Tag Archives: Adaptive Reuse

Scenes From Humber Lakeshore Campus/Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital

Near the western terminus of the 501 streetcar line at the foot of Kipling Avenue is Humber College’s Lakeshore Campus Welcome Centre. The LEED Silver certified building, completed in 2016, is a Moriyama and Teshima design, and the latest addition to an institution that dates back several decades and an overall area that’s even centuries older.

Indeed, while students have been frequenting Humber since 1991, the built and natural environment certainly predate this current era. Its historical incarnations: an aboriginal meeting point, land later ‘granted’ to Colonel Samuel Smith (the namesake of its waterfront park), and most famously as the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital.

The Town of New Toronto, 1947. Source: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

Across from the Welcome Centre is another introduction of sorts to the history of the place. On the walkway leading to the hospital’s former Assembly Hall, itself incorporating a glass addition, are messages etched in the sidewalk. The quotes, presumably from patients, date to as late as 1979 (when the hospital closed), and make for a nice yet sad exercise in telling the stories of this lost locale. More on that later.

A tour through the campus is a look into how this old asylum was re-adapted into a learning institution – even down to the old stables/garbage, now a Tim Horton’s.

The main part of the campus though consists of the Lakeshore Hospital’s majestic administrative building and the defining cottages which flank it. They now host classes.

These buildings were erected as early as the 1890s when they were a part of the Mimico Branch Asylum, the successor to the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in Toronto (now the site of CAMH). Since then it has appeared in maps and records as the Mimico Asylum (or simply the Asylum), the ‘Lakeside Sanatorium’ (albeit, never officially taking on the title), and the ‘Ontario Hospital’, perhaps reflecting shifting attitudes towards mental health. The last naming change to the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital took place in 1964 – quite recent.

Mimico Asylum (Lakeside Sanatorium), Toronto, Canada, 1910. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Grounds and Office Building. Mimico Asylum, Toronto, Canada. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Beyond the main hospital/school buildings, the campus boasts at least two other connected heritage buildings. The Cumberland House, a beautifully restored Victorian residence, once housed the Asylum’s superintendent. Now it’s home to Jean Tweed Centre, which only continues the property’s association with mental health. 

Second, the 1930s Power House, a gorgeous industrial construction, now serves as a recreational centre. There’s a path outside it which floods in winter to create a skating trail.

When a place ceases to functiom under its original purpose or even exist at all, the narratives associated with it risk being lost. The potential for story-telling is diminished. With the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital, there is fortunately a movement towards commemorating this important site.

Asylum By the Lake compiles the history of Mimico Asylum, offering insights into evolution of uses in the built heritge as well as great archival maps and images. It also tells the stories of some of its patients, which is the main focus of the Lakeshore Asylum Cemetery Project. Heritage Toronto recognized the work of the LACP’s volunteers in maintaining the property, which is located off Kipling Ave on Evans Ave, with a Community Heritage Award. 

Similarly, the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre, located in the Welcome Centre, has mandate to uncover (or rather recover) and present the Asylum’s lost narratives. The organization has hosted fascinating tunnel tours of the hospital grounds. Lakeshore Grounds’ Behind the Walls exhibition looks like an excellent interpretive endeavour.


Useful Links

Asylum By the Lake

BlogTO – ‘A Brief History of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital’ by Agatha Barc

Hiking The GTA – Mimico Branch Asylum

Lakeshore Asylum Cemetery Project

Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre

Sane About Town – Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital Cemetery Project Installation 

Spacing – ‘Campus Perspectives: Humber College’s Lakeshore and North Campuses’ by Matthew Hague

Scenes From Scarborough Museum, Thomson Memorial Park, and Tabor Hill

If one wants to learn about the roots of Scarborough, Thomson Memorial Park in Bendale is a pretty good place to start. After all, it is located on the historic property of the Thomson family – the first European settlers in Scarboro Township. Thomson Park also houses Scarborough Museum, which serves to tell the history of the Thomsons and the borough. More than that though, Bendale embodies and showcases the great layers of Scarborough: from its pre-contact period to rural pioneers to post-WWII multicultural suburbia.

Scarborough Museum Thomson Settlement
Scarborough Museum, which offers pay-what-you-can admission, is a collection of structures: Cornell House, McCowan Log House, Hough Carriage Works, and the Kennedy Gallery.  Together, they form a sort of scaled back version of Black Creek Pioneer Village.

After arriving in the township in the late 1700s, Scottish immigrants David and Mary (née Glendinning) Thomson followed an old aboriginal trail to a thickly wooded bush on the banks of the Highland Creek. Their task was tall: clear the property and make it inhabitable. In 1802, they patented 200 acres on  lot 24 concession 1 (today’s the east side of Brimley at Lawrence). David’s brother, Andrew Thomson, patented 200 acres on the adjacent lot 23 to the east.

