Toronto’s Most Interesting Vacant Spaces

Exploring the stories behind abandoned spaces

Urban explorers, history buffs and architecture aficionados have long appreciated abandoned buildings, long after people — factory workers, students, families and asylum patients — have left them. Great care has been taken to document forsaken spaces even when the spaces themselves are no longer physically cared for. Toronto is filled with buildings no longer being used, destined to be torn down or rejuvenated, like part of Ontario Place and the King Edward Hotel’s crystal ballroom. Here’s a look behind some of them. Please note that it is illegal and potentially dangerous to trespass into these spaces without permission.
 

Unilever Factory

By 21 Don Roadway parking lot

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Back in the day, the 150,000 square foot factory was booming with Sunlight and Dove soap production for more than 100 years. Built in 1890 by the Lever Brothers of Britain, the factory was sold in 2002 by Unilever. The company was renamed “Korex,” and workers’ wages were frozen and pensions lost. Workers went on strike in 2008 and the company declared bankruptcy in August 2009. Now available for rent for $10,000 a day, the former Lever Brothers Factory was featured as a backdrop in Suicide Squad and will be open for the EDIT Festival in September this year. Reports suggest the factory still smells like soap.
 

Ontario Place

955 Lake Shore Blvd. W.


Many an Ontario schoolchild visited Ontario Place for a field trip from 1971, when it was opened, until the park closed in 2011. Set on three artificially constructed islands, the entertainment and exhibition site turned theme park was home to the first permanent IMAX theatre, a Second World War destroyer, amusement rides, parkland, an open-air concert space and plenty of redevelopment and revitalization projects. More than 2.5 million people visited Ontario Place in 1971, a number that fell drastically to 1 million by 2009. In 2010, it was reported that Ontario Place would be torn down. In 2017, a part of it was reopened to the public as a 7.5 acre waterfront park, but the recognizable geodesic dome remains closed.
 

Lower Bay Station

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Lower Bay, or Bay Lower, was used for only six months in 1966 as part of a (failed) TTC “interlining” experiment. The station and tracks are still used to train new operators, move trains, and as a set for movies including Don’t Say a Word, Johnny Mnemonic, Bulletproof Monk and The Recruit. A storage room still houses some old props from movies that used the station. The station has been open to the public at events like Doors Open Toronto and Nuit Blanche. Some TTC employees have claimed the station is haunted but that doesn’t stop crowds of people from visiting when they get the chance.
 

Toronto Central Prison

69 Lynn Williams St

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Only the Roman Catholic chapel and wall of the prison’s paint shop remain of the 336-bed Toronto Central prison, opened in 1873. Inmates manufactured railway cars for the Canada Car Company, but the prison faced controversy with accusations of extreme beatings, secretive nighttime burials, and outright brutality. An attempt at reform was made in 1911, but in 1915, the prison was abandoned as a jail, and used as an army base and immigration processing centre for a few years before being demolished. The chapel, added to the jail in 1877, has been a heritage property since 1985, and the paint shop wall is part of the A.R.Williams Company Liberty Storage Warehouse on Lynn Williams Street.
 

Hearn Generating Station

440 Unwin Ave.

(Photo by Cameron Norman via Flickr)

The once-powerful Hearn Generating Station has been abandoned but for temporary uses since the ’90s. This relic of the industrial era, opened in 1951 and in operation by 1953, is huge — it was a workplace for up to 600 people in the ’60s, and the Statue of Liberty could fit inside of it, upright or on her side. The smokestack was once one of the tallest in the world, replacing eight chimneys thanks to the environmental movement of the ’60s. The Ontario Power Generation still owns it, but has rented it for film and television productions like Suicide Squad and RED, as well as to the Luminato Festival for parties over the past few years.
 

Toronto Zoo monorail

2000 Meadowvale Road

(Photo by Kieran Huggins via Flickr)

The Toronto Zoo Domain Ride, largely referred to as a monorail, opened in 1976, two years after the zoo itself. After a train crash injured nine people in 1991, and another injured 27 passengers in 1994, the monorail as derailed due to the cost necessary for rehabilitation. A maglev train might replace the Canadian Domain Ride in the future. Sure it’s not a building, but it’s worth noting because parts of it remain, although it’s quite overgrown with weeds or blocked off from the public.

 
Main image of Hearn Generating Station by Timothy Neesam via Flickr