Councillor pushing to preserve Leslieville’s industrial heritage

Leslieville’s industrial heritage is coming under development pressure and Councillor Paula Fletcher wants to keep as much of its heritage intact as possible.

She’s asking the city’s senior manager of heritage planning to report to Toronto and East York Community Council by late November with an update on the status of heritage preservation measures for the buildings in the Carlaw–Dundas Study Area.

The buildings are “extremely iconic” and represent part of the beginning of Toronto’s industrial era, Fletcher told Streeter. “That’s where everybody went to get a job in the east end.

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“There were a lot of products that everybody knows today that were all made locally in our neighbourhood,” the Toronto-Danforth councillor said.

“And the buildings built at the time – many of them are very beautiful,” she said. “Nobody builds buildings that are quite that lovely anymore. These are tasteful. They were architecturally designed. They certainly must stay.”

Unterman McPhail Associates, heritage resource management consultants, said in a March 2016 report the area has its roots in agriculture with market gardening dating back to the 1800s.

A brick-making centre also evolved based on plentiful, shallow clay, sand and cheap labour. Arrival of the railway in the mid-1800s allowed for distribution of the bricks far and wide.

The First World War was a catalyst for more Leslieville industrialization. It became a site for munitions production “and other industries that were far bigger in scale than the earlier family brickmaking and market gardening,” the Unterman McPhail report said.

YESTERYEAR: The Toronto factory of Woods Manufacturing Co. Ltd., one of many manufacturers that used to operate in Leslieville’s industrial area, produced outdoor materials, including tents, sleeping bags and other goods for Canadian soldiers during wars.

Today the industrial district is under development pressure with more coming in the form of Metrolinx’s Ontario Line, a 15-stop, elevated and below-ground line that will run 16 kilometres from Exhibition Place through the heart of downtown to the Ontario Science Centre.

Fletcher said the line is already affecting Leslieville industrial buildings.

“They’ve bought buildings already, they’re expropriating buildings,” she said.

A mid-October report to community council said heritage evaluations need to be completed to determine the historical value for existing buildings in the area.

Ontario Line map
NEW LINE: Metrolinx map shows an above-ground portion of the Ontario Line cutting through Riverside and Leslieville areas.

Fletcher said that because the Ontario Line will be more expansive than originally thought, the evaluation work “has become more urgent.”

Leslieville’s industrial heritage is already being recorded for public perusal in the nearby Carlaw-Gerrard area with heritage plaques.

Heritage Toronto launched the city’s first Heritage Plaque District in the area recognizing 10 properties and their unique historical value.

Fletcher has called the plaques “one of the premier commemorations of industrial history in our city and our city’s first such designation.”

‘Fantastic live-work area’ created

Community members and stakeholders have worked with Fletcher to improve the area’s public spaces in order to highlight its rich industrial heritage.

As well as enhancing the public realm, Fletcher is aiming for a balance between residential and employment space.

“There’s a fine-tuning in every application. Sometimes people just want to knock it down or just put in only residential. But we have created a fantastic live-work area there,” she said. “Many people are artists and cultural workers.”

Fletcher expressed some regret about the way Toronto views its heritage.

“Toronto thinks about heritage in a very narrow way.… We really have a deep and rich industrial heritage all throughout Toronto,” she said.

“It’s important to remember where we came from, how the economy worked and the contribution this area made to the growth of the city.”