Some neighbourhoods are notable for a proliferation of coffee shops or churches; in Liberty Village, you can orient yourself by the profusion of smokestacks, a legacy of the area’s past as a centre of heavy industry in Toronto.
By the mid-80s the area was an industrial wasteland, much of it taken up with the sprawling, empty relics of the Inglis, Canadian General Electric and Massey-Ferguson plants. Today only Canada Bread remains, but they’ll be gone by 2012, having announced their move earlier this year.
“I would say they’re the end of it,” says Lynn Clay, executive director of the Liberty Village BIA. “Who’s moved in now? Mostly small to mid-sized commercial operations, but mostly they’re working on computers — more office-oriented, creative businesses.”
This would include high profile businesses like cartoon house Nelvana and Sirius satellite radio.
Bordered on two sides by Dufferin and King West, Liberty Village is edged on the other two by railway tracks, many of which once sent spurs alongside loading docks all over the area.
Demo Soap Studio recently moved from an upstairs space to one right next to the old tracks, and employee Grace Son described the neighbourhood as “kind of cosy. It feels like a community even though it’s quite young.”
“The one word that comes to mind is trendy,” says Adam Finley, co-owner of For The Love Of Cake, just down the track from Demo. “There’s no way around that.” He’s lived here for a decade and remembers the opening of the Brazen Head — in an old boiler house, complete with their own smokestack — as a milestone in the development of the Village, a sure sign that it had moved on from being just a “broken-down neighbourhood.”
There’s still room to grow too — there are empty storefronts and new construction sites galore.
The biggest tease for locals is the fate of the chapel of the old Central Prison, which was once subsumed by the Inglis plant. It’s been preserved in a little sunken parkette in the middle of the residential area, and while it briefly sported an application for a liquor license last year, the sign has gone, and the building, with its ragged fringes of brick and stone, sits empty, hinting at what changes Liberty Village will see.