Located in the heart of Leslieville, the i-Zone Lofts are one of the original hard loft conversions that played an important role in the renaissance of this community. With its proper live-work designation, the i-Zone Lofts (along with the Wrigley Lofts) has become a cultural hub to artists, tech professionals, and entrepreneurs seeking the urban loft experience for their home and work.
Because of its size and multi-phase construction, i-Zone has 3 addresses – 326 Carlaw Avenue and 1159 & 1173 Dundas Street East. It was a 160,000-square-foot industrial manufacturing facility that originally converted to multi-tenant commercial rental. It was then converted into 104 awesome hardcore lofts. The i-Zone Lofts is a hard loft building of between two and four stories housing 101 of the city’s most industrial loft spaces. In true loft style, a number of the spaces are occupied by businesses that close up shop and go home at the end of the day, making it a quiet place for the neighbours after the work day.
The spaces at i-Zone are truly some of the most varied in any loft development in the city. Ranging in size from around 500 square feet to more than 3,000 square feet, many of the originally open spaces have been renovated by previous owners. Additionally, most of the upper suites come with the option to build outdoor space on the rooftop above their unit if it hasn’t been done already.
The ceilings are incredible and range up to 30 feet high. The lofts are mostly large. Some are large enough to play basketball in! Flooring includes poured concrete, laminate and hardwood. Most units have air conditioning and many have skylights. There are tons of multi-level lofts with all sorts of different custom stairs. Plus there is a common rooftop area for those without their own space.
Maintenance fees are reasonable and tend to be based only on main floor square footage, not mezzanines. Hydro is metered separately, but natural gas and water is included. There is no concierge, but there are security systems at the suite and building levels. Amenities are limited to a party room and rooftop area. Storage lockers are available, though the larger lofts really don’t need the extra space! Original freight elevators make moving a breeze – and are fun to use otherwise. i-Zone has only 70 parking spaces – including 46 spaces in two separate sections of a one-level underground garage and 24 surface spaces – so not every unit has a spot. But there is TTC right at the doorstep. If you do drive, you are only five minutes from the Lake Shore, Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway.
As you may be able to tell, I love this building. It has that amazing prison / cold war bunker feel that you just cannot get anywhere else. Some people don’t like it, they find walking down the corridors to be too eerily reminiscent of a trip to jail. I love the preserved industrial feel given off by the steel doors, overhead hanging lights and concrete flooring. I always think I am about to come around a corner and bump into Captain Mandrake and General Turgidson trying to stop some crazy atomic plot.
You can see from above that the i-Zone Lofts is a complex of buildings, add-ons and addition. Look at a satellite image and you can see the building fronting Dundas, with what appears to be one or two additions on the southern edge. Then there is the rectangular building at 326 Carlaw, north of the laneway. That might be one building with differing roof portions, or it is 3 different stages on construction. Then there is the piece that joins them. Either one mishmash of an addition, or possibly 4 separate pieces. If you have ever been inside, then you know what I mean, it is obviously a lot of different and disjointed bits cobbled together over the years.
There are a number of companies and business names associated with the property over the years. It would have all started with Phillips, who produced framing materials. The company was started by Francis Phillips from Cork, Ireland. He immigrated to Canada in 1856 and settled at Kingston. He then moved to Toronto in 1864 where he worked for John McGee at his iron works, a company that later company became E. and C. Gurney (whose lovely Italianate buildings still stand on King Street West (https://goo.gl/maps/MXMZmP8sBim), west of Spadina).
Phillips then got into the crockery and china business with his in-laws, but after 6 years, that company dissolved. He then became manager of C. G. Cobban Co., a company which made mouldings, mirrors, and frames, as well as cabinet work. In 1880 the name was changed to Cobban Manufacturing Company. The company now made mostly picture frames and plate glass. In 1905 the Cobban Manufacturing Company formally changed its name to the Phillips Manufacturing Company.
The original Cobban factory on Lake Street (approximately where Lake Shore Blvd. West is today) was designed by architect E. J. Lennox, famous for Old City Hall and many other landmark buildings. As the company grew, they decided against building a large addition and instead bought land on Carlaw Avenue. In 1906 Phillips paid $16,733 for a lot with frontage of 600 feet on the west side of Carlaw by 300 feet deep. Phillips again contracted Lennox as architect for the new factory. The building permit was issued in May of 1907 and construction began on the $83,000 building – one of the biggest on Carlaw Avenue.
Phillips Manufacturing would grow to be one of the largest employers in the old east end of Toronto. In 1910 Frank Phillips died, but the Phillips family continued, with his sons and daughters running the company. The family business was now known as Phillips Toronto Ltd. In 1932 Phillips son, Heber, died and the Phillips family sold the company a few years later to Reliable Toys.
