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What industry used to look like in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / March 30, 2012

Industry Toronto HistoryA dominant motif in our series of historical Toronto posts is the slow erosion of industrial architecture from the cityscape. We've tracked this process in places like Liberty Village and on streets such as King West, Queen's Quay and Dupont. Despite the dwindling evidence, most of us know intuitively that Toronto was once a bustling industrial city, complete with thick smog that hung above the core on humid days. Not only did smokestacks dot the landscape, but much of the city's economy could be traced back to industrial and manufacturing pursuits.

At the turn of the century, agricultural implement manufacturer Massey Manufacturing Co. (later Massey Harris and then Massey Ferguson) was the largest employer in the city. Its factories sprawled along King West from Strachan Avenue to near Dufferin Street. Further west and slightly north, the mighty John Abell Engine and Machine Works took up much of what is now the condo-heavy West Queen West Triangle. During the war effort, hubs like the Gooderham & Worts Distillery and the John Inglis plant were repurposed to build bombs and guns, respectively.

The city's industrial character wasn't limited to just downtown areas, either. Those driving along Laird Avenue in Leaside should still be able to spot the humble remains of what was once a well-established industrial area. Similarly, an area like Mount Dennis was once absolutely bustling on account of all the factories it once housed, the last remains of which can now be seen in the abandoned Building 9 at the former Kodak plant.

As I've mentioned in past articles, there's not much point lamenting the loss of this particular brand of industry in Toronto. Heavy manufacturing went global long ago, and cities like Toronto are now sustained by other economic stimulators — be they of informational or sheerly financial character. What is, however, regrettable, is that we have so little connection with this crucial bit of our past.


2012330-pumping-machinery-1890s-s0376_fl0005_it0045.jpgPumping machinery, 1890s

2012330-pumping-machinery-1890s-s0376_fl0005_it0044.jpgPumping Machinery, 1890s

2012330-timothy-eaton-factory-1910-f1244_it7034.jpgTimothy Eaton factory, 1910

2012330-john-Abell.jpgJohn Abell factory, 1910s

2012330-massey-harris.jpgMassey Harris, 1910s

20111114-Congers-coal-dock-1914-f1231_it0922.jpgCongers Coal Dock

20111114-elias-rogers-coal-1916-f1231_it1779.jpgElias Rogers Coal

2012330-munitions-factory-1916-f1244_it0849.jpgMunitions factory, 1916

2012330-airplane-factory-1916-f1244_it0853.jpgAirplane factory, 1916

2012330-airplane-assembly-1916-f1244_it4554.jpgAirplane assembly, 1916

2012330-maple-leaf-milling-1916-f1244_it2550.jpgMaple Leaf Milling, 1916

2011617-distillery-main-1918-f1583_it0086.jpgGooderham & Worts Distillery, 1918

2012330-shipyards-1918-f1244_it1571.jpgToronto Shipyards, 1918

2012330-leaside-aerial-1920-f1244_it7296.jpgLeaside aerial, 1920

201214-to-bay-1920-f1244_it0444b.jpgToronto Bay, 1920

2012330-dundas-edna-1922-s0071_it1694.jpgDundas and Edna, 1922

2012330-steam-plant-machinary-1925-s0071_it3679.jpgSteam plant machinery, 1925

2012330-royal-york-heating-plant-f1231_it2009.jpgRoyal York Heating plant, Ca. 1930s

20111114-coal-oil-refineries-port-lands-1930-f1244_it1440 (1).jpgPort Lands refineries, 1930

2012330-willys-Overland-Plant-Weston-Rd-1030-f1244_it2429.jpgWillys Overland plant on Weston Road, 1930

2012330-kodak-plant-1930-f1244_it2431.jpgKodak plant in Mt. Dennis, 1930

2012330-lansdowne-royce-1932-s0071_it9177.jpgLansdowne and Royce, 1932

2012217-VeronicaFoster-RonnieBrenGunGirl-smoke.jpgVeronica Foster, Bren Gun Girl 1940s

2012330-tor-star-press-1945-f1244_it2058.jpgToronto Star printing press

2012330-Toronto-hydro-carlaw-1950-f1231_it0162.jpgToronto Hydro building on Carlaw Avenue, 1950

2012217-inglis-boilers-1956-s0975_fl2216_id32697-2.jpgInglis boilers, 1956

2011119-Hamilton-Gear-1957-s0975_fl2426_id34553-6.jpgHamilton Gear (Dupont & Dovercourt), 1957

