Sunday, May 30, 2021
Revised August 23, 2021
(The City, Province and community groups have reached an agreement that will retain the machine shops while the offices and warehouses will be demolished.)
The Dominion Wheel and Foundry Company supplied railway components to the Canadian Northern Railway and in 1914 started an operation in the industrial zone near Gooderham and Worts Distillery. They made car wheels, brake shoes, the nickel iron centres for passenger wheels and other cast iron car parts. Cone valves for stop and check, pressure regulating, liquid level and altitude controls were also made on site. Outside of the railway industry they were also involved in the manufacture of parts and equipment for paper mills and printing presses. They were originally owned by the Canadian Northern Railway and later by the Canadian National Railway.
The photo below was taken from the Toronto Archives and shows the extent of the operation in 1947 when it reached all the way to Cherry Street. The buildings outlined in green have already disappeared leaving only the four outlined in blue. These are the foundry, warehouse, offices and machine shop.
The foundry building was where metal ingots were heated and poured into molds to produce the parts for repairing the rolling stock of the railway. The foundry has a low pitched gabled roofline that is less common in industrial buildings.
This undated photo from Friends of the Foundry shows the interior of the foundry when it was in operation. I can only imagine the heat in this place in the middle of the summer.
The entrance to the office building was located on the north wall and had single story pilasters on either side. Unfortunately, It can’t be appreciated because of the hoarding that was recently installed.
The office building is the only one that has any type of extra ornamentation. The walls are buttressed with brick piers that have small cut stone detailing at the tops. There’s also brick corbelling along the roofline with small stone details worked in.
When the foundry closed down the buildings were temporarily occupied by MSR Inc. into the late 1980’s. Since then it has stood empty while debates over the future of the entire 80 acre industrial zone went on. The City and Province proposed to develop the entire area for affordable housing in 1988. It is located in the flood plain for the Don River and so flood control and years of contamination required extensive remediation before development could begin. This new community would have been called Ataratiri after the Huon village that was destroyed near Midland in 1649. In this plan, the entire area would have been razed and all the buildings lost. Property values declined in the early 1990’s and along with skyrocketing remediation costs led to the project being cancelled.
The picture below shows the side of the warehouse with its double rows of windows and lack of any ornamentation, except for a single row of corbel under the roofline.
The city added the four remaining buildings to their heritage inventory in 2004 and a plan was put forward that would have developed them into a community hub with a musical theme. There would have been studios and places to jam as well as community kitchens and meeting areas. This also didn’t happen.
The machine shop had a full wall of two story windows that let a lot of morning light in through its five bays.
The Pan Am Games were held in Toronto in 2015 and the 80 acre industrial zone became a new project. Now known as the West Don Lands, it was partially redeveloped as housing for the athlete’s village. When the games were being planned the foundry buildings were used for this purpose and during this time Prince Charles visited them. Since then, development has continued unabated with the whole area east of the old Canary Restaurant being turned into midrise condos .
In 2020 the foundry site was announced as the future home of Eastern Avenue Affordable Housing. In January 2021 the Provincial Government invoked a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) to allow the development to proceed without delay or further community consultation. Demolition began almost immediately. So did the public outcry. Within days the demolition was put on hold and the damaged sections of the foundry building were boarded over.
The southern elevation of the Machine Shop shows a lot of new wood that has been installed to replace the original window boarding on the buildings. This was done at the specific request of the provincial government who found the anti-demolition graffiti on the older boards to be disturbing. The local community had left chalk and encouraged anti-demolition comments which support the preservation of this part of our railway heritage. It appears from the door in the picture below that the city workers have left a few pro-demolition comments behind.
The 1959 surveyors map below shows the industrial area and how it was completely intertwined with the railways. Much of this railway heritage has already been lost to redevelopment and it remains to be seen what happens to the remnants. The Smithsonian Institute has recognized the cultural heritage of the industry and has one of Dominion Wheel and Foundry’s catalogues in their collection.
A few decades ago this would have vanished without thought but the tide has turned and people are more aware of the diminished cultural heritage that we retain. Hopefully we can continue to influence how it is retained and maintained.
Relevant Blogs: The Distillery District, Canary Restaurant
Google Maps Link: 153 Eastern Avenue
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