With the ruins of the New York Pork slaughterhouse demolished last spring, the future of the property at 2306 St. Clair Avenue West is open for speculation. Officially, no plans have not yet been disclosed, but it is worth close consideration for anyone familiar with the area in the upper Junction. It is located on a major Toronto street which has recently been planned by the city to become a mixed-use main street. This plan, the result of the St. Clair Avenue West Land Use and Avenue Study, was formulated by the city of Toronto after consultations with residents and other local stakeholders in a series of meetings over one year. It envisions a walkable, built up area centred on St. Clair Avenue West similar to The Junction’s historic mixed-use area on Dundas Street West or Bloor West Village. The architecture, scale, public realm, and commercial activity will likely be different, giving the area a unique atmosphere. Yet the cohesive urban built form will be similar if the plan is embraced. Now ambiguously post-industrial and underdeveloped, there is potential in the area around for a vibrant, diverse, and beautiful district with the right development projects centred on St. Clair.
Recent History of the 2306 St. Clair Avenue West Site
The present situation at the former New York Pork site is the result of a disastrous five-alarm fire on November 6, 2006. Arson was reported as the cause. Incredibly for Toronto, the ruins at 2306 St. Clair Avenue West were not demolished for nearly five years and were numerously explored, broken into, and the site of illegal dumping. Broken windows theory evidently has some merit. The slaughterhouse was one of the small number of remaining facilities on the edges of what was the once massive Stock Yards meatpacking district, whose history dates back to the late 19th century. The Stock Yards were a major economic centre for The Junction community and one of Toronto’s most industrialized districts. Thousands were employed in this industrial neighbourhood. (Housing also stands nearby which dates back to Victorian times.) Yet the meatpacking district declined by the 1980s, and the closure and redevelopment of its core, the Ontario Stock Yards in the 1990s meant the end of the district’s history.
New York Pork, a meatpacking operating, continued to operate into the 2000s, along with a limited number of meatpacking operations on the edges of the district, the largest being Maple Leaf’s poultry operation on Ethel Avenue. (These firms mostly continue to operate on Glen Scarlett Road and at the east end of Ryding Avenue.) By this time, the Ontario Stock Yards were cleared of all buildings, regardless of historical merit, and crudely redeveloped with suburban-style big box retail stores and strip malls of which over half the land is a sea of asphalt parking and which often have long, featureless walls facing historic major streets like St. Clair and Keele.
The Stock Yards meatpacking district was a highly industrialized district in Toronto until the late 20th century. This image is from 1960, from the Archives of Ontario Canada Packers collection. The slaughterhouse at 2306 St. Clair Avenue West is in the lower left-hand corner.
A subdivision informed by New Urbanist principles was built by Tribute Communities immediately to the east and north of New York Pork, with the developer intending to buy and redevelop the site as well. For house buyers, it may have seemed to follow logically, as their new houses were built on the site of Canada Packers, the largest meatpacking operation in the district, after a herculean soil remediation effort. The area was entering a post-industrial stage; however, New York Pork’s owner ultimately decided to stay put, and the early years of the subdivision were marked by tensions between the slaughterhouse’s undiplomatic operations of live animal deliveries at odd times and stench. The fire in 2006 was a dramatic end to these tensions.
Redevelopment Potential and Significance
Now cleared of its charred ruins, the New York Pork site is a relatively deep property that can be seen as a first step towards fulfilling the St. Clair Avenue Plan. It is an important time for The Junction’s north end centred on St. Clair because a good opportunity has presented itself to begin the implementation of its rational plan. A mixed-use condominium development could raise the profile of the neighbourhood and bring new residents and businesses to revitalize the area. It can catalyze a transformation into an attractive urban district. This site presents a good opportunity to set a precedent to develop the upper Junction into a dense and walkable neighbourhood where many people can walk to businesses and whatever legitimate establishments that are part of their lifestyle.