Although none of the museum buildings themselves were part of the Thomson property, they originate from different areas of Scarborough and belonged to noteworthy families in the township. The artefacts within the museum also mostly originate within Scarborough, including a few items belonging to the Thomsons.

Scarborough Museum
Cornell House fronts Scarborough Museum, and was the museum’s first structure in 1962. Originally located at Markham and Ellesmere, it was built for Matilda and Charles Cornell in the 185os. The Cornell family sold the property in the 20th century to the Lye family. It was saved from demolition in 1961 and transported to Thomson Park. (One can imagine a building on wheels, meandering through Scarborough.)

Scarborough Museum Cornell House

A highlight of Cornell House is the wood and coal burning oven. A large part of Scarborough Museum’s programming is food preparation, and the oven plays a central role in that. (I enjoyed a delicious chocolate cookie during my visit.) For the Cornells, it also ingeniously heated the bedrooms above with wood during the day and coal at night.

The parlour room has an amazing collection of musical instruments.  Unknown to me was Scarborough has very musical roots, apparently. It also speaks to the detail and amount of artefacts within the museum. There is something in every room that catches the eye and has a story.

Cornell House Parlour Room
Cornell House bedroom

If Cornell House represents a second generation house (that is, the kind of house the children of pioneers would aspire to build), McCowan Log House might be a first-gen home. It dates from the 1830s to a William Porteous McCowan of Malvern – the same McCowan for which the street is named. Much like Cornell House, it was rescued by the Scarborough Historical Society in the 1970s and added to the museum.

McCowan Log House

McCowan Log House is built primarily of wood and consists of a main cooking/living room (with a very hearty fireplace used for more historic cooking programs) and two bedrooms. McCowan lived in the home with his mother and sister, thus the two rooms. In terms of cabins, the house is actually spacious with additions McCowan undertook on the structure.

McCowan Log House bedroom

The crib in the foreground belonged to the Thomsons.

The Thomsons built their own log house out of pine and oak, too. When he wasn’t working his land, David was a mason in Scarboro and the Town of York. Mary’s tasks were concentrated in the house, but when David was absent, Scarborough historian Robert Bonis writes she was left “to face the dangers of the forest alone with her children”. He recounts how wolves would jump on the roof of their cabin and gnaw at the door. My favourite anecdote of his, though, is Mary boldly wielding an axe to scare off a bear trying to make off with a pig! A plaque honouring Rhoda Skinner and other pioneering women stands behind the main building. Skinner was the wife of William Cornell, father of Charles Cornell.

Rhoda Skinner Scarborough Pioneer

Hough Carriage Works is a recreation of the original Hough Carriage Works which stood at Birchmount and Eglinton. This establishment was responsible for building and repairing wagons and more. Interestingly, it also functioned as a gathering point because it served an entire community, so it allowed residents to conduct business with each other.

Hough Carriage Works

Hough Carriage Works Penny Farthing

A penny-farthing, also known as a boneshaker for the toll it takes on a rider’s body.

Finally, the Kennedy Gallery is adaptive reuse at work.  Formerly a 1920s garage from the Lyman Kennedy farm in Agincourt, it is now rotating exhibition space. On until March 2016 is a neat exhibit about Frances Tweedie Milne and her writings in the context of rights and the Magna Carta.

Scarborough Museum Frances Tweedie Milne

Facebook in the 19th century: “Killed 10 pigs today. Men cut them up, Margaret and I salted them. Tired now.”

Exiting Scarborough Museum, Thomson Park is very expansive. The Thomsons used the area as a gathering point before they gifted it to become a public park in 1962, so it enjoys that continuity. It hosts an exercise circuit and a number of seating pavilions, which come in great use at the annual Scarborough Ribfest. The west branch of Highland Creek also winds through the park.

West Highland Creek

Somewhat hidden within the history of Thomson Park is the former Canadian Northern Ontario Railway. I first encountered this now defunct railway at Taylor Creek Hydro Corridor. From East York, it passed northeast through Scarborough and the western edge of this park. By 1926 however, it was abandoned and the tracks were removed.

Thomson Park Canadian Northern Ontario Railway

The Canadian Northern Ontario Railway roughly followed this path. An embankment is also still visible where it crossed Highland Creek.

Thomson Park 1956

Thomson Memorial Park area, 1956. The Canadian Northern Ontario Railway right of way is still visible. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

St. Andrews Road sits atop a ridge as it slinks from Brimley down to McCowan, echoing the route of Highland Creek to its south. It’s definitely a throwback road. For the Thomsons, the road network in the 19th and early 20th centuries mostly consisted of the main roads that essentially formed property boundaries – except for St. Andrews which curiously shows up in early maps.