2012330-hearn-1960s-f1257_s1057_it0750.jpgHearn Generating Station, 1960s

2012330-leavens-brothers-aviation-60s-f1257_s1057_it6617.jpgLeavens Brothers Aviation, 1960s

2012330-massey-ferguson-381554_large.jpgMassey Ferguson, 1964

2012316-redpath-1970s-s1465_fl0287_it0006.jpgRedpath Sugar, 1970s

2011823-king-west-80s-s1465_fl0058_id0074.jpgKing West before the condos, 1980s

2012214-hannah-liberty-1990s.jpgLiberty Village before the condos, 1990s



Erol O / March 30, 2012 at 03:19 pm
An interesting read on Leaside's industrial history is the book written by Jane Pitfield. Her crappy political ideas aside, it is a very well researched book with plenty of anecdotal content from original residents and workers within the area.
Victoria Park / March 30, 2012 at 03:53 pm
Her political views are irrelevent. Nice smear.
the lemur / March 30, 2012 at 04:02 pm
The Willys-Overland plant looks like it might on the stretch of Weston between St Clair and Rogers.

The Lansdowne/Royce photo is now Lansdowne north of Dupont:

I'm an Artist / March 30, 2012 at 04:21 pm
Nothing like spending some quality time with your machine gun and a smoke. Great article/shots.
Adam / March 30, 2012 at 04:24 pm
is it just me or does the massey - ferguson sign from the 60s look like the TTC font?
steve / March 30, 2012 at 05:46 pm
Were was the Timothy Eaton factory one of the buildings torn down to build the Eaton centre?
seanm replying to a comment from steve / March 30, 2012 at 08:37 pm
One of many. This is what the area covered by the Eaton Centre used to look like:
David / March 30, 2012 at 10:27 pm
I drove past Redpath Sugar the other day and there was a ship unloading called the "Barnacle".
Interesting / March 30, 2012 at 11:20 pm
If BlogTO's comment section had a like/dislike option.
junctionist / March 30, 2012 at 11:21 pm
This photo collection is excellent, but it would have been better to have more details as to what we're looking at in many of the photos. "Maple Leaf Milling, 1916" is mislabelled in the archives and that error is unsurprisingly echoed in this article. That was an impressive flour milling operation in The Junction on Junction Road known at the time as the Campbell Flour Mills. (Maple Leaf Mills bought the company in 1919.) The name even appears on the many signs visible in the photo.

On this note, this series is surpringly lacking photos of the industry of The Junction, which was quite impressive. There are photos of the Stock Yards and meatpacking district in the Toronto Archives' online database which can be found by searching local intersections like Keele and St. Clair, and on Old Time Trains. The Stock Yards was one of the most industrialized parts of the city. In the end, the more we see this side of our heritage, the better. It's still possible to preserve many interesting buildings to keep this interesting history on the consciousness of the city. Unfortunately, the Stock Yards were pretty much been wiped to a blank slate in the 1990s for a crude and generic big-box redevelopment scheme. Even a rare railway roundhouse and locomotive shops dating back to the 19th and early 20th century were demolished.
Robert replying to a comment from seanm / March 31, 2012 at 07:54 am
I find the history of the T. Eaton and Robert Simpson Company fascinating. Very few people know 'what' Eaton's or Simpson's 'were' in their heyday. I recall my mother working for Simpson's in the linen department, she was more then clerk behind a cash register. The customer came first, I remember the return policy for both store. "goods satisfactory or money refunded" Customers would return a tablecloth after using it for a dinner party, no attempt to clean it. She cheerfully refunded the money, in cash. Eaton's annex was not items brought in cheap to sell at a pretend discount. It was the real stuff right off the retail floor, first quality goods heavily discounted.
I do not pine for the past very often, bit when i look at retail today, *sigh*
JD / March 31, 2012 at 08:53 am
Dirty old town, dirty old town.

hellebelle / March 31, 2012 at 10:59 am
awesome, there is so much character in these photographs.

i wonder what's the purpose of the big ass pipes in the first photo.
John Cunninngham / April 3, 2012 at 11:40 am
That was fun, to bad that Toronto is Condo-ing the waterfront to death, look at the "Miracle Mile in Chicago beachfront. To come so far back from an industrial waterfront.

Redpath remains because they put water purer than was put in.

IF we have to "eat cake" let it be a great waterfront.
Erol O / April 4, 2012 at 02:53 am
I ate a lot of industrial waste as a boy.
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