Lately, I’ve been using the City of Toronto Archives’ collection of aerial photographs to supplement my blog posts. I think they are an excellent way to unpack a story and show the physical changes in Toronto’s built environment. I have become quite fond of the 1965 aerials in particular, because beyond how pivotal a year 1965 was for Toronto, the images themselves are very crisp and great to look at.
While the whole city is interesting to look at, the east end and Leslieville have a certain fascination to me in particular. In 1965, the area was still very much a factory town.
All photos courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives
The archives’ aerial photographs are also neat in that sometimes they include markings or writings on them. I’ve seen streets and buildings labelled, and also planned subdivisions and street extensions. The 1965 aerials take this a bit further in drawing out two possible routes of the Scarborough Expressway, which began planning in 1957 and was scrapped in 1974.
I start by rounding around the front of the New Town Family Restaurant. The individual handing out free three-day GoodLife passes nearly startles me. I decline – wouldn’t know who to give them to. “No worries,” he tells me, as I note the good choice in location nonetheless. The diner hugging the corner boasts what seems to be its entire menu on its sign – all day breakfast among it. Even as a proponent of breakfast food at any hour of the day, I have yet to try it out.
I round the bend, finding myself on Gerrard Street East. It’s a street I have frequented quite a bit over the last year. It is of course home to the Gerrard India Bazaar BIA and one of the most impactful and distinctive streetscapes in the city. It is always a treat to gaze on the colourful facades of the clothing and jewellery shops, but it’s not my goal today. No, today I want to look behind the scenes.
On the way, I note a couple of scenes. The Glen Rhodes United Church, as imposing as it is on the street, at first glance is a bit of an anomaly amongst its South Asian surroundings. The church in its earliest form predates Little India by 60 years, however. I am impressed not only by its Gothic structure, but by its status as an affirmed church and a centre for the Pakistani community.
The next street over from Rhodes is Craven, locally known as Tiny Town for its DIY houses. I am tempted to cross the street and head south, but alas, I continue on. Less impressive is the amount of closed, empty shops. If you walk down the entire course of the Bazaar, you’ll notice quite a few of them. It’s a sad sight and speaks to perhaps the decline or at least the changing nature of the South Asian hub.
Ashdale Avenue is where I move off Gerrard. I snap a picture of the mural in front of the library before heading north. I enter the alley from behind the library. My first encounter is the Naaz Theatre complex. I didn’t have a chance to check it out from the front, but if it mimics the back, it still needs a lot of work. Actually, I can hear the grinding of a saw happening from inside. My other senses catch the tempting aromas from the street and the not so inticing wall designs.
Wooden fences and back decks populate the lane. I admittedly feel weird about being there. Like an arena dressing room to the public, it feels like a no go zone – the unpretty behind-the-scenes scene.
At Woodfield, I am thrown slightly off course by a couple of unplanned and planned distractions. First, the unexpected – a series of images making up a mural. I interpret the first to be a face with large eyes, a mustache, and tiny mouth – wearing a crown. Walking up to the street, I can’t resist but get another peek of my favourite building on the street.
My planned diversion is to head north. Woodfield has a bit of road maintenance going on. A passing jogger has to navigate around the holes in the sidewalk and through the muddy road. Canadian flags and a mismatch of adjacent housing have my attention. I also remember that a tunnelized stream runs under the street.
Ahead in the distance the street slopes up to an end. Before that, it’s bisected by another road. The row of houses leading up to southwest corner concludes a flat roofed brick building. This is Woodfield Grocery and puzzles me. I know of corner shops existing in Cabbagetown, so this is unexpected. I wonder how long it’s been here.
I head inside. I see no one at the counter but then hear a ‘hello’ from seemingly nowhere. A couple of steps forward produces a woman sitting in a hidden corner reading the paper and manning the security cameras. I head to the back of the shop and fetch myself a chocolate milk. While she rings it up, I mention my curiosities about its odd location. She makes no comment, so I go on to ask whether a lot of people come by. “Sometimes. More in the summer.” The language barrier between us has me sensing an awkward conversation coming, so I leave it at that and wish her a good day as I exit.