St. Andrew's Road

In 1818, David Thomson donated part of his land to a congregation started by his brother Andrew and others. The result was a 30 by 40 foot frame church that would become St. Andrew’s Presbyterian – the first church in Scarborough. The street serving the church was appropriately named “Church Lane”, now St. Andrews Road. What stands today is the second St. Andrew’s Church, built in 1849.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
Historic St. Andrews Road also houses a number of other early landmarks such the 1896 Scarborough Centennial Library, and St. Andrews Cemetery, which is the resting spot for a who’s who of Scarborough pioneers. The oldest brick building in Scarborough, Springfield, the 1840 home of  James A. Thomson is also found here.

Scarborough Memorial Library
Following the Gatineau Hydro Corridor back down through the park, I cut through Scarborough General Hospital to Lawrence Avenue. The hospital dates from 1952 with its distinctive circular tower coming in 1968. It’s the major landmark at McCowan and Lawrence today, but historically the honour might have gone to Bendale’s post office.

Scarborough General Hospital

Bendale 1878

1878 Map of Scarboro Township. The 1878 community of Benlomond was renamed Bendale in 1881 to avoid confusion with a nearby town that already had the moniker. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

I don’t realize it at the time passing by it, but the subdivision north of Lawrence between McCowan and Bellamy features streets that all begin with “Ben”. Quirky? You bet.

Ben Jungle

The Ben Jungle subdivision dates from 1956.

Finally, Tabor/Taber Hill Park on Bellamy was the site of a 13th century Huron-Wendat ossuary. It was discovered in 1956 after the hill was set to be leveled to accommodate a new subdivision. Construction immediately stopped, excavations began, and at the end of it, the hill was preserved with a monument to the ancient burial mound. An excavated village on the north banks of Birkdale Ravine also connects to Tabor Hill. As I ascend the hill, there’s a family and their dog who had the same idea. They ask me to snap a portrait of them. I oblige.

Tabor Hill Park

Tabor Hill
Tabor Hill Iroquois Prayer
The view from Tabor Hill is provocative. All around is suburbia. The faint outline of CN Tower is even visible from this perspective. But none of it was here 700 years ago. The next people to see Scarborough as the Wendats saw it were the Thomsons. But the Scarborough David and Mary left was different than the Wendats’ Scarborough and different still than 2016’s Scarborough. And yet, all three realities seem to converge in this one spot.

Tabor Hill lookout

Tabor Hill looking northeast

Useful Links

A Long Walk From Toronto – “The Gatineau Hydro Corridor” by Carolyn Harris

Adam G. Mercer (Graeme Mercer), Charles Pelham Mulvany, Christopher Blackett Robinson – History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario

Andrew Chadwick – The Scots Kirk an oral history of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Scarborough

David Boyle, editor – The Township of Scarborough, 1796 to 1896

Globe and Mail – “Vibrant Scarborough now in cyberspace” by Dave LeBlanc

Metro news – “‘Ben’ a theme of unknown origin” by Rick McGinnis

Rick Schofield – Home Sweet Scarborough

Robert Bonis – A History of Scarborough

Spacing Toronto – “Ford Fest Scarborough – Revisiting Bendale circa 2004” by Shawn Micallef

The Scarborough Hospital – “Milestones”

Toronto Dreams Project – “Scarborough’s 700 Year-Old Burial Mound” by Adam Bunch

Toronto Museums – “Statement of Significance – Scarborough Museum”

Torontoist – “Historicist: Tabor Hill Ossuary” by David Wencer

Virtual Museum – “Bendale: About Place”

Jane’s Walk 2015 Roundup

Day 1: Friday May 1, 2015

The City’s Best Hiding Places: A Geocaching Tour!
Walk Leader: Denise Pinto
4pm

I liked this walk because it reintroduced me into a hobby I took up a few summers ago…and then inexplicably dropped. Geocaching is basically a treasure hunt involving GPSs and storytelling.

Denise Pinto, the very awesome global head of Jane’s Walk, led us around her own neighbourhood south of the Danforth around Donlands and Greenwood. It’s a neat area full of parks connected with corridors of green space. Looking at old maps, some of those parks are the remnants of a buried creek. Who knew?

And actually, that feeds into the point of geocaching: One hides a cache in order to bring someone to a place that is special to him and wants people to know. It’s about sharing stories and experience. Denise hid caches along the way and had us find them.

Among our route, we passed a playground, a community garden, and a lookout for the Greenwood Subway Yard. As a bonus, it ended at the Allenby.

Jane's Walk 2015 Geocaching (1)

Jane's Walk 2015 Geocaching (2)

Jane's Walk 2015 Geocaching (3)

Jane's Walk 2015 Geocaching (4)

Day 2: Saturday May 2, 2o15

To demolish, or not to demolish? Exploring Heritage Character in Toronto’s Downtown
Walk Leader: Michael Matthys
11am

This one was about the layers of history, heritage preservation, and how we make use of historic buildings that live past their original uses. Michael Matthys, a planner by trade with DIALOG, took us through the Downtown Yonge Street neighbourhood and showed us examples – good and bad and controversial – of sustainable adaption of modern buildings.