The alternative is sprawl, car-dependent and separated commercial and residential areas, with the resulting congestion on the streets of the city, pollution, and the utilitarian and unattractive main streets oriented solely on meeting the needs of drivers. The logical direction to fulfill goals of producing sustainable, functional, and attractive urban neighbourhoods is a multi-storey residential building with space for businesses on the ground floor and second floor if demanded. Lofts may have appeal in an area with such a rich industrial heritage. It would have to be terraced on the north side to fit in with the two-storey houses on Cannes Circle.
The New York Pork site is also significant in the context of the local grid, standing at the head of two streets and one laneway. Its St. Clair frontage terminates views up Cobalt Avenue. Cobalt Avenue may not seem like a very significant street at first glance with its bungalows and vibrant restaurant (Bairrada Churrasqueira), but in the upper Junction, it is important. Cobalt Avenue connects St. Clair Avenue, the main street, with Runnymede Park, the largest and arguably most important public space in the neighbourhood with its year-round recreational amenities. Cobalt Avenue is the only direct route from St. Clair to George Bell Arena, an important venue for Canada’s national sport and various events throughout the year. Furthermore, George Bell Arena fulfills critical civic functions as it is where the neighbourhood participates in the democratic process, voting in municipal, provincial, and federal elections. It is where the community meets to discuss issues affecting its quality of life. Thus, Runnymede Park is also an important civic place and Cobalt Avenue a significant connecting corridor.
The 2306 St. Clair Avenue West property terminates views up Cobalt Avenue, the only direct connection between St. Clair and Runnymede Park, an important public place in the neighbourhood. It is clearly visible from Runnymede Park, from in front of George Bell Arena. This photo was taken on April 30, 2011 when demolition of the slaughterhouse ruins was underway.
Clearly visible from Runnymede Park, the 2306 St. Clair Avenue West site terminates views northward up Cobalt Avenue. For the significance of Runnymede Park and George Bell Arena, the architecture of a building at this site should present a distinctive vista with an interesting shape against open sky, a continuation of Toronto’s engaging heritage of terminating vistas. Architectural elements should be aligned with the centre of Cobalt Avenue. Whether inspired by tradition or contemporary, the design should be attractive and bold to set a positive precedent for avenue development in the area. One possible element towards this end would be a clock tower like that of High Park Lofts on Roncesvalles but more distinctive and legible, aligned with the centre of Cobalt Avenue with a clock face that would visible from Runnymede Park. Such an element would be very appropriate for time-sensitive sports commitments and evening voting and community meetings.
The site also terminates views west on Tarragona Boulevard towards Symes Road. Tarragona is not the vital linkage that Cobalt is to a critical civic space, but it is a relatively long and attractive residential street built as part of the Tribute subdivision on the Canada Packers lands, with minimal space wasted for front yards and vernacular-inspired architecture uninterrupted by large garages jammed onto the fronts of houses like in the suburbs. Once again, attractive architectural elements should align with the centre of the street, though this vista need not be as dramatic as the one on Cobalt. With terracing towards from the north end of the property, it probably could not be as dramatic. Lastly, the laneway vista south of Tarragona Boulevard is more minor, but it could be addressed with architecture features aligned with its centre like dramatic bay windows.
2306 St. Clair Avenue West is also a western view terminus for Tarragona Boulevard and the well-used laneway between Tarragona and St. Clair. Now cleared of ruins, these photos were taken during demolition on April 30, 2011.
It is not only private development that transforms an area, but concurrent government investment in the public realm and transit. But since the role of private development is important, it means that the former New York Pork site should be carefully developed into the kind of building that embraces the city’s vision for its avenues. This plan can produce functional and attractive neighbourhoods around mixed-use, pedestrian- and transit-oriented streets, building on the successes of Toronto’s popular, higher-profile neighbourhoods such as The Annex and Bloor West Village, and possibly achieving more success than ever in history. This property is significant and now presents an opportunity to move forward in making the avenue plan created with community consultations a reality. A proactive, community-focused approach to redevelopment can yield great benefits. It is a significant time for this significant site.