St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

The St. Lawrence Lofts are located right next to the historic St. Lawrence Market on Front Street, converted from three abutting pre-Confederation warehouses built between 1857 and 1860

History of the St. Lawrence Market Lofts

The St. Lawrence Lofts are located right next to the historic St. Lawrence Market on Front Street. Converted from three abutting pre-Confederation warehouses built between 1857 and 1860, lofts in this 4-storey building have on average 10′ ceilings, 150-year-old exposed brick walls, exposed wood beam columns and hardwood flooring. The lofts range in size from 478 square feet to 1,340 square feet.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

The St. Lawrence Lofts at 81A Front Street East, in the heart of Old Toronto

The main floor is taken up by commercial units, with the 54 residential lofts spread over the top 3 floors. It won’t take you long to notice that there are no right angles in the building. Sloping floors and skewed brick walls are testament to original warehouse structure that is approaching 160 years old! It is that authentic history that can be found in the original floor plans, with names such as Helliwell, Hallam and Clarkson. But you do get that amazing exposed brick and wood beams in every unit.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

St. Lawrence Market Lofts floor plans were named after the men who built the buildings that house them

The historic St. Lawrence neighbourhood wears its heritage on its sleeve. Downtown condominiums and lofts near the St. Lawrence Market and Distillery District are often an intoxicating blend of the vintage and contemporary. Many still bear their original brick and stone facades, stately reminders of York’s industrial and financial past. Incredibly, the rear of the St. Lawrence Lofts building once bordered the lake shore prior to the reclaiming of the land which pushed the shoreline of Lake Ontario further south since the mid 1800s.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Detail taken from the 1858 Boulton Atlas of Toronto showing just how close the original buildings were to the lake when they were built

With its warehouse roots being older than Canada, the St. Lawrence Market Lofts is not only historic and extremely rare, but it is certainly the oldest and most centrally-located original brick-and-beam true loft conversion in all of Toronto. It was converted in 2001 by Georgian Corporation. Originally, a company called Market Lofts Inc. was to do the conversion in 1996, a proposal that involved 40 larger live/work units. But the owner encountered difficulties and, at the City’s insistence, hired a qualified restoration architect (ERA Architects) to supervise corrective actions. At the same time, work was undertaken on the building to stabilize it.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Gorgeous 150-year-old brick inside the St. Lawrence Lofts

Towards the end of the year 2000, a new owner, Georgian Project Managers Ltd., proposed to acquire the site. Georgian made application to the Committee of Adjustment to severe the commercial and residential portions and to increase the number of residential units from 40 to 54. One year later, they gave us the St. Lawrence Lofts.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

A couple of the lofts are larger, but most are on the small size

Some of the units are 2-level lofts, though most of the rest are single level. Unfortunately, the lofts have no parking at all. Just wasn’t any consideration for cars when it was built, they didn’t even exist back then! You can see from the old photos that people would park right in front of the building, where the sidewalk is now.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Two-level units on the top floor have angled roof lines and dormer windows

Not only is it comprised of some of the oldest buildings in Toronto, but the St. Lawrence Lofts might be the only pre-Confederation loft in Toronto. I have heard that the original building that houses the Corktown Lofts was a tannery built in 1853, but I cannot trace its providence back far enough with any certainty. Possibly there was a tannery on that site in 1853, but the current building was not built before 1913. On an interesting note, the Corktown Lofts building, whatever it may have been, abutted the Don Brewery property on River Street.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

A gorgeous brick-walled bedroom in the St. Lawrence Lofts

The address of the St. Lawrence Lofts might be 81A Front, but the lofts stretch from above 77 Front to Spring Rolls at 85 Front. The lofts are made up of three historically designated buildings that used to front on the old Toronto wharf of the mid-1800s. Each is unique – but similar – as they represent a distinct pre-confederation architectural period in Toronto’s history.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

The amazingly-well-preserved facade of this 159-year-old building is a great reminder of the old town of York, built years before there was a Toronto – or even a Canada!

77 Front Street built in 1860 for Alexander Mortimer Smith was a wholesale grocery warehouse. Smith, a Scotsman, was active in the Board of Trade and served on Toronto City Council from 1855 until 1859. The Smith Building is original in its materials and composition using masonry, white brick and limestone. Stylistically in its tall arches and mezzanine level, the building is an adaptation of Northern Italian Renaissance architecture, known in Ontario as Vernacular Italianate. Front Street East is well-represented in this architectural style.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Coming in the back door, to the south, you can see the old fieldstone foundation

Alexander Smith was born in Monymusk in Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 1818 and joined the ranks of the 93rd Regiment of Foot, a regular regiment of the British Army in 1836. In 1838, his regiment was sent to Toronto in Upper Canada. In 1840, Smith left the army and was employed by a local merchant, later opening his own store. In the late 1850s, he entered the wholesale trade in groceries and also the lumber trade – it would have been at this time that he built his warehouse on Front Street.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Detail from the 1872 Wadsworth & Unwin map of the City of Toronto

Smith served on Toronto city council, and he joined the Toronto Board of Trade, serving as president in 1877. In 1863, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for the riding of East Toronto. He also served as president of the Royal Canadian Bank. He retired from politics in 1867. He continued to be involved in the wholesale business in Toronto and his company operated ships transporting goods on the Great Lakes. He died in Toronto in 1895.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

A truly amazing photo, showing Front Street East in 1876. You can see the whole block of buildings that make up the St. Lawrence Lofts with 77 Front being the rightmost building. There was nothing else built on that part of the street back then. St. Lawrence Market was still City Hall at the time, as you can see in the middle of the photo.