75 St. Nicholas Street, for example, is a condo development that utilizes an old planing mill as its base.  The problem – and it is one in many people’s eyes – is that the factory is no more than a facade. The mill was dissassembled, rebuilt brick by brick, and incorporated into the condo. Michael raises the question on whether this kind of preservation makes sense. What heritage is preserved? What’s the economic benefit from it?

Another case comes with 5 St. Joseph, which like 75 St. Nicholas, reuses a light industrial space – the old M. Rawlinson factory. Also like 75 St. Nicholas, planning got into the discussion. Are condos what we want? The city is growing; people need to live somewhere. It’s hard to strike a balance. It’s how we – citizens, government, developers – go about it. A nice bonus of going on Jane’s Walks, you get unexpected perspectives: while talking about this development, a resident of the building across the street told us that tower blocks sunlight to it.

After passing through the infamous site of the floating Irwin house development, the walk ended with a stop at Maple Leaf Gardens, which is a great example of a transformed space that pays tribute to its original use. The Gardens is one of two remaining Original Six arenas, and out of the two is the better preserved and utilized. The Mattamy Centre, the home of the Ryerson Rams, on the top floor is great because once again MLG is used for its original purpose.

Jane's Walk 2015 Heritage Character of Downtown Toronto (2)

Jane's Walk 2015 Heritage Character of Downtown Toronto (4)     Jane's Walk 2015 Heritage Character of Downtown Toronto (5)

Jane's Walk 2015 Heritage Character of Downtown Toronto (6)

Jane's Walk 2015 Heritage Character of Downtown Toronto (7)

Building Bloor: Alec Keefer with the Rosina Shopkeeper Project
Walk Organizer: Alec Keefer
3pm

This was the most attended walk of my weekend, and there was good and bad that came with that. It was the first of two walks this weekend on the Rosina Shopkeeper Project, a great grassroots effort to tell the stories of the tenants and entrepreneurs of Bloor Street.

The leader – local historian and former president of the Toronto Architectural Conservancy – Alec Keefer, is a library on all things old Toronto. His insights into the architecture, the construction, and function of the structures of Bloor Street West is remarkable.  He explains the start of Bloor Street as a residential street of 1910s Edwardian homes which were then often fitted with an addition to support commercial space. He points out details about the face of structures like the important of cap roofs – many of which are now gone – and fire walls separating units.

The flip side to huge turnout on a great topic: it’s hard to take in everything. I lost out on a lot of stories just because I could not hear. Also, it can be a task to travel down Bloor on a beautiful Saturday afternoon; it is definitely a challenge to meander its narrow sidewalks with over 100 other people.

The one tidbit I do recall is on the Black Horse pub. It had an ornamental horse on the front of the building, which suggests that the original occupants might have been saddlers and worked with leather.

As a side note, this walk was also memorable because I had my first interaction with a fellow blogger in the real world. Shoutout to Mary (notcontary) for the chance encounter!

Jane's Walk 2015 Building Bloor (1)

Jane's Walk 2015 Building Bloor (2)

Jane's Walk 2015 Building Bloor (3)

Jane's Walk 2015 Building Bloor (4)

Jane's Walk 2015 Building Bloor (5)

Day 3: SUNDAY May 3, 2o15

Intriguing, industrial, Sterling Road!!
Walk Leader: Catto Houghton
1pm

I not only attended this tour, but as a volunteer for Jane’s Walk, I wanted to help out on this walk. So I did. It’s a street loaded with industrial history and one in huge transition. How could I not be part of that?

Led by artist Catto Houghton, who has connections to Sterling and the Junction & Junction Triangle areas, it’s a street that has a ton of hidden history – and a hidden reality to most Torontonians today.

The whole time I mentally equated it as the Carlaw Avenue of the west side.  Factories started popping up on both streets in the 1900s and 1910s, relied heavily on the surrounding railroads, reached a heyday in the mid part of the century, and then closed and subsequently either demolished or vacant until purposing in the latter part. It seems that Carlaw is nearing the end of its shift, but Sterling has a bit to go.

The east side of the street immediately north of Dundas is a parking lot, but that was populated with factories way back when. The lot now services Nestle, the great complex that hugs both sides of the street. Nestle is latest incarnation of a lineage of chocolate making enterprises on Sterling dating back at least 100 years, starting with Cowan Cocoa and Chocolate. Cowan went under 1926 and was taken over by Rowntree’s, which created to first chocolate bar. Finally, Nestle bought Rowntree’s in 1988. The original Cowan building is still part of its facility. Catto, part of her great research, brought out some great ephemeralia of these companies.

The Tower Automotive building is an intriguing case. It’s a landmark on the street, but not looking so good now. There was plans to rezone the street to allow mixed use development, including repurposing the tower into lofts. Our friends Nestle fought hard against this because having residents as neighbours is not in their interests. I’ve seen it before in the Weston’s factory I worked in. Operating in a residential neighbourhood leads to noise complaints lead to buckling to pressure. Those plans are on hold and it’s definitely a case to watch.

