Deep in Leslieville lies Carlaw Avenue, a historic manufacturing street in Toronto that fell victim to and adapted with changing times.
Perhaps the fitness studios and shiny condominiums might mislead otherwise, but Carlaw still has the remnants of a onetime working class neighbourhood. At one time factories lined the avenue from Queen to just north of Gerrard. During World War I and II, they were used to produced munitions (as a now defunct Carlaw bus route serving Sunday workers suggests).
But much like the situation with other areas in the city (The Waterfront and Liberty Village, as examples), companies began to fold their operations as it no longer became viable to run in the middle of an urban centre. The results were transformational for the street. With buildings stripped of their original use, they became anomalies in their increasingly residential surroundings. Their fates fell into one of two holes: re-purposing or demolition. Carlaw seems to have employed both.
Beginning just north of Queen on the east side is the former enterprise of Kent McLain. According to the 1910 City of Toronto Directories, Mr McLain was in the business of showcase manufacturing at 181-199 Carlaw Avenue.
Where the street intersects with Colgate is the site of the Colgate-Palmolive Plant, now demolished. Currently the frame of a new condo is going up.
Across the street, there are two former factories that have been adapted. At 201 Carlaw is the long exterior of the Rolph Clark Stone Limited Building, built in 1913, now with a tower jutting up the middle of it . Up further on the east side of the street is the old Wrigleys Gum plant, placed at 235 Carlaw. Both establishments are now converted lofts, although old monikers still remain above the doors to remind us of their histories.
On the west side of street is the former home of the Phillips Manufacturing Factory (address 258-326), now a long brown bricked strip of various new commercial endeavours including a kickboxing club and a yoga establishment.
At Carlaw and Dundas several recently completed and recently started condo projects as well as street signs enticing passerbyers to invest.
Just south of Gerrard is the grand Toronto Hydro Electric Station. At one time the rounded corner sported a store front, no doubt educating people about the wonder of electric powered appliances in the 20th century. Built in 1916, the station is a heritage property for the City of Toronto.
It is not an industrial site (although early factories relied on the railroad), but the cross-section at Carlaw and Gerrard is an interesting focal point as well. At one time, the large open section of Gerrard underneath the railroad did not exist, forcing the street to dip down and around at Carlaw before resuming a regular east-west route. The subway was constructed in the 1930s to straighten the street up. The former route still exists as a narrow residential branch of Gerrard running in northeast-southwest direction , although it stops just short of the main road.
Finally, situated at the northeast corner of the intersection is the Riverdale Shopping Centre, a No Frills-anchored strip mall caught in the shadow of its much larger Gerrard Square neighbour. The presence of this site hides that at one time a series of buildings belonging to the International Varnish Company made their home here.
17 thoughts on “Scenes From Carlaw Avenue”
Good post. I’m experiencing a few of these issues as well..
excellent post – I just moved to Natalie Place and heard there was an old soap factory on the site.
Thanks for reading! It really is a neat little piece of hidden history…I love it. Enjoy the neighbourhood!
Very Interesting! I worked in the marketing research dept. at Colgate-Palmolive (1976-1980) but the old photographs of their factory shown here tell me that the building I worked in (6 floors–offices on 5 & 6, factory below) must have been a later replacement for an earlier building…this I did not know until now!
Hi Heather, Yeah, I’ve noticed that early and later images of the plant are of different structures. I haven’t pinpointed when the later one went up. Very neat — thanks for sharing!
In fact, upon closer inspection of the series of old photos shown here (and the dates) it would appear as if between April and November of 1948, the Colgate-Palmolive building acquired three or four more stories (bringing it to 6 floors plus basement (where there was a cafeteria, amongst other spaces). I am not certain of the date of its demolition, other than it being in the early 1990’s–anyone know exactly?
I grew up in the neighbourhood of Carlaw and Gerrard from 55-67. North of Gerrard on the east side of Carlaw below Victor, there was a large General Electric factory that was part of the tear-down for rhe property that became Towers and it’s mall. Also, along Simpson Avenue south side a half block west of Carlaw was the main long-haul trucking storage and maintenance yards of Canada Cartage, which burned down in the early 60s along the back side of our Gerrard St house -making way for some newer houses on Simpson. Across on south side of Gerrard where there is now a triangular parkette, there were major trucking weigh scales. We would be regularly impacted by the odours and chemical emissions from surrounding factories and the coal dust and sulphur dioxide from the then-short stacks at the Hearn Generating station.
Hi Brian, that must’ve been interesting times. I guess there was a reason why those plants aren’t there. Residential hood doesn’t mix. Thanks for sharing! -Bob
thank you. I have always wanted to see photos of the Colgate pant. I fell in love with the area when I moved there in 2002, it was still where people went for cheap rent, some storefronts on queen were still used as storage. In 2006 I found some pictures of the area from the archives, as I was doing a art project that never materialized.
It heart broke when they turned the two buildings beside the Wrigley buildings were turned into condos. The clothing manufacturing building was filled with all sorts of creative business and artists, and they were always a part of the Rivedale Art Walk.
In 2001 I was accidentally in the area for a school at the Mclean building, when it was was gearing up, or was as a film post production hotspot. The houses on western part of the site- Natalie Place, was just finishing up, it was muddy and a confusing mess, as I didn’t know the area at the time, even though I sporadically drove through when I was much younger, accompanying a older cousin when they worked at Broadview and queen
The colagate building I think was demolished towards 1986, so the land sat empty for quite a while.
The land the condo building is on Beside Natalie place was set aside by the city and mandated for affordable housing, but no Developer would touch it, as the housing boom was heating up. I think there was argument was that the area already had lots of affordable housing. It too sat empty for the longest time.
The condos went decently cheap for todays standards. Starting at 185,000 for 1 beroom or studio cant remember at the beginning, but then kept going up, which I had money.
some people say 80’s some say 90’s, for the demolition of the plant. but this was filmed in the mid to later 80s, so it was probably early to mid 90’s. weird you cant find any info on it.
Scene from Degrassi shot in the mid 80’s near the plant closer to queen, looking dow to the plant and colgate ave. besides whats now a huge made over shoppers drug mart.
Wow it seems a lot of people grew up with that show. I was a tiny bit older and though I was was too old, for such a kids show so I actually never watched any of it
Looking for info on the Colgate site and found your website. Great stuff.
The Colgate Palmolive plant & office building, located at 64 Colgate Avenue, was finally demolished in 1995, after a couple of years of removing remaining equipment and infrastructure.
Thanks for setting this record straight, Steve…I do now remember that I was passing through Toronto, driving back to my home in Ottawa from Kitchener-Waterloo in early 1995, as I was at the time awaiting the birth of my daughter, who was born in March of that year. I suddenly had a strong desire (maybe a ‘pregnancy-craving’?, l.o.l.) for the wonderful fish and chips that I used to be able to get at Reliable Fish and Chips, a little shop on the north side of Queen St., near Logan Ave., I think…it was an occasional lunchtime-treat when I worked at Colgate. I drove straight there, only to find that the shop was closed. And, of course to my surprise, the Colgate-Palmolive factory was no more–only a large expanse of rubble covering the area where it had stood. I could only wonder at how long it might have been since the plant had been pulled down…it sounds as if I might have just missed its demolition by a few weeks!