Thomas Helliwell Jr., a brewer in Upper Canada, and his son in law, Thomas Clarkson, a founder of Jim Clarkson & Gordon, owned 81 and 85 Front Street East. Built in 1857 and 1858, the warehouses included the general offices and commercial activities of a wholesale grocery – handling produce, wheat, hides and leather. The Helliwell and Clarkson Buildings with their monumental pilasters and intended symmetry reflect elementary Georgian classical design principles. Number 81 is associated with more Helliwell and 85 more with Clarkson (though it is also known as John Hallam Building).

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Thomas Helliwell House in the 1870s, at Todmorden Mills – which is still standing today!

Thomas Helliwell, a well respected builder and miller from Todmorden England, moved to Canada with his family in 1818. After operating a store and distillery in Lundy’s Lane, Niagara, John Eastwood and Thomas Helliwell formed a partnership and purchased land on the banks of the Don River in 1920. They built a gristmill, brewery, malthouse and a distillery under the name of the Don Brewery. Thomas Helliwell continued to operate the brewery with the help of his eldest son, Thomas Jr. until his death in 1823. The brewery was left to Thomas’ five sons. By all accounts the brewery was quite successful. They sold their beer and other products out of a shop in Market Square on Front street. This would be the precursor to the building at 81 Front Street.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Photo from 1904 looking east down the first lane south of Front Street, which would have run behind the old warehouses, which might be visible way down in the distance.

William Helliwell was sent to England to learn the Brewers’ trade in 1832 and upon his return, he took over the day-to-day operations of the brewery. After marrying, he built nearby Helliwell House (now part of the Todmorden Mills Heritage Complex) in 1838 to house his growing family. Charles Helliwell, youngest son of Thomas Helliwell Sr. entered business with his nephews, John and Daniel Eastwood to run their late father’s business, Eastwood & Co. which had grown to include the York Paper Mills and a retail business for books, paper and stationary with outlets in Toronto and Hamilton.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Looking southeast across downtown toward the Distillery District, in 1915, when the St. Lawrence Market still covered Front Street. St. Lawrence Loft warehouses can be seen at lower right.

Things ran smoothly for the family until January 10th, 1847 when a devastating fire broke out, destroying the brewery, and nearly claiming the lives of the brewery workers who lived onsite. The insurance covered only £1,000 of an estimated £16,000 in damages. All that was saved was 50 barrels of flour from the grist mill. The machinery was damaged beyond saving and the brewery was never rebuilt. The partnership between the brothers was dissolved and the remaining interest in the property was sold to the Taylor family in 1855. One could safely assume that they used that money to build 81 Front over the next 2 years.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

One of the larger two-level St. Lawrence Lofts with exposed wooden rafters

Way back when, the Lake Ontario shoreline came right up to Front Street, and the Helliwells could take advantage of the Don River to transport kegs to the wharf via dugout canoe when they were not being shipped in a horse-drawn wagon. They had their own wharf that enabled them to do that; it was right near the St. Lawrence Market, near the current Starbucks.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Even the smaller units in the St. Lawrence Lofts look great

The buildings at 77 to 85 Front Street East were included on the City’s Inventory of Heritage Properties on June 20, 1973 and designated by City Council on October 7, 1985.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Front & Market Streets in 1954, with the St. Lawrence Market at extreme left and the warehouses that became the St. Lawrence Lofts just to the right of that.

Not sure what all the buildings were before conversion. It seems that Tippet-Richardson occupied 77 Front, as their sign is in the old MLS photos from when Market Lofts Inc. had the building for sale. Photos from the 1970s and 1980s show signs for produce stores, with delivery trucks parked in front. There was a restaurant in the main floor of 85 Front in the 1990s. But then later photos from that same decade show the buildings as being cleaned up, looking more like office or commercial rentals of some sort.

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

A great shot from the early 1980s showing the produce trucks parked right in front of the buildings. Note the Tippet-Richardson logo on the building at right.

This stretch of Front Street features low-rise buildings, galleries and shops, and it’s a bit quieter in terms of mass developments rising only a block over. Still a high density area and a popular tourist attraction (especially with the market), St. Lawrence is a high energy neighbourhood accessible by transit. Located on Front Street and adjacent to the city’s best indoor market. The lofts are situated in a row of vintage buildings along the brick-lined street, representing classic architecture of the time period. The red brick facade makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time – that is, if you overlook the Starbucks on the main level.

And because there are so many amazing photos of the St. Lawrence Lofts through the ages, here are some more:

St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Aerial view showing the Flatiron Building all alone on the bullnose, with the St. Lawrence Lofts’ warehouses noted at upper right. Taken sometime in the 1960s or 1970s. Remember all those parking lots?


St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

Cold winter day in the 1970s showing the St. Lawrence Market and the loft buildings peeking out to the right of it.


St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

A 1978 view of Front Street East, looking east from Church Street, with the St. Lawrence Lofts buildings looking cleaner and a little better.


St. Lawrence Market Lofts – 81A Front Street East

View of construction area in front of St. Lawrence Market, where the condos of 80 Front Street East are now, taken in 1981.

This may have been my favourite loft post. So much history, tied so well with the history of the city. So many photos, maps, all sorts of great stuff to sort through. I hoped you like it as much as I do!

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