Toronto’s historic Coffin Factory is getting a funeral
Funerals are typically reserved for people in our lives who have died, but this weekend, a mourning ceremony is being held for one of Toronto's most beloved historic properties.
On Saturday afternoon, a funeral procession and ceremony including a casket, candle vigil, and wake, will travel up Tecumseth and down Niagara Streets to bid farewell to the Coffin Factory as we know it today.
The cluster of buildings at 89-109 Niagara St. built in the 1880s has long been slated to become home to a pair of new condos.
Designed to jut out of the southern portion of the heritage structure, the new residential tower project from Aspen Ridge called West will add 288 new condo units to the 80 existing live-work artists studios already there.
In the process, scores of residents—some who have lived in the Coffin Factory Studios for nearly 30 years, and many of them musicians, craftspeople, fine artists, and performers—have been evicted to make way for heavy restoration of the old development.
"There’s a feeling of helplessness," says Vanessa Rieger, a multi-disciplinary artist who has lived in the Coffin Factory for seven years.
"It's very upsetting and frustrating as a tenant, I can see other tenants struggling to find other places to live."
All remaining residents are expected to vacate the building by April 1.
Though some lucky residents might be able to move back into one of the rent-controlled units offered once construction is complete, there'll only be around 20 units available.
As the final eviction date quickly approaches, the buildings of the Coffin Factory Studios have come to life as community members mourn and celebrate more than 58 years of living and working in an art-fuelled space that will likely never be replicated in the city again.
The past few weeks have seen yard sales, open studios (25-year resident Pat Dumas-Hudecki will be showing her pantings for free tomorrow), and live performances (Dilly Dally's secret show earlier this week will be immortalized in their music video for Sober Motel/Bad Biology).
In apostolic fashion, Rieger even held a Last Supper potluck that brought old and current tenants in a last communal meal.
And though the building itself hasn't manufactured a coffin since its last days as the National Casket Company factory in 1973, one last coffin is being built for the occasion.
Rieger is almost done constructing the life-size casket-shaped art crate that will make its round on Tecumseth and Niagara Streets tomorrow.
Made out of wood and materials donated from carpenters and other makers in the building, the casket will act as a time capsule holding memories and artifacts, and remain open for viewing at This Month Only Artspace until Tuesday's closing reception.
After that, it will will hopefully find a home at another gallery or historical archive: though with Toronto's current housing situation, homes are hard to find these days—for humans and caskets, too.
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