If I continue up Woodfield I’ll hit a path which trails under the CNR tracks toward Monarch Park. Alas, this is an adventure already travelled, so I hang a left.
My plan is to head down Highfield to rejoin the laneways. Before I do, I note the houses north of Walpole. They are a bit out of place compared to the rest of street. As my Greenwood Avenue exploits showed me, the residential neighbourhood in this area developed in pockets as the brickyards closed down and the land was converted.
The image of daisies on a black brick building welcomes me back to the lane. This is the Riverdale Hub, a former industrial building turned community centre. I had a chance to tour it during last year’s Doors Open. It is an interesting building with a wonderful mandate.
On Glenside I see perhaps the grandest design of the day. A woman from the residential complex behind me exits as I capture it. I often wonder if I’ll be asked what I’m doing when I am snapping photos. Alas, she continues on her business and I add the peacock to my Galaxy SIII’s gallery.
The alley hits an incline and I reach Redwood on the otherside. The Centre of Gravity Circus/Side Show Café is a fascinating structure. I know it’s an old theatre complex but looking up I see ‘Pool and Billiards Parlour’. Perhaps one of its incarnations after it ceased to be a theatre (whenever that was)?
I round back to check out the rest of building. More graffiti and a door leading to a death drop. That’s different.
Continuing on, I come to Greenwood. Across the street the alley continues. I contemplate it, but with a 14% phone battery, I nix it. Thwarted by technology.
I instead head to Gerrard to attack my bucket list. The first thing that catches my attention at the Brickyard Grounds is the coloured archival photo of the corner. It’s a long and narrow shop, but spacious nonetheless. I walk up to the counter and am amicably greeted by the barista. Not being one for lattes, I simply ask for drip. Behind me another barista alerts me she’s trying to pass through. Between the counter and the wall there is not tons of rooms. I apologize, joking that I tend to take up a lot of space. She tells me instead that they knew they’d regret putting shelving on the wall. We have a laugh about that.
I fit my coffee with milk and sugar and take a spot at the front of the store – right under the picture. I snap it for my collection and run through the rest of my photos from today while working on my coffee. I half-eavesdrop on the surrounding conversations including a police officer’s chats with the baristas and then a patron near me.
I bring my finished cup up to the counter and thank the barista that passed behind me earlier. I ask about what I had and she says it is an organic, fair trade roast and tells me about the differences it and dark roasts. Then I compliment her on the unbelievable job they have done with the place and the awesome tribute to the local history of the area. She mentions the photo, which she had touched up by a graphic designer, and points out they took the sign to the former occupants – the Native Canadian Arts & Crafts Gallery – and fitted it onto the counter. Didn’t even notice it ‘til then. From there, I pledge to come back – weekend brunch looks too enticing – and after exchanging names (thanks for the chat Sophie!), I leave.
My Transit Now Toronto app settles my dilemma between the bus and the streetcar. It’ll be the 31 today, and it comes five minutes to swoop me to the subway.
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.
After climbing off the 83 bus at Queen Street, I walk back to the north end of Leslie Grove Park and start exploring from there. I’m immediately greeted by a series of trees lining the east side of the park (located at Jones and Queen in Leslieville) which I learn later on relate to the site’s history and founder.
Moving past the baseball diamond, I am led to a splash pad with chalk designs. Beside that, a playground and a clubhouse beyond that. Like most parks, this is a very family-friendly environment.
At corner of Jones and Queen, I come across a flowery path and commemorative plaque by Heritage Toronto. Its subject: the park’s namesake, Mr. George Leslie, and his tree nurseries which were once hosted by this site. Across the street is the much photographed mural of the neighbourhood also named for him. Highlighted within it is another local hero, Alexander Muir.
On the way out, I take a final closeup of the trees towering over the park, which is the apt location for an annual tree festival organized by LEAF, Toronto Parks, and the local City Councillor Paula Fletcher.
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.