The company that became the Reliable Toy Company was founded in 1920, with the original name of the Canadian Statuary and Novelty Company. In the beginning, they made plush toys and small novelties in a 500 square foot room on Queen Street in Toronto. The name was changed to the Reliable Toy Company in 1922. At first the new company relied on importing doll heads from Germany and composition parts from the United States, but they started to make their own dolls with original parts around the same time, in 1922.
The company grew and grew, moving to a larger space on King Street West, then again to Phoebe Street. Reliable bought the assets of their former competitor, Dominion Toy, in 1933, and thus had most of the doll market in Canada to themselves. Growing again, they needed even larger space, which led them to purchase Phillips’ factory on Carlaw. And so, in 1935, Reliable became the largest toy factory in the British Empire, occupying 72,000 square feet in their new location at 258 Carlaw Avenue.
This factory contained a complete knitting mill to manufacture clothing for dolls and featured a hairdressing department, as well as specialty sections for making voice boxes and squeakers, shoes, and eyes. A year later, Reliable’s annual production of dolls reached to over one and a half million dolls of three hundred varieties. It is probably this “knitting mill” that has spawned rumours of the old factory having been a knitting mill in the past. That and being across the street from a garment factory probably didn’t help…
Reliable got a head start in the plastic industry, especially in the manufacture of plastic dolls, and led the field for years, partly due to their experience with the technology of injection moulding to create small plastic items for the Canadian government during the war. Reliable used scraps left over from making plastic bullet tips and oil bottles for guns for the Canadian Armed Forces to make the first Canadian plastic toys in the early 1940s. Among the best examples is Reliable’s plastic jet fighter – an accurate representation of the Avro CF-100 “Canuck”, the first fighter jet designed and produced in Canada and predecessor to the much more famous Avro Arrow.
The Reliable Toy Company was still making toys in Toronto up until recently. After a merger with another long-lasting Canadian toy maker, the Viceroy Manufacturing Company, all toy making was shifted to the Viceroy factory. The Viceroy Manufacturing Company began the production of rubber toys in Toronto in 1930. Viceroy produced an extensive array of balls: sports balls, toys balls, and specialty balls, as well as rubber bath toys and beach toys. They also manufactured rubber and vinyl dolls and small toy cars and trucks. Many of you will be familiar with the big gorgeous building at Dupont & Dundas, that has now sadly turned into a self-storage facility.
Much of their operations moved to Strathroy, but Reliable still had a presence on Carlaw Avenue into the 1980s.
Another somewhat well-known company with tenure on the site is Crown Cork and Seal. The company dates back to 1892 when it was founded in Baltimore by William Painter. Believe it or not, Painter was the person who invented the bottle cap, in 1891. He patented it a year later, followed by a patent for the bottle opener in 1894. It makes one wonder how they got the caps off for the first 3 years… In 1898, he produced the first foot-powered bottle crowner with which an operator could fill and cap 24 bottles a minute. Over the course of his life, he was granted 85 patents and was honoured in 2006 by induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Painter passed away in 1906, by which time his company had spread to Europe, South America and the Orient. In 1927, the company merged with the New Process Cork Company, establishing the Crown Holdings International Corporation. Prohibition put a serious kink into bottle cap sales – obviously – but soft drinks kept the company afloat. By the 1930s, the firm was supplying half the world’s bottle caps. In 1936, they acquired the Acme Can Company of Philadelphia and introduced the “Crowntainer” quart beer can a year later (and the world never looked back).
Over the following decades, they continued to introduce improvements to beverage and food containers. By the 1990s, the company claimed to be manufacturing one out of every five beverage cans in the world, and one out of every three food cans in North America and Europe. Crown Holdings still exists today and is a Fortune 500 company which makes about 60 billion beverage cans a year, along with food cans, aerosol cans and metal closures, along with machinery for manufacturing cans. They had plants in North York, Chatham and other parts of Ontario.
There were other smaller companies also associated with the i-Zone industrial complex. The 1921 Toronto City Directory has the Pratt Food Co. listed at 328 Carlaw. I believe this to be the small addition directly north of the entrance door currently at 326 Carlaw. Or not, numbering did seem to change and evolve over time on many Toronto streets. Pratt made chicken feed and poultry remedies, whatever those might have been. The 1926 City Directory has them across the street at 245 Carlaw, so they may not have spent much time at i-Zone.
The British paint and supply company Sturgeon’s occupied the property at 330 Carlaw in the 1940s and 1950s. This would have been the corner of Carlaw and Dundas. There is pretty much nothing out there about them, only the photos of the area they appear in. But, it is obvious that the newer buildings at 1159 & 1173 Dundas were not there at that time. History tells us that Phillips built the original i-Zone buildings (as well as the commercial building to the south), with Reliable Toy adding onto it over the years. Could be that Pratt Food built a little piece… but where did the final phases come from?
I went through the old aerial photos of the city and found that the 1953 image shows the Dundas/Carlaw corner empty, as do those form 1956 and 1957. But then the buildings are there in 1959! Even so, I cannot find any record of who built them or why.
