Historic Building Tour Through Liberty VillageNeighbourhood | Written on May 9, 2015
The Liberty Village of today isn’t the Liberty Village of the 1800s and early 1900s. To those familiar with both, “gentrification” is perhaps the word that is most commonly used when describing the evolution and growth of this neighbourhood. Unlike many of Toronto’s other areas, however, Liberty Village has managed to maintain its industrial past. This is one of the many reasons Liberty Village is so loved today and has become a hotspot for first-time home buyers and investors. It boasts an interesting and rich heritage that is probably most visible through its architecture. Walking along its streets feels less like a stroll through a metropolis and more like a visit to an earlier time, but with the conveniences of life in the 21st century.
There are myriad buildings in Liberty Village that warrant a second look all holding a little bit of Toronto’s history. Allow us to take you on a tour of several of these buildings in Liberty Village.
King Street & Strachan Avenue
Our first stop is the Strachan Avenue Prison, or Central Prison, as it was named when it was built in the late 1800s. Opening in 1873 and closing a few decades later in 1911, the Central Prison was a 336-bed prison and rehabilitation facility for men. It was originally intended as an industrial compound to manufacture railway cars for the Canada Car Company and, following its closure, much of the land was re-commissioned for railroads. The main building was torn down and the remaining structures were taken over by Hobb’s, Dr. Ballard’s and, until 1981, John Inglis and Company Limited.
What remains standing today are the Central Prison’s Roman Catholic Chapel and the AR Williams Machinery Building. In 1985, these remaining buildings were added to the list of Toronto’s heritage properties.
1915 Liberty Street
Looking East from Dufferin
A factory turned parking lot! That is the next stop on our historic building tour of Liberty Village.
In 1916, the Russell Motorcar Company owned and ran a factory to manufacture fuses for bombshells. The factory ran 24 hours/day and 7 days/week and employed a total of 4000 people, many of whom were women.
The Toronto Carpet Factory
67 Mowat Avenue
On your excursion to Liberty Village, it’s hard to miss the Toronto Carpet Factory. It was designed according to classical English Industrial style architecture with high ceilings, large windows, wooden floors, exposed bricks and columns and with the operational buildings surrounding the internal courtyard and laneways.
The Toronto Carpet Factory was purchased by York Heritage Properties in the 1980’s and though it is now used as office space and for commercial purposes, York has endeavored to keep the look of its exterior the same as it did when it was built between 1899 and 1920.
For six decades after it was built The Toronto Carpet Factory produced woven carpets, looms to make blankets and coats and later, furniture.
135 Liberty Street
This next stop on our historic building tour is called the “Castle” because of its castle-like roofline, a design that is a nod to the medieval revival architecture of Casa Loma. The “Castle” was built in 1912 by the E.W. Gillett Company and was once the production grounds for Magic Baking Powder, Royal Yeast Cakes and scented lye.
Until its closure in 1969, the Lamport Stadium was the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women, the first all-female prison in Canada. After it closed, the buildings were torn down and the land was sold to the city with strict instructions that it be used solely for parks or for recreation purposes. The city opted to build the stadium in 1974-1975 and named it after a former mayor of Toronto, Allan Lamport.
The artistic mecca that Liberty Village has become has its roots in the early 1990s. When Artscape, the non-profit organization that is widely known for using art to transform buildings, communities and entire cities, moved to Liberty Village, the area started to change. Artscape took over the building that previously housed St. David’s Wine Growers, a former winery, and offered spaces for rent to 44 artist studios. As industries moved out of Liberty Village, artists moved in and this shift revitalized Liberty Village. Artscape still operates out of Liberty Village.
99 Atlantic Avenue
Another of Liberty Village’s notable historic buildings is located at 99 Atlantic Avenue. This ‘brick and beam’ structure was built in 1890 and through the early 1900s the Brunswick Balke Collender Company used the site as its base to manufacture floors for bowling alleys. The company was subsequently purchased by the Samuel May Company, Canada’s largest manufacturer of billiard tables and accessories. Following the Samuel May Company’s exit, 99 Atlantic Avenue was occupied for twenty years by the Academy of Spherical Arts. Since then, it has been modernized and now houses loft office spaces.
Our final stop is 37 Hanna Avenue, where John Inglis and Sons operated grist and flourmills from 1881 to 1902. They later switched to building steam engines and waterworks pumping engines. John Inglis and Sons was purchased by Major J.E. Hahn who used the site to manufacture the Bren Light Machine Gun, used by British and Canadian Infantries during World War II.
After the war, the company shifted gears and for the first time began manufacturing consumer products including house trailers, domestic heaters, stoves and fishing tackle.
The company switched hands again in 2003 and it has now been transformed into the Liberty Market Building.