Spontaneous, impromptu adventures. They are the best, aren’t they? As a person who overthinks and plans the heck out of things, I’ve realised lately that when you go into something with high hopes and little expectations, things turn out to be more fun.
I find myself at George Brown’s St. James Campus, meeting my brother in front of the Hospitality Building at the top of Frederick on Adelaide. It’s a new state of the art building, but its surroundings for the most part aren’t. Beside it is a trio of heritage buildings: Toronto’s First Post Office, the De La Salle Institute, and the former Bank of Upper Canada Building. Actually, the Hospitality Building was previously occupied by a still existing heritage building that still exists, Campbell House Museum, which was moved to University and Queen in 1972.
This collection of structures is important in telling the story of York and Toronto, but the block-wide red brick building across from us grabs my attention the most. Ah, converted industrial buildings: my great interest in this thing called local history. A good chunk of George Brown features adaptive reuse projects. The one across the street is the former Christie factory.
My brother tells me that a pedestrian bridge was planned above the intersection to join the two buildings. It never materialized and after we part, I woefully resign to using the boring old crosswalk. Or maybe not so boring. At the corner I see an inkling of Old Toronto street names. Hello Mr. Duke!
As I meander south, it’s like architectural Pokemon – I gotta catch ‘em all. But this is a journey within a journey. I really want to check out the Market Gallery – I just get some trinkets along the way!
This is also a good time to plug my Map of Toronto’s Industrial Heritage, where I am attempting to plot the city’s industrial and manufacturing places – existing and lost, still running and demolished.
Among these is Young People’s Theatre, which greets me at Front Street. Just as it sounds, YPT is an arts space which puts on performances for young audiences. The building itself, though, was never intended to be a theatre. It started off as stables for Toronto Street Railway Company in 1886 – you know, back when horses used to draw the city’s streetcars. After the system became electrified, it became a power generating plant. It sat vacant for a while, faced demolition (such is the story many old and idle buildings, no?) until YPT moved in. One has to think of the logistics of converting a space like that into a theatre. Industrial buildings into lofts or offices seem like the most common examples of adaptive reuse, so to see a power plant into a theatre is truly remarkable!
Still looking at the south side of Front Street, on the west side of Frederick is another industrial building. This is J&J Taylor Safeworks. As a Toronto Historical Board plaque on the building tells us, the structure was built in 1867 as a meat packing plant. In 1871, it became the home to J&J Taylor. It looks to be office space today.
I didn’t venture over to see it, but there’s a Taylor’s Wharf Lane immediately south of the building which commemorates the wharf that used to exist in the area – when the original shoreline was at about Front. Ironically though, the Taylor and in the wharf and the Taylor in the safe manufacturer are unrelated. More on lanes later.
Continuing westward, I get to St. Lawrence Market and I note the doors are curiously closed. Poor twisted me – it’s Monday! I guess the ‘Toronto Does Her Bit’ exhibition will have to wait. I do get a look down pedestrian Market Street, though. There’s a shiny new Balzac’s there. I continue on to the crazy Church-Wellington-Front intersection, highlighted by the often photographed Flat Iron Building. I have enough shots of it so I opt out of one now and turn north.
I travel past St. James Church and Adelaide Street again. When I hit Lombard I make a left. Impromptu adventure. One of the random nuggets of knowledge in my head tells me there’s something here that I’ve been meaning to check out: 86 Lombard. Today it’s the Fred Victor Women’s Hostel, but in 1907 it was built to be the city morgue. Imagine that: a house of the dead on our streets! There’s some hidden history for you. Actually, more to that point, a now covered sign high above door even once showed its original purpose.
Some former factories catch my attention on Richmond street. Although I cannot find anything on the darker building, the red brick building has a ‘sweet’ past. It is part of a complex of structures that stretch to Queen Street which used to make up Robertson Bros Confection Ltd (established in 1862). If my facts are right, the structure on Richmond was the warehouse and dates around 1906. The purpose of the rest of the buildings and their dates is a little bit more difficult to sort out.
After capturing them in my phone, I turn around to note my surroundings. There’s some street art dedicated to Nelson Mandela!
Finally, just before Queen Street is Ditty Lane. This coloured little alley was named for the Ditty Hotel that stood at Queen and Church (although I can’t say exactlywhere at the intersection). The beauty of our laneways is they commemorate lost landmarks, unknown local personalitiess, and hidden histories. On Adelaide east of Bay, for example, lies Grand Opera lane – a tribute to, you guessed, the now vanquished Grand Opera.
Oh, and I had to look up ‘Ditty’ – it’s a little song. Perhaps it was a musical hotel?