leaside locomotive building toronto

Exploring the Wrong Side of the Tracks at the Leaside Locomotive Shop

In 1919, the Canadian Northern Railway opened its locomotive house and repair shop in what would develop into Toronto's Leaside neighbourhood. With the increasing importance of the rails in the latter part of the 19th century, the Leaside Junction (as it was known then) gained increasing importance, and grew from that point.

Despite the seeming 'front' of the building in its current state, the original facade was at the rear, facing eastward; its architect, Frederick Todd, built this flat-roofed building in a very practical manner that would maximize the use of space and increase efficiency, with expediency in the repair of the craft as its logical conclusion. It's come a long way since those days, but unfortunately has been all but forgotten.

leaside locomotive building toronto

The property changed hands many times over the years, as the various parent companies merged. In the main repair room, one is really blown away by the sense of scale and space, visually aided by the many massive windows. I've been visiting the place for years, and was sad to find all of the windows completely sealed off on my last visit, as opposed to its fairly easy accessibility in years past (unfortunately taken advantage of by the wrong people many times).

leaside locomotive building

When I started my journeys here, there were still so many remnants of the building's previous life. Whether scattered papers, machinery, or even simple furniture, one could build stories about the lives that were lead in this place...

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Unfortunately, like all abandoments, vandals have had their way with the place...

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The tagging and looting/smashing of the place is obscene, but there are some graffiti (I make the distinction from 'tagging' here) murals that are quite stunning, by such (in)famous Toronto artists as TRIK, RCKTLNCHR(yes. ), EYES, GLOBE, and most recently, even an ANSER face...

leaside locomotive building

See if you can spot the security FAIL...

leaside locomotive building

Sealed and silent now, the locomotive shop awaits its next iteration. Although saved under section 4 of the Ontario Heritage Building Act, my fear is that it will merely rot. Its state of disrepair at the hands of both vandals and time, it being tucked behind boarding in a low-rise industrial neighbourhood away from the eyes of anyone who wouldn't deliberately seek it out, makes me also fear that it will soon be forgotten.

To forget, however, would be biting the hand that fed the city; repairing and maintaining the beasts that ride our rails may have been an unseen hand, but it was nonetheless a vital one.

The cause and need to revisit these spaces, then, points to the necessity of an urban archeology, a digging in order to make what is almost invisible, apparent.

"Railways had always meant a great deal to him - perhaps he felt they were headed for death. Timetables and directories, all the logistics of railways, had at times become an obsession with him" (W.G. Sebald, 'The Emigrants').

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(To see the rest of the snaps from this place, as well as high-res. versions of those above, you can see my flickr slide-show below.)


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