The walk was unlike others in that in Catto arranged interior tours. Like Carlaw’s Creative Lofts, Sterling has a few complexes of live-work space where artists and entrepreneurs set up shop. The street is also home to an axe throwing league and a circus school. But you wouldn’t know it.

I’ll definitely have to come back and explore more of the area.

Jane's Walk 2015 Sterling Road (1)

Jane's Walk 2015 Sterling Road (2)

Jane's Walk 2015 Sterling Road (3)

Jane's Walk 2015 Sterling Road (4)

Jane's Walk 2015 Sterling Road (5)

Jane's Walk 2015 Sterling Road (6)

Dark Age Ahead – The Wizard of Ossington Jane’s Walk
Walk Leader: HiMY SYeD
5pm

If I understand HiMY‘s message correctly from this walk, I can summarize everything here, but to truly understand The Wizard of Ossington, you have to attend it, experience it, and share in the conversations and story telling. Still, I’ll do a bit of summarizing and encourage people to check out the next time.

HiMY’s took us through the Christie Pits neighbourhood and picked out visual examples as well as examples from his own experience which help to illustrate Jane Jacob’s last book, The Dark Age Ahead. For a last book, it’s definitely not a pick-me-up. She identifies trends in North American society that if continued might lead to a Dark Age.

One of the themes of the walk is memory and how we remember and forget, and what happens when we, as a collective, forget. Mass amnesia is what Jane calls it and it’s the result of a decaying society.

An example HiMY uses is a Greek temple house. There’s danger in assembling a few artifacts, recreating a Hellenic style temple, and then claiming to have an understanding of Ancient Greek culture. Culture isn’t the physical remnants of a peoples; it’s the day to day interactions and stories that are passed down through oral tradition and language.

Jane's Walk 2015 Dark Age Ahead (1)      Jane's Walk 2015 Dark Age Ahead (2)

Jane's Walk 2015 Dark Age Ahead (3)       Jane's Walk 2015 Dark Age Ahead (4)

Jane's Walk 2015 Dark Age Ahead (5)

Scenes From Old Town

Spontaneous, impromptu adventures. They are the best, aren’t they? As a person who overthinks and plans the heck out of things, I’ve realised lately that when you go into something with high hopes and little expectations, things turn out to be more fun.

I find myself at George Brown’s St. James Campus, meeting my brother in front of the Hospitality Building at the top of Frederick on Adelaide. It’s a new state of the art building, but its surroundings for the most part aren’t. Beside it is a trio of heritage buildings: Toronto’s First Post Office, the De La Salle Institute, and the former Bank of Upper Canada Building. Actually, the Hospitality Building was previously occupied by a still existing heritage building that still exists, Campbell House Museum, which was moved to University and Queen in 1972.

0. Bank of Upper Canada Building

0. De La Salle Institute

0. Toronto's 1st Post Office

This collection of structures is important in telling the story of York and Toronto, but the block-wide red brick building across from us grabs my attention the most. Ah, converted industrial buildings: my great interest in this thing called local history. A good chunk of George Brown features adaptive reuse projects. The one across the street is the former Christie factory.

0. Christie Factory George Brown 1902

Christie, Brown & Co., Adelaide St. E., s. side, betw. George & Frederick Sts.; looking s.w. 1902. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1. Old Christie Factory George Brown

My brother tells me that a pedestrian bridge was planned above the intersection to join the two buildings. It never materialized and after we part, I woefully resign to using the boring old crosswalk. Or maybe not so boring. At the corner I see an inkling of Old Toronto street names. Hello Mr. Duke!

2. Duke Street sign at Frederick

3. Frederick Street sign at Adelaide

As I meander south, it’s like architectural Pokemon – I gotta catch ‘em all. But this is a journey within a journey. I really want to check out the Market Gallery – I just get some trinkets along the way!

This is also a good time to plug my Map of Toronto’s Industrial Heritage, where I am attempting to plot the city’s industrial and manufacturing places – existing and lost, still running and demolished.

4. Old Factory on Frederick Street

Among these is Young People’s Theatre, which greets me at Front Street.  Just as it sounds, YPT is an arts space which puts on performances for young audiences. The building itself, though, was never intended to be a theatre. It started off as stables for Toronto Street Railway Company in 1886 – you know, back when horses used to draw the city’s streetcars. After the system became electrified, it became a power generating plant. It sat vacant for a while, faced demolition (such is the story many old and idle buildings, no?) until YPT moved in. One has to think of the logistics of converting a space like that into a theatre. Industrial buildings into lofts or offices seem like the most common examples of adaptive reuse, so to see a power plant into a theatre is truly remarkable!

5. Young People's Theatre Front Street Old TTC building

Still looking at the south side of Front Street, on the west side of Frederick is another industrial building. This is J&J Taylor Safeworks. As a Toronto Historical Board plaque on the building tells us, the structure was built in 1867 as a meat packing plant. In 1871, it became the home to J&J Taylor. It looks to be office space today.

