This is the last of the posts on exploring four great public spaces in Toronto that have been created using heritage as their inspiration over the last decade.
The TTC Streetcar Barns site, once a community eyesore, has become a much loved community gathering space with artists live/work studios, The Stop Community Food Centre, a weekly farmers’ market, lots of community events and creative non-profit agency offices. There’s even a beach volleyball court.
The TTC Streetcar Barns located at Christie and St. Clair were built over the period 1913 to 1921. The five barns were used for streetcar repair and employed about 170 people at their peak. But as the city expanded the site no longer made sense as a streetcar hub and by the mid 1990s, the TTC declared the site surplus. As with the Brickworks, the Fort, and the Roundhouse, their built structures had outlived their technology, and the Barns became the responsibility of the City of Toronto. The result was a 5-acre derelict site with building that was both enormous and unique, housing five barns, each about 200 feet long and several storeys high.
The neighbourhood pushed for the site to become a park but at the first the vision did not necessarily include keeping the street car bars. A community engagement process led by Artscape resulted in brought about a consensus to retain the historical structures. Capital funding for the project was raised by Artscape and the community.
The historic barns with their unique layout provide the organizing principle of the space it. Each barn has a different use and different colour-coded signage. The history of the space is ever present because the basic form of the buildings is intact. One of the barns, termed the “Covered Street” acts as a central spine featuring large scale historic photos. For a great analysis of the history and adaptive reuse of the Barns, read Toronto Brownfield Redux, by the architect in charge of the project, Joe Lobo.
What to do with brownfields and old industrial buildings representing obsolete technology, will continue to be an ongoing issue. I am reminded of this every March Break, when my husband and I visit a different Ontario town to spend the weekend exploring and hiking. Every town contains abandoned industrial buildings stretching out along abandoned rail sidings waiting for a new vision.