toronto redpath sugar

The 10 most notorious smells in Toronto

People often talk about the sights and sounds of a city, but what about the smells? Toronto is home to a diverse range of olfactory delights (and a few disasters,) many of which are important parts of the urban experience.

There's the sweet smell of chocolate on Gladstone Avenue and the brutal stench of farts in the east end near the Ashbridges Bay waste treatment plant. And what about the much maligned abattoir smell on King Street West, or the sugary sweetness of a Redpath delivery?

We like to do a lot of lists around here, so it's time to get weird with our noses. These are 10 scents that are notorious in Toronto.

Farts, Ashbridges Bay
Every so often a foul wind blows across the Beaches and the neighbourhoods close to the Ashbridges Bay sewage treatment plant. The facility slowly turns tonnes of Toronto poops into a sludge that can be further processed into odourless pellets. According to the Toronto Star, the flatulent smell spiked earlier this year due to a fault at the plant.

Chocolate and caramel, Gladstone Avenue
The sweet smell of chocolate (or something close to it) is always on the breeze near Gladstone and Dundas. A heavily-used Cadbury chocolate factory, responsible for producing Canada's supply of Mr. Big, Caramilk, and Crispy Crunch bars, has been operating in the neighbourhood for more than a 100 years.

Fortune cookies, Dupont Street
It's strange sensation -- a smell reminiscent of the goods churned out at your standard bakery, but somehow more specific. Once you place it, you won't believe that you didn't pick up on it right away. Yup, it's freshly baked fortune cookies courtesy of the Wings factory at Dupont and Howland.

Burnt marshmallows, Queen's Quay
The Redpath plant on the waterfront is a relic from the days when the Toronto waterfront was a hive of industrial activity. Now, with condos and offices sprouting out of the brownfields, the refinery is marooned, emitting its raw sugar, marshmallow, and molasses to neighbours for the first time.

Roasted corn, Little India
In summer, Little India comes alive with street food vendors selling roasted corn, kulfi, samosas, and other culinary delights from the Indian subcontinent. The sweet smell of cooking (and popping) corn drifts on the warm breeze as salesmen hawk flashing toys and soap bubbles from suitcases. There's incense in there somewhere as well.

Dead animals, Niagara Street
The Toronto Smell Map described it as "the sad smell of shit-scared pigs," and it seemed many of the abattoir's neighbours agreed the porcine smell that wafted on the breeze near Niagara Street was offensive. For now, the odour of freshly killed pigs is on hiatus.

Cinnamon buns, Union Station
Of all the fast food outlets crammed into the (soon to be renovated) GO concourse, Cinnabon is responsible for the most powerful olfactory response. The whole area smells like warm breakfast buns and sugar. Pleasant in winter; weird in summer.

Incense and pot smoke, Kensington
The breeze that flutters the Tibetan prayer flags of Kensington Ave. also carries the distinct smells of burning incense, pot smoke, and vegetables that make Kensington such a sensory pleasure. There are also notes of baking bread, coffee, the sea (or, worse, dead fish), and churros, depending on the exact location.

Street food and diesel exhaust, Queen and Bay
The biggest collection of mobile street food vendors (the old, uncool kind) is often on Queen Street at the base of Nathan Phillips Square. The smell of deep frying potatoes, burgers, and hot dogs mix with the exhaust fumes from tourist buses lined up along the curb.

The subway smell, city-wide
When I tried to describe the subway smell to TTC spokesman Brad Ross, he said he knew what I meant, but couldn't point me to the source. Stand over a subway vent anywhere in the city and inhale--that's the smell, possibly a mix of brake dust and humid air. Distinctive and mysterious.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: ~EvidencE~/blogTO Flickr pool.


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