I didn’t venture over to see it, but there’s a Taylor’s Wharf Lane immediately south of the building which commemorates the wharf that used to exist in the area – when the original shoreline was at about Front. Ironically though, the Taylor and in the wharf and the Taylor in the safe manufacturer are unrelated. More on lanes later.

6. Front and George factory

Continuing westward, I get to St. Lawrence Market and I note the doors are curiously closed. Poor twisted me – it’s Monday! I guess the ‘Toronto Does Her Bit’ exhibition will have to wait. I do get a look down pedestrian Market Street, though. There’s a shiny new Balzac’s there. I continue on to the crazy Church-Wellington-Front intersection, highlighted by the often photographed Flat Iron Building. I have enough shots of it so I opt out of one now and turn north.

7. Market Street

I travel past St. James Church and Adelaide Street again. When I hit Lombard I make a left. Impromptu adventure. One of the random nuggets of knowledge in my head tells me there’s something here that I’ve been meaning to check out: 86 Lombard. Today it’s the Fred Victor Women’s Hostel, but in 1907 it was built to be the city morgue. Imagine that: a house of the dead on our streets! There’s some hidden history for you. Actually, more to that point, a now covered sign high above door even once showed its original purpose.

8. Lombard Street Morgue

Lombard Street City Morgue, 1936

Lombard Street City Morgue, 1936. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

Some former factories catch my attention on Richmond street. Although I cannot find anything on the darker building, the red brick building has a ‘sweet’ past. It is part of a complex of structures that stretch to Queen Street which used to make up Robertson Bros Confection Ltd (established in 1862). If my facts are right, the structure on Richmond was the warehouse and dates around 1906. The purpose of the rest of the buildings and their dates is a little bit more difficult to sort out.

9. Industrial Architecture Richmond Street

Robertson Brothers Ltd from Goads Atlas, 1924

Robertson Brothers Ltd from Goads Atlas, 1924

After capturing them in my phone, I turn around to note my surroundings. There’s some street art dedicated to Nelson Mandela!

10. Nelson Mandela Richmond Street

Finally, just before Queen Street is Ditty Lane. This coloured little alley was named for the Ditty Hotel that stood at Queen and Church (although I can’t say exactlywhere at the intersection). The beauty of our laneways is they commemorate lost landmarks, unknown local personalitiess, and hidden histories. On Adelaide east of Bay, for example, lies Grand Opera lane – a tribute to, you guessed, the now vanquished Grand Opera.

Oh, and I had to look up ‘Ditty’ – it’s a little song. Perhaps it was a musical hotel?

11. Ditty Lane

12. Ditty Lane
On Queen Street, my adventure ends (or continues?) as I jump on a westbound streetcar towards my next destination.

Scenes From Grünerløkka, Oslo

I’m going to be venturing outside of Toronto and even Canada for this post. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Oslo, Norway to visit a friend. Even before I got there, I had a list of what I wanted to do and see: taking in the nature the city had to offer as well as the typical tourist-y, sightseeing, museum-y stuff.

But I also wanted to explore. More specifically, pick a neighbourhood, run around, and see what it’s all about. I do that in Toronto already, so why not bring that overseas?

My choice of where to go wasn’t completely random. One of the running themes I love to explore in Toronto is former industrial neighbourhoods and the layers of history within them. Gentrification, transformation, adaptive reuse…it’s all very compelling stuff. I wondered if there was something like that in Olso.

Enter Grünerløkka.

Grunerlokka Map

Grünerløkka is a former-manufacturing district located for the most part to the east of Akerselva (river Akers), considered the boundary between East and West Oslo. Are there parallels to Toronto? Definitely. Grünerløkka is basically Oslo’s bohemian, hip(ster) neighbourhood. It’s a cross between Leslieville and West Queen West with a little bit of Yorkville, Liberty Village, Kensington Market, and the Distillery District sprinkled in there.

To get to Grünerløkka, I take the 11 trikk from where I’m staying in Majorstuen and get off at Thorvald Meyers gate at Olaf Ryes plass (square). As I’ve written about before, place names are often important ‘ins’ into understanding the makeup and history of a locale. ‘Grünerløkka’, for instance, refers to Friedrich Grüner, an early property owner in the area. Grüners gate (street), the northern boundary of Olaf Ryes plass, also is an homage to him.  Thorvald Meyer was a businessman who bought  substantial property in Grünerløkka in 1860. Grunerlokka became part of Oslo in 1858, suggesting there was a distinct identity to the district even before it was absorbed into the city – much like the many annexed communities that would eventually become the city of Toronto.

Exiting the streetcar, I immediately browse my surroundings. Thorvald Myers is one the  main commercial throughways in the neighbourhood and is thus quite lively. Across the street, there is the plass; behind me is a building with large words above the door. I don’t know the significance, but imagine there could be a story there. Doing some research after the fact, ‘Paulus Menighetshus’ translates to St. Paul’s Parish, and according to this Digital Museum entry (have to love online museums) has been around since 1965.

