While attending the local Toronto Urban Exploration Meetups, the biggest question in conversation was where we wanted to visit? In those days, the UE community was tight-knit and often secretive, and things like Instagram were still new and not so much in the public eye. During one cold January event, we ended up in Leaside to check out a warehouse from Winpack. I quickly discovered through my work that we were not in a warehouse but rather a significant historical building that maintained locomotives, not storing paper products.
The Canadian Northern Railway grew out of a small collection of defunct railways in Manitoba to extend rail access north and south of the Canadian Pacific Line. By 1899 two investors, Sir William Mackenzie and Sir Douglas Mann, transformed these lines into a single operator under the Canadian Northern Railway. They dreamed of completing a second transcontinental line. Their actions caught the attention of Grand Trunk, and while the Canadian Government tried to get the two to work together, Grand Trunk and Canadian Northern went their ways. By 1906, Canadian Northern passed through Capreol (north of Sudbury) and headed south towards Toronto, arriving in 1910. Despite being heavily indebted to the Government, they made plans to reach further east, to support that they needed a local maintenance yard in Toronto. Surprisingly, Grand Trunk allowed Canadian Northern trains to access Union Station under a traffic sharing agreement on Grand Trunk-owned tracks.
Leaside made the most sense to construct a maintenance yard north of the city; local landowners had plans to turn the area into a new planned community, and what better thing to have but a good source of employment. And for those in Canadian Northern could use the growth to construct home for those who worked in their yards. Purchasing 1,000 acres in 1913 from nine different owners, construction started on an extensive maintenance yard. At the centre of the yards stood their leading locomotive shops. The shops followed the typical functional Edwardian industrial architecture of the day, following function over form. The building quickly supported ten locomotives at a time with a crane to help lift even the largest locomotive in the fleet. Auxiliary facilities include a powerhouse, car shop, paint shop and machine shop—additionally, warehouses store parts and freight. A roundhouse and turntable provided storage for locomotives. Plus kilometres of track for storage, traffic control and marshalling. The new yards opened with great fanfare in 1916, the same year Canadian Northern managed to complete their line to the west coast. The rapid expansion and expenditure cost the company dearly, and two years later unable to pay their debts. With the Canadian Government unable to risk losing a significant rail network, they folded Canadian Northern into their management firm, Canadian Government Railways. They turned over the operation of all the railroads to Canadian Northern with a great deal of Government oversight. When the Government acquired Grand Trunk Pacific and Grand Trunk in 1923, forming Canadian National Railways in 1923, the days of the Leaside Yards were numbered. Grand Trunk had many more maintenance yards, namely their yards in the rail lands and the massive Stratford Motive Power shops. When the new Spadina Roundhouse opened in 1927, Leaside quickly became redundant, made only the more noticeable when the stock market crashed in 1929. Unable to support everything and in a bid to better streamline service, the Leaside yards shut down in 1931.
Over the next few years, the 1,000-acre site would be parcelled off and buildings demolished. But the locomotive shops were left standing. In 1935 ES & A Robinson expressed an interest in purchasing some of the former yards, including the locomotive shops. They completed their factory next to the shops making use of them as a warehouse and storage facility. The firm focused on paper products, and the Toronto plant produced air-sickness bags. Like any company, they passed through several hands before ending up under the Winpack brand. By this point, the factory complex had expanded until a modern industrial complex surrounded the old shops. When the plant shut down, the city quickly threw a heritage designation on the locomotive shops so that the shops themselves were preserved when the modern factories got torn down after 2005. During this time, I managed to sneak into the shops twice in 2008 and 2010. After this point, a great deal of urban renewal began with the focus on the former industrial properties of Leaside. In 2012 the shops became home to a Longo’s Grocery store, and in 2013 I brought a group of film photographers to the Cork’s Restaurant after the first Toronto Film Shooters Meetup.
I will note that the day I photographed this building was the day that, maybe a half-hour earlier found out that I would be a father. My son, at the posting of this, is now six months old and is doing well!