Why Preserving the Symes Road Incinerator Matters More than Ever

Not much of our built heritage remains in the upper Junction, at least not in terms of older heritage buildings. Home to the Ontario Stock Yards and a substantial meatpacking district for nearly a century, there were large industrial plants in the district but also office buildings from the early part of the 20th century. The Canadian Pacific Railway’s West Toronto Yard had a roundhouse and machine shops on West Toronto Street, where Rona now stands, and also where the Keele Centre at 500 and 530 Keele Street stands. The site of the Staples store at Keele and West Toronto Streets had an interesting modern office building from the 1970s in the Brutalist style. A look at archival photos reveals several handsome midrise office buildings along St. Clair Avenue West; however, no buildings were spared when the industrial area was redeveloped in the 1990s.

This industrial era largely ended in 1993 when the Ontario Stock Yards moved to Cookstown, Ontario. The demise was dramatic: the stock yards, the historic roundhouse, and the large Canada Packers site on the north side of St. Clair between Gunns Road and Symes Road were wiped to a blank slate with the all buildings destroyed. Some smaller-scale commercial buildings around the district also disappeared at this time. Some residents without ties to the disappearing industries might have been too pleased by the development to really consider its fuller implications. The buildings lost often met the street in a dignified way like the old warehouses preserved in Liberty Village. They were meaningful markers of a long and interesting history of industrial activity on an impressive scale, were thousands of people made a living—many of them immigrants. Though its smells might have been foul and the district dirty in its final years, the end of this era in the early 1990s was an opportunity to preserve and commemorate the meaningful past with the benefit of distance from the problems created by the industry.

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