After more than half a decade of watching the large vacant lot at 85 Laird Dr. serve as a magnet for weeds and trespassers with spray cans, Leaside residents have recently begun to see construction activity on the site.
The property is now recognized as the site of a magnificent — if somewhat abused — large red brick structure standing well back from the street. That building has been standing since 1919, having been built by the Canadian Northern Railway Eastern Line to serve as a locomotive shop.
The construction of the shed is inextricably associated with the origins of the Leaside community if for no other reason than it was also the Canadian Northern Railway which, in 1912, retained the noted landscape architect Frederick Todd to lay out a model town in Leaside.
Never heard of Canadian Northern? Maybe that’s because by the time the rail shed was completed, the company was absorbed into the Canadian National Railway.
The use of the shed for its original purpose was not long lived. By about 1930, the railway had reorganized its operations and vacated the building. Shortly thereafter, the building became a warehouse for the E.S. and A. Robinson company, a UK-based manufacturer of packaging materials. The name of that company lives on in Leaside in the name of Esandar Drive, which runs off Laird immediately to the south of the property.
The building served manufacturers of packaging materials for considerably longer than it ever operated as a locomotive shed. The most recent name to be associated with the building was Winpak, a Winnipeg based company that operated out of the site until closing its Toronto operations in 2005.
Following demolition of the manufacturing plant that occupied the western portion of the property shortly after Winpak’s departure, the original shed in all its glory was clearly visible from Laird Drive for the first time in generations.
Also visible were the scars left behind by alterations arising from the uses that the structure had been put to over the years.
The building has since been designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. The current owner, First Capital Property, is committed to restoring the damaged portions of the building and featuring it as a new Longo’s grocery store to anchor a new shopping centre on the site.
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