Canary Restaurant

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Of all the buildings that used to make up the area of Cherry and Front Streets there are but two remaining.  The building on the south east corner has served under many names over the years while across the street the CN Railway Police Building has kept it company since 1923.

The need for a new school in the rapidly expanding St. Lawrence Ward was addressed in 1859 when the Toronto Board of Education decided to erect a new brick school building on the corner of Palace (now Front) and Cherry Streets.  One of the considerations for the new school was that it should have separate entrances for boys and girls and they should not be in the same classroom.  The school had room for 80-90 boys and as many girls and the school board had plans to expand if the community continued to grow.  The picture below shows the boys entrance which has been painted green over the years.


The area around the school started to transform with the arrival of the railways and the industry that they attracted.  Slowly the population dwindled until the school was forced to close in 1887 and the students were transferred to Sackville Street School.  The original school building is the oldest surviving one built by the Toronto School Board and it has some very interesting architecture.


The south side of the building had the girls entrance and reveals the change in architecture styles between the original two story school and the later third floor addition.


Robert Irvine bought the building from the school board and converted it into a 40 room hotel.  In 1890 the building was expanded with a new main entrance on the corner of Cherry and Front Streets.


The hotel operated under several owners who gave it different names.  Originally it was Irvine House but was soon changed to Cherry Street Hotel.  In 1904 it was re-branded as the Eastern Star Hotel but by 1910 this too had failed and was closed.


The building stood empty from 1910 until 1922 when it was bought and converted into a manufacturing facility.  It was around this time that the third, and largest, expansion was carried out.  The Thomas Davidson Manufacturing Company used the building to produce enamel ware.  The addition was used for warehousing and later rented to additional manufacturing companies including General Steel Ware.  If you look carefully at the wall you can still see “Thos. Davidson Mfg” painted there.


From the rear, the building looks like a typical early 20th century factory.


The Toronto Archives picture below is dated 1972 and shows the Canary Restaurant from the angle of the Palace Street School building.  The restaurant operated in the building from 1965 until 2007 when the neighbourhood was consisted of mostly vacant or demolished buildings.  The Canary Restaurant had become a local icon and now provides the name “The Canary District” to the section of the Lower Donlands that used to be home to Maple Leaf Pork processing plants.  The building has had a heritage designation since 1976 and latest proposal includes it in the future Anishnawbe Health Centre development, the city’s first ever indigineous hub.

Front Street at Cherry Street

Creator: Harvey R. Naylor Date: February 16, 1972 Archival Citation: Fonds 1526, File 60, Item 12 Credit: City of Toronto Archives Copyright was transferred to the City of Toronto by the copyright owner.

From the front you can see the three different architectural styles in the building, each reflecting the period in which it was built as well as the intended purpose of the additions.  The 1859 school on the right, the 1890 hotel in the centre and the 1922 factory on the left.


On January 30, 1923 the Grand Trunk Railway was officially absorbed into the Canadian National Railway.  Shortly thereafter the CNR built an office building beside the earlier GTR tracks.  The building was later occupied by the CNR Police and is now often referred to as the CNR Police Building.  The CNR used it until 1970 and most recently it has been used to sell the condos that have been built all around it.


The picture below is from 1932 and shows the extensive railway sheds that ran along Front Street.  The two story office building at the far end is all that remains today.  During the 1990’s this building was used to shoot multiple films for Toronto’s film industry.

cherry 1932

It remains to be seen how these two historic buildings will be integrated into the Canary District but hopefully they will both survive.  If you are in the area you can always visit Corktown Common, a new park just east along Front Street.

Google Maps Link: Cherry and Front Street

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4 thoughts on “Canary Restaurant

  1. Pingback: The Distillery District. | Hiking the GTA

  2. JL

    Great and informative post as always. We shot many films in both the Canary building and CNR Police Bldg. to the north. One of note, for history buffs, was one of the original Murdoch Mysteries films ‘Under The Dragon’s Tail’, starring Peter Outerbidge as William Murdoch. These three films were precursors to the long running series. The main floor offices served as the Stationhouse, the upper office was converted into a tenement apartment and the basement was the makeshift abortionist’s procedure room. The location served our purposes beautifully and many a grilled cheese sandwich was consumed in The Canary as we worked.

  3. dobrucki

    I was there a couple of days ago. The door behind the woman walking on Front St. (in your picture) was open. I went in but it was too dark and I was nervous about exploring further. I used to go there in the 90’s for breakfast once in a while. Thanks for the post. I always enjoy your explorations and history.

  4. Pingback: Dominion Wheel and Foundry Company | Hiking the GTA

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