July 25, 2021
Linseed oil is also known as flaxseed oil because it is made from pressed flax seeds. It is a polymerizing agent which means that it has “drying” properties where it changes to a solid form when exposed to the oxygen in the air. For this reason, it became useful in the manufacture of paints and putties where its drying needed to be kept in check in sealed containers. Linseed oil was also developed into linoleum from which the product gets its name. The availability of a wide range of plastic polymers that don’t yellow with age has led to the decline of linseed oil production since the 1950’s.
Canada Linseed Oil Mills Limited had their first shareholder meeting in Montreal in 1901 and within the decade plans were made for an expansion of production into the Toronto market. A property was secured on Wabash Street adjacent to the one being developed by the Dominion Bridge Company who were expanding their Lachine, Quebec operation into the city. It was 1910 and industry was springing up in the junction along a rail corridor that originally served the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway as well as the Credit Valley Railway both of which were now under the Canadian Pacific banner. The aerial photo below is from the Toronto Archives and shows the site and its proximity to the railway. The Canada Linseed Oil Mills site is outlined in green while the Dominion Bridge is outlined in blue. The orange buildings are the former grain elevator from the Linseed Oil Mills, now demolished. The small yellow building on the left is the former office and has now been repurposed while the buildings in yellow on the right remain to be potentially restored and turned into a new community centre.
Construction of the buildings was completed in the spring of 1915 and the elevator and buildings were boasted as being fireproof. This was important because linseed oil is very flammable and old rags soaked in it have been known to spontaneously combust. The building is now over 100 years old and the ghost sign advertising the business is barely visible. The word “linseed” can be made out in the image below.
The business was served by a rail spur that ran up Wabash Avenue and delivered flax seed to the elevator and took finished products to the market.
Within a year of the start-up of Canada Linseed Oil Mills, Lowe Brothers Paint and Varnish opened up across the street. Supplying the paint industry across the road as well as the oil cloth industry at Scythes and Company just up the tracks gave them a considerable local market and the proximity to the railway gave them an international market as well. The chimney is showing its age and in several places the bricks are giving away but plans are in place to restore it..
The image below is from promotional materials that the company produced to help market some of its products.
Canada Linseed Oil Mills developed livestock feed called oil cake meal which was made from the leftover plant material after the oils were pressed out. This was sold to farmers for feeding horses and cattle. There were some perfectly good uses for the linseed oil and its by-products but there were also some questionable ones as well. Dr. Chase’s Syrup of Linseed and Turpentine for children’s cough being one of them. The National Drug and Chemical Company marketed a product for children’s cough which contained Licorice, Linseed and Chlorodyne (laudanum, cannabis and chloroform). I guess knocking them out reduced the children’s coughing fits.
With the closure of the factory in 1969 the building has sat vacant for over half a century but its story may be far from over. The city bought the structure for $2 million in the year 2000 and approvals have been made to covert the site into a community centre as a final phase of the Sorauren Park development. Plans call for the retaining and restoration of the chimney and walls and the creation of an indoor pool, gymnasium and a wide variety of community use spaces.
The archive picture below shows the Dominion Steel Company making the girders that continue to hold up the King Edward Viaduct (Bloor Street Viaduct).
This Google Earth capture shows the site of the Canada Linseed Oil Mills as it is today. During World War 2 the Dominion Bridge Company made parts for the military and after the war they closed the factory. It served as the TTC Parkdale bus barns for many years until vacated in 1980. The next plan was to use it for storage of garbage trucks and road equipment but this idea was resisted by the local residents. The community lobbied to turn the site into a park and this was eventually realized after the buildings were demolished around 1990. In 1995 the first phase of the park opened with soil being dumped over the remaining concrete pad from the buildings. This was the easiest way to remediate the site but it has created problems with drainage and plant growth. The two-story former office building for the oil mills was restored and turned into The Fieldhouse in 2008 and has a fully equipped kitchen and washrooms. The site of the former elevators was turned into the Town Common in 2014 which features seating and water permeable paving stones.
With construction of the Wabash Community Recreation Centre scheduled for spring 2023 with a 2026 opening, there’s hope that these buildings will have a future role in the community that’s worthy of their past.
While in the area be sure to visit The West Toronto Rail Path that runs on the former Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway right of way.
Google maps link: Canada Linseed Oil Mills
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