Welcome to my blog on housing, culture and design in the City of Toronto.
Today, I thought I’d give a brief history on the redevelopment of Davenport Village in Toronto’s central west end. Why? Because it represents how an area’s highest and best use can change over time and demonstrates how radically different our urban fabric can be over the span on one hundred years.
But first, if you ever want to Discover Your Toronto Neighbourhood History, an easy informative resource is this interactive map on the Toronto Public Library website that helps sleuth the past on your favourite locations! It’s definitely worth a look and serves as one of my ‘go-to’s’ when I’m researching the history of Toronto.
St Clair district west of Dufferin Street, 1890. Charles E. Goad, Atlas of the city of Toronto and vicinity, plate 40 and plate 41(section)
Davenport Village Then
In the 1850s, Davenport Road was considered one of the more significant arteries west out of the city – even though it was basically a mud toll road in ill-repair – in a geography which was heavily treed and dotted with a small farming and market gardening community of homesteads having just a few hundred households. For context, in 1851, the population of Toronto proper was just over 30,000 people, 97 per cent of whom originated in the United Kingdom (in contrast to today’s figures of 2.8 million people, half of whom are identified as visible minorities).
During this time Toronto expanded with the arrival of railways, which linked the city to other centres, helping establish nodal concentrations of commerce that supported small communities across the province. In St Clair West In Pictures, A History Of The Communities Of Carlton, Davenport, Earlscourt, And Oakwood (from which all following quotes and images are sourced, with thanks), this fostered a significant change in the landscape of both Toronto and Ontario and, in the case of this location: “Hamlets like Davenport formed at major crossroads, and grew with the coming of railways. Individuals and communities quickly realized that businesses would locate where railway companies built stations, and competed heavily for lines through their properties while local road companies saw traffic and profits diverted from their slow, seasonal thoroughfares to the long distance, all-year rail routes“.
The railway system was integral to how Toronto developed, for its growth was shaped by the location and intersection of its railway lines, well in advance of the arrival of the automobile. In the 1880s and 1890s the West Toronto Junction had not only become attractive to industries for its superb transportation facilities, but to attract business it offered significant tax exemptions, reduced water rates, and offered road improvements and railroad sidings in return for locating within its boundaries and committing to employ local residents. “In 1891, the Globe reported, “at the present time there are no less than fifteen factories employing an aggregate of 661 hands in The Junction, with an additional 200 people working at local brickyards“.
Davenport – situated just east of The Junction – began growing both as investors and real estate speculators began dividing large parcels of land into lots, and the growing need for materials like gravel and bricks (readily available in this geography with its massive escarpment) saw this area attract more labourers. In 1889, the Town of West Toronto Junction was officially proclaimed, having annexed the villages of Carlton and Davenport, spurning the transition of this area into an urban centre with water, electricity and transportation. Just twenty years later it would be annexed by Toronto.
Plan and description of property owned by the Dovercourt LandBuilding & Savings Company,” 1885.– Speight & Von Nostrand/TRL MsX.11
“This probably was a working copy of the plan that the DovercourtLand Building and Savings Company used to track sales in its subdivision ‘in the suburb of Dovercourt’. Lot 19 on BrandonAvenue is advertised at $4.50 per foot (0.3 metre), but the handwritten notes indicate that some lots were going for higher prices ranging from $5.50 to $9 a foot (0.3 metre). Many building lots are marked ‘Sold’ including all 24 fronting Dufferin Street and another two dozen in the block bounded by Dufferin, Davenport, Dunbar (now Beaver) and Lightbourn. The latter street was named for A. G. (Alexander Gilbert) Lightbourn, manager of the development company and also the first postmaster of the Dovercourt Post Office (shown here at the northwest corner of Dufferin and Armstrong), serving from 1 November 1885 until his resignation on 10 November 1889.28b The Davenport Road Tramway is mentioned as another local amenity, expected to “be built during 1886” – in fact, street railway service did not begin until September 1892”.
Housing In “The Highlands” & “The Shacklands”
As Toronto boomed with immigration, the lack of effective street railway service and the demand for real estate spurned the Toronto Belt Line Railway Company to build a steam railway line around Toronto in 1889. Fully opportunistic, the Toronto Belt Land Corporation Limited was formed to develop, subdivide and sell building lots in Forest Hill, Fairbank, and other outlying areas to a population eager to escape the scourge, grit and overcrowding endemic to city life. Promotional brochures described the healthful benefits of living in the “Highlands” Toronto: “Those who have not witnessed the revolution in residential ideas resulting from rapid transit can scarcely imagine the effect. It will be a new era. It will lift toiling men and women for a little while at least each day, out of the grime and scent and smoke of the city. A cheap fare, a comfortable seat, a well-heated, well-lighted and well-ventilated car, a quick ride, and here on the Highlands, away from the bustle of the throng and beyond the clatter of the street, here, the balmy air and restful surroundings will win back bloom to the cheek and courage to the heart.”