Directly to the west, 1135 Dundas was a TDSB property, a heritage warehouse. Plans in 2009 were to turn it into affordable live-work housing for artists, but a low enough price could not be negotiated. It was originally built by the Canada Starch Company in 1910. Canada Starch has evolved in ACH Canada, home of brands such as Mazola, Fleischmann’s, Crown and BeeHive.
If you know the building I am talking about, then you probably wonder why there is a solid brick wall fronting the sidewalk. Look across the street. There you will see another blank brick wall, at 1132-1134 Dundas. When Dundas Street was widened in the 1940s, the city workers just cut the place in two and ran the road right through it. Sounds crazy, right? But if you look back at old fire insurance maps, you can see that there was a building, south of Dickens Avenue, in 1924, owned by the Smart Bag Company Ltd. It was a large east-west building on the south side of Dickens, with an extension running south.
Part of that extension was severed by the road widening work in the late 1940s. You can see how the current Dundas Street, as it was continued from Whitby Street to the west, would have cut the southern extension from the building. The bulk of that old building remains at the NE corner of Dundas and Logan, with the orphaned southern piece now at 1135 Dundas. Not pertinent to the story of i-Zone, but an interesting tidbit related to the history of the area.
Interestingly, some other bits of history still affect the area. There’s a couple of new lofts at the southeast corner of Carlaw and Dundas, the Flatiron Lofts. The courtyard between the two buildings curves until it’s almost parallel with Boston Ave., a north-south residential street that runs just east of Carlaw. What’s not immediately obvious is that the curved space reflects the path of a long-closed rail spur that used to serve the former Wrigley chewing gum plant and other factories in the area.
At the southwest corner of the intersection, the corner of the i-Zone Lofts is at a strange angle for the same reason. An industrial building on Thackeray St., north of Dundas, likewise has rounded edges on two of its corners to accommodate that trains that ran through here until the 1990s. The effect on the architecture of the area is most apparent from the air.
And it reminds us just what a huge industrial area this once was. Decades removed from its beginnings as the city’s industrial hub, Leslieville and Carlaw Avenue underwent years of gentrification and revitalization to become one of Toronto’s most chic and popular neighborhoods.
The area began with produce, oddly enough. The 1850s to the 1870s were the height of the market gardening industry in the Leslieville area. As the population grew with immigrants arriving from Britain, the demand for farm products increased significantly. Kingston Road allowed produce to be easily transported to market and the arrival of the railway provided access to wider markets for the local farmers and market gardeners.
Gardening faded as a business and by the 1890s, over half of the area comprising Leslieville was used for brick making, now the largest area employer. By the end of the 19th century, and into the 20th century, brick was a very desirable building material. The Leslieville brickyards supplied the brick needed to build many commercial and residential buildings in Toronto and area.
As hydroelectric and water and sewage services were extended to the area in the early 1900s, the former brickyards were redeveloped for new industrial uses and workers’ housing. By the 1920s, due to an increased demand for bricks and the mechanization of the production process the Leslieville area brick fields were depleted and the clay beds were covered by redeveloped land.
The 1920s brought prosperity to the area. However, this came to an abrupt end with the crash of the stock market in 1929. Many factories in Leslieville closed down and the unemployment rate rose. But then WWII began, the great depression ended and industrial production in the area once again flourished. Woods Manufacturing on Logan Avenue produced uniforms and tents for the British and Canadian armies, for example. Although the war ended unemployment, it worsened the housing crisis in the area and existing housing began to deteriorate. In the decades after the Second World War, with a decline in local manufacturing employment, many industries left the area. This resulted in further deterioration. In the 1980s, NAFTA caused many Canadian industries to suffer, forcing more companies to leave the Leslieville area.
This left empty factories and warehouses ripe for developers to convert into lofts. Starting in the 1990s and into the 2000s, Leslieville began to experience a resurgence as young professionals moved into the area because of affordable houses and proximity to downtown Toronto. Part of the draw were the then-affordable units in the cluster of lofts on the blocks: the Wrigley Lofts, Garment Factory Lofts, Printing Factory Lofts and i-Zone. Of note, this is the only block in Toronto with 4 converted lofts on it!
Today the economy within the district is broad-based with new industries and service industries and Leslieville’s popularity continues to grow. And nowhere is that more evident than on this stretch of Carlaw between Queen and Dundas. Loft space is prominent here, and creative types abound in the neighbourhood. Popularity has also caused prices to rise… no longer is Leslieville a haven of affordable places to live.
The location is fantastic, only a few minutes to downtown, The Beaches, The Danforth, Riverdale, you name it. There are bus stops right on Carlaw that will take you north to Pape Station – and it is only about 100 steps south to Queen Street East and the streetcar. For drivers, the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway are just minutes away.