The industrial grit of Toronto in the 1970s and 80s
If there's been a predominant trend in Toronto development over the last 30 years, it's the conversion of industrial lands to high rise residential housing. Before this took place, signs of industry were far more prominent in the city, often quite close to downtown.
It's almost shocking to see scenes of empty lots and warehouse buildings in areas that are now dotted with new office and condo buildings just a few decades later. There were so many old brick buildings and so much open space!
Toronto lacked the true grit of Rust Belt cities like Buffalo and Detroit partially because it was never an industrial hub on a national level, but any city of its size showed plenty of signs of industry through the 1970s and 80s.
Condo-heavy areas like Dundas and Carlaw, Liberty Village, King West, and Queens Quay were all active industrial lands some 35 years ago, and that's just to name a few. Smoke stacks, silos, and gas tanks were all common sights back in the 1970s.
There's an undeveloped look to the city throughout this period that's alluring. The future was waiting to be written, but the signs of change were everywhere. Even as industrial lands were widespread, it's not as if the manufacturing sector was booming.
In fact, over the next couple of decades, the vast majority of Toronto's heavy industry quietly packed it in or moved to places where it was cheaper to operate.
Now you have to really search to find industrial life in Toronto. There's still pockets of it in places like the Junction, the Port Lands, Sterling Rd., and Mount Dennis but it's fading fast. It's hard to imagine much will remain in the city beyond a couple of decades.
Make no mistake, the slow erosion of Toronto's industrial lands has made this a better and more exciting city, but the grittier city of my early memory was one you could get lost exploring for its unfinished spaces. There was something wildly exhilarating about that.
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