In Davenport, prior to its annexation to Toronto in 1909, the subdivision of land into building lots was marketed to the working class. Not only was the land cheaper, “but building restrictions and permits were almost non-existent in York Township, allowing self-building“. Despite the extremes of our climate, buyers lived in tents or temporary shelters and constructed their permanent dwellings in their spare time, buying materials in small quantities as their budgets could afford after the small monthly payments paid to the developers for their lots. This meant the first structures for many of these residents were crude shacks covered with tarpaper, sheet iron or weathered boards, earning the area the moniker ‘Shackland’. “Painter Lawren Harris (1885-1970), a founding member in 1920 of the Group of Seven, created about a half dozen paintings of Earlscourt (beside Davenport), which he later described as “a picturesque, semi-slum district west of Bathurst Street and south of Eglinton Avenue“. A Globe reporter who visited the Shackland in 1907 noted: “it was without plan, the streets were unpaved, uncurbed, and without ditches, and that no two shacks were alike, rather each had its own personality“. One resident, Jack Sylvester recalled, “We could look between the cracks in the boards at the people coming across the field. Every night we would huddle into bed with the oven plate wrapped in newspaper to keep the bedclothes warm.”
A street in Earlscourt, about 1910. – William James/CTA Fonds 1244, Item 7274
Shacks in Earlscourt, 14 October 1916. – John Boyd/LAC/PA-69935
Today, with a lot of our conversations about housing affordability focusing on the high costs of permit fees – as I wrote about in The Pitfalls Of Permit Fees And Toronto Real Estate – the impact of city regulations have been a factor to affordability in Toronto for well over one hundred years. In the vicinity of Davenport, development had been scattered, with modest self-built homes built haphazardly and with irregularity, interspersed by vacant lots. After incorporation with Toronto, the housing market changed significantly. According to geographer Richard Harris in a 1991 study: “Builders in the area now had to reckon with the City’s inspectors and obtain permits. Regulations permitted frame construction with clapboard or shingle siding, but ruled out tarpaper shacks“. These regulations made home ownership challenging for the owner-builder. In his 1920 thesis on Earlscourt, just east of Davenport, Victor Lewis wrote “Incorporation [i.e. annexation] within the city . . . meant building restrictions and thus a workman became handicapped in acquiring a home of his own. He could no longer build a shack and add a little to his home from time to time as his means permitted. He must either pay rent or run the risk of mortgaging the future.”
It’s amazing how our conversations about affordability and the impact of urban planning and policy have been a consistent dialogue in the history of Toronto real estate.
Davenport Works of the Canadian General Electric Co. Ltd., 1930s. – Toronto 1 – This is the location of today’s ‘Davenport Village’.
Davenport Village Of Olde
In 1900, Canada Foundry Co. Limited was incorporated to serve the growing demand for iron products. Acquired by the Canadian General Electric Company (CGE), construction of a factory complex was started on a 60-acre (25-hectare) site located south of Davenport Road on the west side of Lansdowne Avenue adjacent to two intersecting railway lines. By 1903 many of the structures were complete, with expansion underway including one for decorative Architectural Bronze and Iron Works. In the forthcoming decades CGE “relocated some of its electrical manufacturing (transformers) to the Davenport plant, later adding extra buildings, such as for glyptal resins (1944) and a carboloy factory (1950s).” CGE sold the Davenport Works in 1981 and moved out of the neighbourhood. The Canada Foundry Company’s 1903 warehouse at 1110 Lansdowne Avenue was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 2008 and converted into a loft condominium called Foundry Lofts, while an office building and a powerhouse were also listed on the City’s Inventory of Heritage Properties in 2004.
Like many other locations across Toronto, over the past 100 years the shifting economy, combined with advancements in mechanization, reduced the working labour force. Meanwhile, the culture of the automobile, the rise of the suburbs, and the decline of industry within the city centre for cheaper land beyond, wreaked havoc on the city’s industrial base. During the 1980s and 1990s, as several large Toronto factories and businesses closed or relocated, CGE (now General Electric Canada Inc.) closed its huge complex on Lansdowne Avenue. Like many brownfield sites that had once been used for industrial purposes: “The removal of waste materials from the site caused considerable neighbourhood concern. By 1997, the community had approved a process for removing the waste. By 2006, the City of Toronto issued a plan for the redevelopment of “Davenport Village,” a 7.68-hectare (19- acre) parcel on the old GE Canada lands west of Lansdowne“.
Image of the Foundry Loft Conversion at 1100 Lansdowne Avenue, courtesy of Toronto Life Magazine
Davenport Village Of Today
Today’s Davenport Village represents 3 dynamic neighbourhoods with significant post-industrial re-development. Davenport Village – along with its sister ‘hoods – carries a certain freshness, a hint of grit, and a lot of promise. Although limited manufacturing still dots the surrounding area, and the Canadian Pacific Railway continues to operate a mainline intersecting these areas, many of the former industrial spaces in the area have been converted into more contemporary uses like art galleries, services, and coffee shops. The immediate vicinity, long home to a diverse community which over the past 40 years was predominantly Portuguese, Italian, and Latin American is, like many of Toronto’s urban ecosystems undergoing rebirth into a new lifecycle, attracting a new generation of first and second generation Canadians who appreciate its great value and access to downtown. This area, like much of the central west-end, is a testament to how neighbourhoods are multi-faceted; history, culture, geography, and time all play a role in the formation of the layers that combine to promote an eclectic vibe while creating a rich community tapestry.
