Note: These travels were made in late November 2013. It was a pleasant day. No snow on the ground, and although it is now alive and serving the community, the Brickyard Grounds was not ready then.
Greenwood Avenue is a curious little throughway in Leslieville. OK, perhaps not so little – it runs from O’Connor to Queen Street, a distance of 3.6 kilometres. I, however, tackle the street from the Danforth southward – a fortunate choice because northbound Greenwood is built on an incline.
I deliberately walk on the west side of the street because my first sight/site of note will be the TTC’s Greenwood Subway Yard. Looking far into the distance , I can see the faint outline of the downtown skyline fitted inside the chain link, highlighted by the giant toothpick-like structure. Gazing down at my immediate surroundings, I see a massive facility devoted to housing and servicing subway cars. The Bloor-Danforth subway doesn’t come around until the 1960s, so it begs one of my favourite questions: what was this area before?
Of course, I already know the answer going in.
My interest in Greenwood Avenue arose while researching this east end neighbourhood for a walking tour of Little India for Heritage Toronto. One of my goals was to get an understanding of what Gerrard Street and the surrounding community was like prior to the creation and growth of the Gerrard India Bazaar in the 1970s and 1980s.
One of the most fascinating tidbits that came out of this was that Greenwood Avenue south of the Danforth was lined with claymines and brickyards once upon a time. This intrigued me because looking at the neighbourhood today, I would have never guessed this. It’s a quiet, unassuming residential street. It’s this hidden history that gets me. We think of the Don Valley Brickworks as the place that built Toronto, not where this residential neighbourhood now lies.
In some ways, it reminded me of my travels along Carlaw Avenue a few blocks to west. Both streets hold an industrial past. Both streets are now largely residential. The difference is the majority of the factories on Carlaw still remain, giving us at least an obvious glimpse into the past.
Yes, the Greenwood Subway Yard was once a giant clay pit. As this Transit Toronto article tells us, the TTC purchased the 31.5 acre site, which, after the clay beds were depleted, was being used as a garbage dump.
The 1913 City of Toronto directories tell me of a few enterprises that were once on the site: Standard Brick Co. at 500 Greenwood, Isaac Price Brickyard at 420-430 Greenwood, Bell Bros & Co. at 386 Greenwood, and A H Wagstaff Brick Co. at 362-368 Greenwood. I have pinned them on my map of Toronto’s Industrial Heritage which you can see here (do check it out, it’s fun!).
Across the street is a nicely coloured residential complex. I do not imagine them being in existence for a long time, however.
I was aware of the yards on the other side of Greenwood as well: just north of the tracks was the John Price Brickyard (335-405 Greenwood), further up from that and south of Felstead Avenue was the John Logan Brickyards (471 Greenwood). The latter of these is significant because John Logan’s enterprise later became the Toronto Brick Company, which was the last of the brickyards on the street.
There is a Torbrick Road! Not only that, but as I walk down Torbrick Road, I can see that houses are very modern. Toronto Brick Co. outlasted until the 1950s, which makes this all come together. New area, new houses. I wonder how the residents feel about living on what was a dirty pit.
Passing an apparent staircase to nowhere that’s actually a remnant entrance to the former brickyard, I elect to travel to Gerrard on the west side of the street. I go under the CNR tracks and pass by another marker.
In my previous visit to the southwest corner of Greenwood and Gerrard some months ago, the gallery housed in this building ceased operations. Now, I walk by it and I see that a “Brickyard Grounds Fine Coffee” is ready to take over its space! What a tribute to the local heritage!
I make a giant note of it and vow to return when it is up and running (which, since this exploration, has happened). If Gerrard Street East is undergoing a bit of an identity shift with art galleries and coffee houses springing up, The Brickyard Grounds fits right in there!
On the wall of the Grounds is a spectacular public art piece. There are so many great ones in the city. Doing a little digging, this one is entitled “Bricks and Wagons: A Greenwood Allegory” and looks to be a ‘throwback’ to the days of old days in the community. My favourite part are the street signs with the names of all the former brickyards.
Then, of course, I encounter Greenwood Park – notable for its size, hills, and view of Toronto. It looks a bit ‘dug in’, and that’s because it was once the site of the Joseph Russell Brickyard. In 1920s it was opened as Greenwood Athletic Field, but as local historian Joanne Doucette’s Pigs, Flowers, and Bricks: A History of Leslieville to 192o tells me, the feeling to turn the abandoned clay pit into a park was not as obvious as one might expect. Some Councillors felt that creating a park would encourage the working class population in this blue collar area to loaf around. Interesting.
Greenwood Park has several baseball diamonds, a dog park, and recently added a skating rink.
The area south of the park is intriguing. Dundas Street is one of the most peculiar streets in Toronto because of the manner in which it snakes through the city. This is because it is an amalgamation of previously existing roads as well as the creation of new paths altogether. This portion of Dundas doesn’t come into existence until the 1950s.
On Dundas, I head east to Billings and then up to Athletic Avenue, noting the near century houses along the way. Before its creation, the site of Billings Avenue once housed Morley and Ashbridge’s Ashbridge Brick Co., addressed in the 1913 Directories at 119 Greenwood Avenue. Ashbridge of course is a famous name in the east end, and his partner also had a street named after him. We know it today as Woodfield Road.
Athletic Avenue, by the way, remains as a final tribute to the stadium which was torn down after WWII. At the end of the street, a set of stairs present themselves to me. Curious, I descend them and find myself on another residential street. This is post-war Hertle Avenue.
I tour through the street until I hit Highfield road. From there, I conclude my journey by walking up to Gerrard, where I catch the eastbound streetcar to Main Street Station.