Port Lands Toronto History

What the Port Lands used to look like

Even 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.



Cherry Street looking south, 1898


Cherry Street looking north, 1898


Cherry Street Bridge, 1915


Ship launching, ca. 1915


Construction on Cherry Street Bridge


Cherry Street Bridge, 1920


Port Lands refineries, 1930


Villiers Street looking east, 1932


Cherry Bathing Station, 1932


Cherry Beach, 1935


Joy Oil Tanks, 1938


Streetcar shipment, 1963


Port Lands, 1970s


Leslie Street Spit, 1970s


Aerial view, 1970s


Cherry Street, 1970s


Looking across Woodbine Beach, 1975


Fill/garbage on Leslie Street Spit, 1977


Aerial of Port Lands, 1980s


Alternate angle, 1980s


Wrecked cars in the Port Lands, 1980s

Hearn 1980s

Hearn Generating Station, 1980s


Cherry Street, 1988


Keating Channel, 1988


Ship Channel, 1988

All photos from the Toronto Archives

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