It doesn’t take an expert to tell you that Toronto is filled with history. The thing is, most of us don’t learn about a lot of the city’s history in school, and literally every single day, we pass by buildings and areas that we know nothing about. What is that fancy looking building on the corner over there? Where did Liberty Village get its name? What used to be in the famed flatiron building? Here are some of your questions answered about things you may pass by every day.
1. Osgoode Hall
I personally thought this was part of a law school for one of the Toronto universities until writing this article. Although Osgoode Hall housed the Osgoode Hall Law School until 1969, the school moved to York University and this building now is home to other law-related things like the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Superior Court of Justice and the Law Society of Upper Canada.
Back when the first version of this building was developed in 1832, it sat at the edge of the city; clearly Toronto has built up a bit (okay, a lot) since then. The original building was also home to some of our soldiers between 1837 and 1843, and over the years it has undergone several expansions.
2. Distillery District
The Gooderham and Worts Distillery was founded in 1832 and its manufacturing facility sat within the Distillery District. This famed distillery grew to be the world’s largest distillery by 1860.
In 1914, World War I almost killed the distillery through prohibition, but the distillery survived by briefly converting its operation to manufacturing acetone, and remained open till 1990. Once the 90’s struck, the area became more known in the city as it was the second largest film location outside of Hollywood, and by 2001 the distillery was purchased and restored to what we now have grown to love as the Distillery District.
3. Liberty Village
Due to the city and the railway system laying tracks across this community back in the 1850s, instead of building Liberty Village up for residential purposes, it was home to Toronto Central Prison, and a reformatory for women (how glorious for a now considered “prestigious” neighbourhood).
In 1915 the prison closed and the name Liberty Village blossomed from Liberty Street, as this was the first street prisoners could walk down when freed. Since this area was close to the railway, it saw a growth in industrial businesses, which is where the famous buildings such as the carpet factory appeared. In the 70s and 80s there was a decline in manufacturing operations and from there eventually sparked the residential and commercial growth in the 1990’s to 2000’s.
4. Kensington Market
Bet you didn’t know that Kensington Market is a National Historic Site of Canada? Okay, maybe you did, but I sure didn’t! Kensington Market all started way back during the War of 1812. During the 1880s houses were built on small plots for Irish and Scottish immigrant labourers and most of those houses still stand on Wales Avenue and surrounding streets.
Over the years this area continued to be known among immigrants. In the early 20th century, it became populated by eastern European Jewish immigrants and Italian. With the dense immigrant population, this area was actually known as being the poorer area of the city. After the Second World War, the different nationalities continued to trickle in from the Azores, Caribbean, East Asia and beyond. With a threat to tear it down for large apartment buildings in the 60s, this plan was sent to the garbage, and today the market is a centre of Toronto’s culture.
5. Fort York
Built in the late 1700s, and best known as the place where the Battle of York climaxed in 1813 during the War of 1812, Fort York served as Toronto’s primary harbor defence until the 1880s. During that time, Fort York was home to military troops until the early 1900s.
Now the area includes the country’s largest collection of original buildings from the War of 1812 and you can go visit it yourself!
6. Honest Ed’s
Opened by Ed Mirvish in 1948, this store is famously known as the ultimate bargain warehouse located on Bloor Street West. So where did Honest Ed’s get their fame? Mainly through their marketing stunts throughout the years such as giving away free turkeys before Christmas and Thanksgiving, and Ed Mirvish’s self-hosted Birthday parties where people lined the streets for free cake, food & giveaways.
Sadly in 2013 the sale of the Honest Ed’s site was announced, but the reason this store is still open is because David Mirvish decided to rent the property until the developers decided what they were doing with it. So enjoy it while it’s still here! P.S. did you know the Honest Ed’s sign used 23,000 lightbulbs? I wouldn’t want that hydro bill!
7. The Gooderham Building (flatiron building)
Remember The Gooderham and Worts Distillery mentioned above in the Distillery District? The famed flatiron building in Toronto was once the office for the distillery until the 50s. At the time it only cost $18,000 to construct! Now if only the price of building buildings was the same today.
In the mid-70s the building was bought, restored and declared a historic site in Ontario. In just 6 years, the price of this building rose from $2.2 million to $10.1 million, and I think it’s safe to say I won’t be buying this super cool building anytime soon.