Division Police Station by Adam
The City of Toronto originally evolved around its harbour, as the goods shipped into the city contributed greatly to Toronto’s early rise to prosperity. Thanks to the port, the oldest parts of the city consisted of miles of industrial lots, full of warehouses and old factories, that started to spring up around the 1850s, especially just east and west of the current city centre. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the construction of several railway lines cutting through the city encouraged further industrial construction and sparked growth in areas such as Weston and East York.
However, from the mid-twentieth century on, the dynamics of the city started to change considerably, as the newly constructed highways and constant rise of prices of lots in the centre forced most blue-collar workers to move further out to the suburban zones. Industries weren’t late to follow their workers, as they took advantage of an abundance of cheap land and lots of space for potential expansion. As a result of this trend, most industrial buildings in the city centre became vacant and posed an obstacle to further development plans for downtown. By the 1990s, most industrial buildings on the waterfront area were closed and demolished.
The good news for the run-down industrial structures only came by the end of the 1990s, when young professionals, artists, and urban hipsters realized the great potential of old warehouses and factories standing virtually in downtown Toronto. Although many buildings were already removed and replaced by condominium towers, lots of others have been saved or are awaiting reconstruction. Loft apartments are sought after for their large, adaptable, open spaces and relatively cheap costs compared to similar apartments in new developments. Loft culture also contributes greatly to the process of gentrification of former sketchy neighbourhoods that have suddenly become cool places to hang out, full of city bohemians. Besides conversion to residential apartments, renewed industrial structures often serve as stylish office buildings or studios.
Adaptive Reuse Examples
Get a taste of the best examples of adaptive reuse of buildings in Toronto in this short list prepared by ILT:
Tip Top Lofts
Tip Top Tailors by Ocad123
The Tip Top Tailors Ltd. building at 637 Lakeshore Boulevard West was originally designed by Bishop and Miller Architects and completed in 1929. Built in Art Deco style, the concrete structure includes a symmetrical façade, a two-storey front entrance with brass doors, and rich geometric and figurative decorations. While the old building had just five floors, an extra storey was added in the ’50s (the Tip Top Tailors sign is located there). The grand company’s headquarters that once accommodated a manufacturing warehouse and retail and office space was sold soon after Tip Top Tailors went bankrupt. In 2002, the building underwent major reconstruction to become home to more than 250 condominium units.
Toronto Carpet Factory
Toronto Carpet Factory by Steve
A Toronto Carpet Manufacturing Company constructed the building at the very end of the 19th century. The building on Mowat Avenue comprised its manufacturing floor, warehouse, and offices. Soon after the original construction, the company decided to build an extensive expansion due to increasing demand for its carpets. The structure was built using heavy timber with load-bearing brick walls, wooden columns, and beams, with an expanse of big windows enveloping the building. The exterior is done in a typical 19th century manner, using the red brick masonry. Over time, the Toronto Carpet Factory was transformed into office space, housing over 150 businesses. This conversion is interesting since it made almost no major adjustments to the building and kept its original spirit to the greatest extent possible.
401 Richmond Street
401 Richmond Street by Andrew
The redevelopment of the 401 Richmond building, originally built by the Macdonald Manufacturing Company that produced lithography on tinware, received the Award of Merit from Toronto Heritage for an outstanding adaptive reuse project of a heritage building. The factory was designed using a heavy timber frame and brick masonry exterior, including Flemish headers and segmental arches. The windows are both metal and wood, depending on the date of their addition. Nowadays, the building is home to over 140 artists and creative businesses, and in addition to its other adjustments, the newly restored building boasts a wonderful rooftop garden with various types of flowers and vegetation.
Broadview Lofts by Wikimedia
Originally constructed by the Rexall Drug pharmacy company in 1914, this timber post and beam construction, with its concrete floor and high ceilings, was converted into more than 150 residential condominium lofts in 2003. The exterior of the building is (surprise, surprise…) red brick masonry with an expanse of windows. The special feature of the complex is the water tower mounting above the complex that used to provide water for the factory. During the reconstruction, two extra storeys were added, using the glass façade and setback, and a couple of balconies were constructed as well, although their number is limited to sustain the industrial feel of the building.
51 Division Police Station
The 51 Division Police Station on the Parliament Avenue was originally constructed in 1989 to house the Industrial Gas Company’s Purifying House (gas was purified and sold in the building). In 2004, the vacant building that became deserted in the ’80s was converted into the headquarters of the 51 Division of the Toronto Police Service. The building used to contain huge double hung windows and louvered vents, since ventilation was a crucial issue in a purifying house. The reconstruction works adjusted the roof as well as the stone work and the exterior brick work. The project earned critical acclaim and received several awards such as the Canadian Urban Institute Brownie Award.
Distillery District by Wikimedia
Toronto is a very special city when it comes to industrial architecture. Aside from the above mentioned widespread wave of urban renewal, our city is also home to the famous Distillery District, a National historic site protected under the Ontario Heritage Act, listed as a top pick in Canada for travellers by National Geographic magazine. The Distillery District encompasses more than 40 heritage buildings and spans ten streets full of industrial relics. The buildings are famous as brilliant examples of Victorian industrial architecture, with their warm-looking brick lining.
Until the 1990s, the Distillery District housed the Gooderham and Worts distillery, founded in 1832. This distillery was once the largest in the world, producing over 2 million US gallons of whiskey a year, and played an important role in the city’s history. Located in the old industrial centre of Toronto at the mouth of the former Don River outlet into the lake as well as on the side of the Canadian National Railway mainline, the distillery managers had an easy job to transport their goods all over Canada and the world. However, the once-thriving company never recovered from the tough times of WWI, when the distillery helped war efforts by producing acetone. It’s interesting to note that before its regeneration in recent years, the Distillery District was often used as a film location for more than 800 productions.
The latest reconstruction of the district ended in 2003, when the district was reopened to the public and quickly became one of the most popular spots in Toronto. Since the new investors intended to transform the area into a pedestrian-oriented arts and entertainment neighbourhood, they refused to let in any retail or restaurant chain or franchise. This resulted in the formation of a unique space, full of unique boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries. The Brewery District also includes a special micro-brewery, the Mill Street Brewery. The upper floors of several buildings are intentionally leased to artistic studios and creative businesses. Furthermore, a brand new theatre, the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, was established here as a home scene for the Soulpepper Theatre Company. It is often used for the drama productions of George Brown College.
Even though much has been done concerning the revitalization of the district, the area continues to undergo rapid change to lure in even more visitors and potential residents. The plans of investors include visions of modern condominium buildings constructed in close proximity to historic sites, bordering on Cherry Street and Tank House Lane. Additionally, PanAm Games Athletes’ Village will spring up at the intersection of Cherry and Mill Streets soon.
Main historic sites in the Distillery District
- the Stonehouse Distillery, designed by David Roberts, Sr.
- a 31-metre (100-f00t) chimney stack
- the Malt House (built in 1860), now called the Maltings
- Double-D Rackhouse
- the Molasses Storage building
- the Boiler House – Land Mark
- the Tank House – Land Mark
- the Stables
- the Cannery
- the Paint Shop
- the various tank houses (originally seven, of which only three survive today)
- the Denaturing Room
- the Crapper
- Rack Houses M, G, and J
- the Pump House – Land Mark
- the Case Goods Warehouse
- the Cooperage
- the Outhouse
- the Pure Spirits Building