Image courtesy of UrbanToronto, with thanks
While the housing stock surrounding Davenport Village consists of working and middle-class row, semi, and detached homes dating around one hundred years old, they’re in far better condition than the ‘Shacklands’ of yesteryear. However, Davenport Village itself has been undergoing reinvention since 2006, comprising 9 phases of residential or live/work housing in addition to lifestyle-supportive retail and service amenities. Six phases have been completed over the past 13 years, while the next phases are being planned and executed by the Neudorfer Corporation, with many of the structures and dwellings designed by Gabriel Bodor Architects. Once finished, Davenport Village will be home to around 1960 dwellings.
Image courtesy of BuzzBuzzHome, with thanks
These final phases – imminently underway – are located south-east of this property at 980 Lansdowne Avenue, and will include two towers (29 and 36-storeys) on a 7-storey shared podium base (above), a separate 12-storey residential building, two 4-storey stacked townhouse buildings, along with a one storey daycare facility! This increase in population density signals additional amenities will arrive to meet the growing needs and demand of the immediate community, enhancing your own quality of life while supporting your resale value in the years to come. By my assessment, that’s a win-win opportunity!
Wouldn’t you agree?
Davenport Village – regaled as a community-within-a-community – already boasts a large park and playground at its centre surrounded by a vintage factory turned into an authentic residential loft building, along with stacked townhouses, condominium high-rises, as well as coffee shops, a grocer, and drug store. The neighbourhood association also secured designated funding for the Greenline Gateway project – two parcels which form links to a linear park system on Hydro One lands, not unlike the West Toronto Railpath located just west of this village. Many good school boards are represented, with a selection of elementary and high schools, within easy access. The beauty of an industrial location which has been reinvented from a place of production to one of domesticity is that it often offers more affordable opportunities not available in more established residential neighbourhoods (making it an excellent rung of choice for those climbing the property ladder) while repurposing existing heritage architecture.
For example, one of the best purveyors of coffee is Balzac’s located in the restored historic Powerhouse!
Images above and below courtesy of Balzac’s, with thanks.
For residents of Davenport Village, great culinary offerings, and entertainment options are all nearby! Not to mention the oft-overlooked essentials that make daily errands a breeze! Enjoy a great espresso at Balzac’s Powerhouse, grab groceries and essentials at the side-by-side No Frills and Shoppers Drug Mart (two blocks south), take in a performance at the neighbouring Aluna Theatre or work up a sweat at Boulderz Climbing Centre or Planet Fitness – both just minutes from your front door! If you consider yourself somewhat of a foodie, there are delicious offerings nearby, including one of the best chicken joints in the city: Love Chix! We also adore Parallel Restuarant, North of Brooklyn Pizzeria, and Blood Brothers Brewing on Geary Street!
Image courtesy of Toronto Public Libraries, with thanks
Images courtesy of NOW Magazine, with thanks
Fan of outdoor recreation, picnicking, or have a pup that loves to run? There’s plenty of choice for green space in this newly reimagined neighbourhood. Enjoy idyllic Sunday afternoons wandering through nearby Earlscourt Park to the Joseph Piccininni Community Rec Centre, or let the kids blow off steam at Symington Avenue Playground or Davenport Village Park (right on Foundry Ave!). Talk about convenient afternoon outings! It’s just a short 2-minute stroll to both the East/West Davenport bus and the Lansdowne bus that will take you north to the restaurants on St Clair West or south to Bloor Street West with its abundant retail and the Lansdowne Subway stop, or all the way to Queen West!
Yup, we don’t need a train to get downtown anymore!
Image courtesy of the City Of Toronto, with thanks
For those seeking to purchase a property (yes, this is a real estate blog!), buying a dwelling in this emerging community could be a smart move for those wishing to enter the Toronto real estate market. After all, the fundamentals that surround this area – including access to green space, proximity to public transit, and urban design initiatives, among numerous other amenities supportive for urban living – position it for property prosperity in the years to come!
In fact, we have a new listing on one blog west, on Symington Avenue called Spring Blooms Fresh Beginnings On Symington Avenue, offered for sale for 799,000! Check it out!
Questions? Interested in a private viewing? Please contact James Ormston!
Also, here’s an Urbaneer.com listing – now SOLD – on Foundry Avenue:
Did you enjoy this post? Consider my additional Urbaneer.com blogs on the history of Toronto:
Are you a fan of architecture? Here are some of my other pieces with a historical perspective:
Thanks for reading!
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