The eight-storey building — the first four floors are the original factory floors, constructed with restored concrete floors, exposed concrete ceilings, and large warehouse windows; the upper four floors are built of glass, steel and brick. The Garment Factory Lofts offer 150 residential units, ranging in size from studios to two bedrooms. Amenities include a parking garage, visitor parking, an entry phone security system, fitness facilities, a workshop, a meeting and function room with a bar and kitchen, a party room and a security guard.
Garment Factory Lofts by Atria Development is at 233 Carlaw Avenue, in Leslieville, on the street with the most loft conversions per block (4 between Queen and Dundas) anywhere in Toronto. The Garment Factory Lofts is 153-unit (3 units are commercial) industrial retrofit carved from a factory abandoned since 2001. Atria added four new residential floors to the existing mid-century manufacturing structure and created three levels of parking beneath. The first loft owners moved in in 2008 after a length conversion process.
The historic 8-storey Garment Factory hard loft conversion is a great combination of traditional old brick and modern additions of steel and glass structure, making for a unique and beautiful building. With the addition of four stories of steel, glass, and brick on top of the abandoned clothing factory, the Garment Factory Lofts blend traditional hard lofts with soft lofts – representing both old and new – stylishly capturing the essence of loft living.
Some of the features of these stylish lofts include: large warehouse windows, soaring 11-foot-plus exposed concrete ceilings, fluted concrete columns, polished original concrete floors. East and west-facing units have massive balconies and terraces with built-in BBQ gas hook-ups. Amenities include visitor parking, security system and part-time security staff, fitness facilities, a residents’ workshop, meeting and function room with a bar and kitchen, and party room.
Best of all is the treatment of the original Carlaw facade: the windows on the upper three storeys have been turned into openings that look onto several rows of recessed balconies. In this way, the alterations highlight and play to the architectural strengths of the factory. It’s also a clever and effective way to transform an industrial structure into something more domestic.
Leslieville really started to boom as many new factories sprang up along Carlaw Avenue and Eastern Avenue around 1900. That year the Niagara Parks Commission approved a plan to build a massive hydro-electric generating station on the Canadian side of the Niagara River that would power Leslieville’s factories with cheap hydroelectricity.
Whether he wanted it or not, the garment trade was in the blood of Wilfred Posluns. The grandson of a Polish tailor who had traveled to Canada by cattle boat in the early 1900s, Posluns grew up in the shadow of Toronto’s rough and tumble clothing business.
In the early 1960s he tried to buy the Art Deco headquarters of his grandfather’s old rival, Tip Top Tailors, but met with resistance from the Dunkleman family, who wanted to sell their entire business. His accountant put Posluns in touch with Winnipegger Jimmy Kay, who wanted to buy the failing clothing business but not the real estate. After a lengthy meeting, the two men created Dylex, an acronym for “Damn Your Lousy Excuses,” that absorbed the Posluns company and Kay’s Fairweather stores.
Seeing as the old buildings comprising the i-Zone Lofts were once the Diament Knitting Mills, it makes me think that it may have supplied the Dylex Garment Factory at some point. Must have been built after 1948, when Carlaw Avenue was widened, as the lot was empty in all of the photos, just an empty lot between the Wrigley Buildings and Rolph Stone’s print shop. In the photos from the 1930s and 1940s, the Diament mill buildings used to house Sturgeons (the British Paint Specialists, producers of the well-known Solignum Shingle Stains, manufacture finishes and protective coatings of all kinds and supply also certain English products for the finest type of finishing, such as Rylard Varnish, Hall’s Distemper and Perfexcion Enamel) at 330 Carlaw Avenue.
