Railway Heritage Footprints in the West Donlands – Part 2 of 6
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On the southeast corner of Front and Cherry streets are two attached buildings that will also be preserved. The best known of these was the Canary Restaurant on the corner, a legendary local diner that moved into the building in 1965. (IMAGE #9, photograph by James Bow, from Remembering the Canary). The building attached to the restaurant on the south is seen in IMAGE #10. This structure was originally erected in 1859 as the Palace Street School (the name of the eastern end of Front St. at the time). The school was built partly because there were some who objected to the fact that the nearby Enoch Turner Schoolhouse was too close (both physically and spiritually) to the Little Trinity Church and that boys and girls were mixed together in the same classroom. After the area became less residential and more industrial around 1890, the school moved out and the corner building was erected as a hotel, touted for its proximity to the Grand Trunk Railway's Don Station and presumably the CPR Don Station, when that opened in 1896.
For a time, the old schoolhouse was the Thomas Davidson Manufacturing Company. The Montreal-based firm manufactured enamelled sheet metal products and in 1927 became part of General Steel Wares. Both buildings were extensively modified and enlarged over the years to suit their industrial purposes. IMAGE #11 shows the structure in 1954, when the moving company Tippet-Richardson occupied the south building and the north building was seemingly vacant. The loading dock on the south side of the building was served by a Canadian Pacific Railway siding. IMAGE #12 shows all three buildings looking north on Cherry Street and dates from 1981.
On the souths was a small Canadian Pacific freight yard and sheds. IMAGE #13 is looking west along Front Street from Water Street in 1932 and a warehouse can be seen on the left. The CPR main line from the Don Branch to Union Station also passed through this property until it was relocated to the new elevated Waterfront Grade Separation in 1930, now known as the Union Station Rail Corridor. IMAGE #14 dates from February 1925 and is looking east along Front over the CPR tracks. The lower Don River had recently flooded and the crew on the right is clearing the ice and snow from the tracks. IMAGE #15 was taken the same day and is looking south along Cypress St from Eastern Ave. towards Front. Additional CPR crews can be seen on the right clearing the tracks. When flooding occurred on the lower Don, CPR trains from Montreal and Ottawa had to be rerouted through North Toronto, West Toronto and Parkdale to Union Station. The large building in both images is the William Davies Co.
The William Davies Meat Packing Company later became part of Canada Packers, now Maple Leaf Foods. The Davies firm is remembered today for two rather unfortunate reasons. One was that the stench from this pork processing facility (IMAGE #16) apparently gave rise to the Toronto sobriquet of "Hogtown." The other was that William Davies himself died in 1921 following injuries caused some months earlier by a goat that had butted him while he was relieving himself on a roadside in the American south. Undoubtedly if the current publicity-hungry animal rights groups had been active in that era, they would have had a field day with Davies' misfortune.
On a more fortunate note, the Davies firm introduced pea meal bacon to Canada which was first sold by the company retail outlet in St. Lawrence Market and is still a distinctive and popular uniquely Canadian snack item. Davies was also the first Canadian company to establish a national chain of food stores. Meat packing was a significant Toronto industry for the latter half of the 19th and most of the 20th century and the animals were brought into these facilities by rail. (IMAGE #17)
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Posting by Derek Boles, TRHA Historian