1. Paulus Menighetshus

I do a quick walk through the square, passing a table of fresh strawberries on the way to the park’s centrepiece – the fountain. All the benches are full. And why not? It’s a gorgeous day to sit around. I head to Grüners gate, noting the row of restaurants with giant patios.

2. Olaf Ryes plass

3. Villa Paradiso, 1892

4. Grüners gate

One of my goals in coming to Grünerløkka was to find some of the remaining industrial architecture, and through a pretty educated guess, I figure that there might be some by the river. At the western terminus of Grüners, there’s a nearby grain silo which has been converted into residential space for students. Of the many examples of adaptive reuse I’ve come across, this is one of the most crafty and ingenuous. I wonder about the logistics of such a conversion, though.

In the other direction, there’s a path leading down to some parkland. Sunbathers rest on grassy hills, and I can see dog and their owners meandering below. Getting close to Akerselva, I note how shallow it is. I think fair to suggest that this is the end-product of vigorous industrialization. This is Oslo’s Don River – the heart of early industry in the city. Like the Don, it has taken a beating over the years, and only recently has there been real attention put toward its value. This article by the City of Oslo tells me of the rejuvenation of the Akers. After years of pollution, a beautifying initiative has sprung up to make the river and the surrounding infrastructure a gorgeous hub for new ecosystems and human activity. Further up I can see a group of people standing in the middle of the ankle-deep waters. It reminds me of parts of the Mimico Creek in Etobicoke. I pass a bridge and a man convening with some pigeons (not quite at a Home Alone II level, though).

5. Akerselva river

6. Birdman Akerselva

7. Akerselva bridge

Then, I gladly come across a complex of brick buildings, unmistakably industrial in design. The one nearest to me has what I interpret to be a historical plaque (the old years hint toward it). I think about getting a dog-walker to translate for me, but I settle for Google’s help after the fact.

9. Factories Grünerløkka

10. Akers Mek. Verksted plaque

Akers Mek. Workshop. Founded here in 1841. Delivered equipment and services to businesses along the Aker River. Moved in 1854 to the islet in the bay. Was the city’s biggest shipyard pioneer in oil industry. Closed in 1982

I pass another bridge – this one with charming love locks (not quite Paris worthy, though). Up the Akers is a waterfall, one of a few along the river’s course. I head back to the buildings and ascend the stairs. At the top, I find out their adapted purpose (a fine arts school campus) and then a little further down along the cobblestone path a clue on their historic use. Christiana Seildugsfabrik. Christiana was Oslo’s name between 1624 and 1924. Fabrik might refer to clothes. After some research, I’m partially right. Seildugsfabrik was a hefty operation which made textiles for ships. Our friend Thorvald Meyer even had a hand in it.

13. Lock Bridge Grünerløkka

14. Seildugsfabrik Factory Grünerløkka

12. Seildugsfabrik Factory Grünerløkka       15. Seildugsfabrik Factory Grünerløkka

16. Oslo National Academy For the Arts

Known as Khio, for short

17. Seildugsfabrik Factory Grünerløkka

19. Seildugsfabrik Grünerløkka This Is It

Is This It?

20. Seildugsfabrik Factory Grünerløkka

The collection of buildings under this former entreprise give it a Distillery District feel. Especially with the brick flooring between them.

21. Seildugsfabrik Grünerløkka

 I find my way to the road network at Seilduksgata. I arbitrarily turn north on the next street I come across (someone’s had fun with the street sign). Walking a bit, to my right I see the back of a church tower. To my left is a school, rich in great masonry and the use of arches.

23. Steenstrups (Patrick Is Gay) Gat

Erm…

24. Paulus Kirke back               25. Foss Skole

Heading up to and across Sannergata, there’s a different vibe to the district than what I experienced near Olaf Ryes plass. For one thing, the streets are for the most part barren. But the most striking characteristic is the prevailing graffiti. Grünerløkka might be a renewed working class district, but elements of its seedy past still linger on. It reminds me a bit of Toronto’s Leslieville, a neighbourhood in transition. Even with gentrification, hints of the days of yore remain. Travelling south on Toftes gate, a tattoo parlour and an animated mural.

26. Factory in the distance Sannergata

Former factory(?) in the distance at Sannergata

27. Grafitti Grünerløkka

28. Tattoo place Toftes Gate Grünerløkka

30. Toftes Gate Mural

Then I come to Birkelunden, the third park of the day. Grünerløkka is coloured with them. Birkelunden has its own tint. I enter from the side that houses the formidable looking Grünerløkka skole. My sights move across the park to get my second look at Paulus Kirke today, this time from the front. The creation and planning of public parks is a fascinating topic. It looks like Birkelunden was always intended to be a park from the start, but I wonder about the planning that goes into the surrounding environment. More specifically, I wonder if it was deliberate to pit a school and church across from each other with a park in the middle, but something about it works. There’s a religious institution, an educational institution, and then this public forum at the centre.

