New life for heritage railway building

The Canadian Northern Railway Eastern Lines Locomotive Shop has been a part of East York for almost 100 hundred years.

It was built in 1919 by the Canadian Northern Railway to service its trains on the Eastern lines passing through the Leaside community.

The shop closed its bay doors in the 1930s when the railway company began opening more servicing shops in the Toronto area. The shop that is located in Leaside has remained vacant for the last ten years.

Today, planks of wood cover the tall windows, the interior walls are covered in graffiti and it is occasionally used as an illegal skate park.

On Feb. 16, 2011, the North York Community Council adopted a proposal to clean up the historic building and re-open its doors.

But this time, there will be no trains passing through.

Instead, council will allow a 10,930-square-metre redevelopment project, which could potentially turn the locomotive shop and its surrounding buildings into a commercial/office plaza. There is a proposal in place to have the locomotive shop transformed into a Longo’s grocery store.

The initial idea was brought to council back in 2006. Recommendations were made by council to make changes to the proposal in order to preserve the heritage building.

The new proposal was sufficient for community members that wanted to maintain the historic significance of the locomotive shop.

Geoff Kettel, chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel, is happy with the final proposal.

“We feel that it’s a reasonable way of preserving the property,” he said. “It’s a major vestige of Leaside’s industrial past.”

He’s pleased to see that developers made an effort to renew the area, while maintaining its heritage.

The large brick building will keep its distinctive exterior, including the windows, masonry and doors.

“Conversion of a heritage property the city wants to preserve and finding another use for that building is often very difficult,” Kettel said. “In this case it’s been successful.”

The idea of a new retail zone in the community has generally been welcomed.

Ward 26 Councillor John Parker said that no concerns have been expressed to his office.

He said that there were minor concerns with the first proposal about traffic congestion and parking spaces, but that these concerns have been addressed in the revised version.

Parker also said the community will benefit economically from the redevelopment.

“The space has been there for ten years and it supported zero jobs,” he said. “Leasiders are ready to take it in stride.”

Brian Athey, president of the Leaside Property Owner’s Association, opposes the redevelopment plans. He said that the city has transformed the community into a commercial zone.

“The city and developers are progressively turning industrial buildings into retail buildings,” Athey said.

Although the final proposal addressed traffic concerns, he said that people are still approaching him about traffic issues.

Athey also said in a letter to North York Council members that there was not enough “community consultation regarding the proposal.”