnings nearly all summer, or much of it and we didn't dare go in past our knees. Today it's terrific for swimming and we rarely get water quality warnings, except after a really large rain storm. Cherry Beach is not that busy anymore, and it's been fully re-naturalized - it's a terrific place to go. The original lifeguard station and change rooms have also been restored and still stand. I take my dog down there to swim almost every weekend from about May to September on the bus from Union Station.
Kim K replying to a comment from Bandi / February 15, 2014 at 07:48 pm
OMG! Split-window VW Beetle! Great photo - thanks for posting.
Geo Swan / October 6, 2014 at 05:15 am
Regarding the Canary diner... You know I walked by there many times, with its ancient decor, and always planned to go in. But when the remaining light industry east of Cherry was bulldozed to make room for the huge new "West Don Lands" development (circa 2008?) it ran out of customers, and had to close. The original building, which has been both a school and a hotel, has been gutted. They are only keeping the facade.

I came across a site about a year ago that had photos from someone who was able to enter the building after the restaurant closed, but before the building was gutted. IIRC one of their photos showed the original hotel desk.

They showed the original Canary sign. SOmeone had thought it was worth saving and had carted it away.

One of the developers, searching for a name, calls their corner of the new development "Canary Park" in their brochures, harking back to the quaint fixture that was housed in that historic building -- and obfuscating that it was the construction of their buildings that forced it to close.

The family that owned the Canary moved it to Cherry Street in the 1960s from a location more centrally downtown.

I think the Cherry Street diner, at Cherry and Commissioner, was once as old-fashioned as the Canary. It seems to have been updated and gentrified now, however.

I don't think the developers would have wanted a quaint old diner in the key corner to what they consider the gateway to their new development. They seem to be anticipating having Front Street lined with business that are likely to be a lot more lucrative than a quaint old diner.
Other Cities: Montreal