31. Grünerløkka skole school

32. Birkelunden fountain

33. Birkelunden Paulus Kirke

Then, I unexpectedly come across a market. This is the park’s Sunday bric-a-brac. I meander around the tables, looking for anything eye-catching and useless. I take the time to look for a wallet, but see nothing that suits me. I do come across CDs and used vinyl, though. I find  a copy of Queen’s ‘A Day at the Races’. With my takeaway for the day, I exit via the familiar Seilduksgata. I take a moment to examine what looks like an upcoming development. Even the signs and gate are littered with spray paint.

34. Birkelunden Bric-a-Brac

35. Lou Reed Bric-a-Brac     36. Birkelunden Abba

38. Seilduksgata development

39. Seilduksgata development

40. Seilduksgata development

Heading south, I come across Sofienbergparken – park #4 of the day. It’s the biggest of them all thus far. I spoke about the planning of parks earlier. Well, this one has an interesting story – turns out it was once a cemetery. Following a cholera outbreak in the city in 1853, the block that contained Sofienberg, then outside Oslo’s borders, was chosen as a resting place for the victims. Over time it seems people opined it was a bad and unhygienic idea to have a cemetery in the middle of a growing, dense neighbourhood, so it was gradually made into a park.

There’s a Toronto connection, too! St. James Park was also once a graveyard. In 1844, the overcrowded cemetery was moved to its present location on Parliament Street. But before that, Toronto suffered cholera epidemics in 1832 and again in 1834. The story is a portion of St. James Cathedral still holds the unmarked graves of cholera victims. More than that, there was idea that a cemetery in the centre of town (metres away from the financial core no less) was not the best scenario.

44. Sofienbergparken

42. Grünerløkka_map_1917

Grünerløkka, 1917. Source: Wikimedia

Oblivious to this bit of hidden history, I join the masses in reading and relaxing on the grass. I pull out some Toronto fiction, the classic In The Skin of a Lion, which I keep with me to remind me of home, and then I move on.

45. Sofienbergparken

46. Sofienbergparken

I admittedly get lost after this. I’m trying to find my way back to Olaf Ryes plass. Just when I think I’ve found it, I realise it’s not the right place. This is Schous Plass and, in addition to being park #5, has a nice old library. I have to consult a map, which shamefully tells me I’m actually not to far from where I need to go.

47. Streetscape Grünerløkka     48. Deichmanske bibliotek

A short walk up Thorvald Meyers and I find the park! Before jumping on the tram, I make the executive decision to grab some lunch. I pass by a number of establishments including a famed watering hole in the area, Grünerløkka Brygghus (Brewhouse), and Valouria Vintage (because vintage shops are a must in hipster neighbourhoods – just as Queen Street West) before settling on a sandwich from Something Hotel. It’s an investment I immediately regret for its taste and price point, but it’ll have to do. I eat while I wait for the tram that got me here. I have just as many minutes wait as the number trikk I need. When it does come, it swoops me back to Majorstuen.

50. Velouria Vintage

This marked the end of my venture on this particular day, but I would return with company to Grünerløkka two more times in the coming days. We would head to the western part of the district on the other side of the Akers. Here one finds the grand Mathallen Food Hall (which was sadly closed when we tried to go) and little alleyways that lead to riverside entreprises. Ingens Gate (which comically translates to Nobody’s Street) in particular is a fun little nook with entertaining street art.

51. Ingens Gate Street Art

On another occasion, we fuel up at the two microbreweries: the already mentioned Brygghus, and at Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeria, which is just south of Schous plass. It’s a dimly lit basement bar (really, ‘kjelleren’ means ‘basement’). No music, no trinkets on the wall, no nothing. There is a a sweet fireplace, though! And it’s fittingly located on the grounds of the former Schous Bryggeri (brewery). Christian Schou, a brewer, is another name synonymous with the local history of Grünerløkka that lives on in the neighbourhood.

52. Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeria

53. Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeria

Actually, the growth of amazing drinking establishments that has (in part) made Grünerløkka the “to go and be” district in Oslo might be attributed to the growth of the craft beer industry in Norway. The beer industry as a whole has been re-animated because of microbrews. It’s interesting because there have been breweries in Oslo for a long time (look at the above 1917 map and look for anything with Bryggeri in the title – I can count 3 of them), but the industry went stagnant. With Oslo and Norway playing catchup, the bar scene in the city – something that Toronto has been doing very well at in recent years – is better than ever.

54. Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeria

I’d say that’s a good reason to say “Skål” to Grünerløkka.

Related links

Google Maps – My Route through Grünerløkka
Oslobilder – “Grünerløkka”
Industrimuseum – “Seildugsfabrik Christiania”
SkyscraperCity Forums – Never fulfilled urban renewal/developments plans for Oslo, Norway (Includes early plans for Grünerløkka)