Trying to figure out just when exactly it was built is not so easy. Checking aerial maps of east Toronto, I see it wedged in there between the Rolph Clark Stone building and the south Wrigley building from 1959 back to 1953 – but the 1950 map appears to be missing, so I cannot determine anything prior to 1953. We have the 1948 street photo that shows no building on the lot and the 1953 aerial image that shows it to be there, thus the building was constructed sometime in the 1949-1952 period. Maybe because the old Sturgeons building had already converted to a knitting mill, or that may have happened after the garment factory was built. But I am convinced there is a tie between the buildings.
Through the 1970s, Dylex bought controlling interests in clothing chains but left the stores in the hands of the entrepreneurs who had been running them. It treated an acquisition’s management team as part of the business’s assets. This management formula worked and money rolled in – by 1980, annual sales rose to $650-million. Five years later, Dylex had 2,700 stores across Canada and the United States. The company had interests in more than a dozen Canadian businesses, both manufacturing and retail. Families spent Saturdays wandering from one Dylex store to the next, unaware of the corporate connections between Harry Rosen, Town and Country, Thrifty’s and BiWay.
Dylex Ltd. was a gargantuan fashion consortium of clothing factories and big-name chain stores – including Fairweather, Tip Top, Big Steel and Suzy Shier – that revolutionized Canada’s retail business. At its peak, Dylex claimed up to 12% of the country’s clothing dollars. But dreams of $5-billion sales figures failed to materialize and, by 1987, the empire was collapsing.
By the time the Dylex empire sought bankruptcy protection in 1995, its stock had dropped from $20 to mere pennies and there were only 700 stores left. The board members resigned and Posluns took his family and friends into his new investment company, Cedarpoint Investments, which continues today. Dylex struggled for another six years under new management and eventually sold off its remaining assets in 2001.
Dylex’s old factory is just one of the amazing loft conversion stories on Carlaw Avenue. The Wrigley Lofts and Printing Factory Lofts on the east side of the street, as well as i-Zone Lofts across the street make for a total of four industrial re-use projects that created a wealth of amazing authentic hard lofts in the heart of Leslieville. Add in the commercial uses of some of the other remaining industrial buildings and Carlaw stands as one of the densest revitalized streets in Toronto.
Carlaw is the new Spadina. This old industrial street is fast becoming a mixed-use residential neighbourhood. The transformation, which would have been unthinkable even a decade ago, still isn’t complete but is well underway. So far, the change from warehouse to condo, industrial to residential, has been achieved without gentrification. Not that it would be easy to prettify this part of town. Ironically, it’s not the early 20th-century factories that keep things gritty, it’s the housing stock, which tends to be small and very modest.
But on an early weekday morning, Carlaw is busy and every bit a part of the city. Much of the retail and commercial activity now happens on the west side of the street north of Queen in cavernous structures that seem to occupy acres. The east side of Carlaw has become residential, with marvelous former industrial heaps, such as the Wrigley Building, now fully redone as condos.
Leslieville’s main shopping district runs along historic Queen Street East, where the old diners and hardware stores that used to dominate are being supplemented by more trendy shops. Most of these stores are small and independently owned and offer a unique mix of clothing, furniture, design and gourmet food. Queen East, of course, is the new Queen West, teeming with life and vitality. The rough patches haven’t disappeared, but now they’re the exception rather than the rule.
Leslieville is also close to much of Toronto’s growing film industry, with the massive Pinewood Toronto Studios being only the biggest example. That means there’s always a chance of running into a movie star on the streets of Leslieville.
Carlaw Avenue was named for Scotsman John A. Carlaw, the cashier or controller of the Grand Trunk Railway. He formed and led a contingent of Grant Trunk Railway employees to fight the Fenians when these Irish patriots invaded Canada. In 1874 the City of Toronto gave the name of Carlaw Avenue to the new street south of Eastern Avenue to the Bay between the Gorrie property and the Heward property south of Eastern Avenue. It was also called Gorrie Street from time to time. Major John Carlaw did not own extensive property in the area and it seems likely that the street name was to recognize Carlaw’s leadership of the Grand Trunk Railway Brigade Volunteer Artillery Fourth Battalion.