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By Nick Westoll
Posted Dec 2, 2022, 2:36PM EST. Last Updated Dec 2, 2022, 6:40PM EST.
As Toronto has become home to many beer producers across the city, Junction Craft Brewery has chosen to make beverages in an unconventional building that’s been a staple in the community for different reasons: a former municipal incinerator and an underground rave hangout.
“It was literally a derelict, abandoned building,” Stuart Wheldon, the CEO of Junction Craft Brewery, recalled during a recent tour of the Symes Road facility. “The developer started completely gutting it back to the walls and so everything is new from the windows to the utilities to everything and they just kept the bones of what they could and salvaged the heritage aspects that were still there that could be restored.”
In the early 1930s, this part of the Harwood neighbourhood — located west of Weston Road and north of St. Clair Avenue West — was home to animal stockyards and meatpacking businesses. But as Toronto developed, so did the need to get rid of trash.
Public works commissioner R.C. Harris oversaw a few different incinerators, also known as destructors, and he was into adding artistic touches to the City’s utility buildings. The destructor on Symes Road was built to include art deco finishes, and many of those have been preserved here.
When this building opened in 1934, trucks would drive in the back, offload the garbage and a beam crane would dump it into hoppers so it could be burned. Knocked down a while ago, the chimneys attached the building were up to 200 feet tall.
The destructor was built to last with its heavy-duty flooring (some of it on the upper level was able to be reused and supports a commercial fridge and beer tanks) and a foot-thick ceiling.
Photos of the destructor when it was being built and during its operations have been protected by the City of Toronto Archives office.
The building stopped being used for waste in the 1980s and in the years that followed it became a popular spot to gather. “[In] the ‘90s it was used for raves. Unofficially I might have been to one on a school bus,” Wheldon said with a laugh, noting the second-floor conference room and an employee’s office still have graffiti from the time period. In the mid-2010s, efforts ramped up by a property developer to save the decades-old incinerator. “I mean it was kind of a complete restoration. So you’re kind of getting rid of all the old bits that are problematic and having new floors and having an opportunity, coming in here when it was going through restoration, means that you can put all the utilities and bits and pieces in how you would like it so that made it advantageous to do,” Wheldon said. “The end result is great. You get the bones of a very old, unique heritage building but with all the modern aspects of what you’d expect from a modern brewery.”
While you might not think at first, a former incinerator would be a good fit for a place that sterilizes cans and bottles various beverages for consumption, he said the building itself is a natural contender.
“We have I think 24-, 25-plus-foot ceilings, some very large openings where garbage trucks would have come and gone, so for tanks and brewing equipment that makes for quite an easy installation,” Wheldon said, adding the existing commercial area means trucks can come and go easily.
Another irony is that while beers are made in volume today, down nearby Keele street at Dundas Street West just a few minutes away, prohibition in some form lasted in certain parts up until the end of the 20th century. “The history is fantastic, but it also kind of makes for a cool story when we think about having a beer of what it was in its past life,” Wheldon said.
That area is referred to as The Junction of course, which fits with the business. “Community is our name, our brewery is named after our community,” Sarah Rolland, the marketing manager at Junction Craft Brewery said.
Since setting up, she said there has been a desire to boost the area.“We are a small local business. We want to support the community that also supports us,” Rolland said.
“We donate five per cent of the sales of our ‘Caribru’ lager and IPA to local charities and we give back one per cent of our employee time to volunteer initiatives.”
Meanwhile, as the brewery continues to expand to make products such as beer, canned wine and sparkling water for smaller companies, Wheldon said they want to make sure the history is cherished well into the future.
“All those little stories are still very much a part of the space and we’ve left those so you’ve got that shell and that heritage you can see, it’s on display, with a very modern brewery inside that, so that’s pretty cool to me,” he said. “I’m sure there are some stories if the walls could talk from the years that it’s gone through.”