It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. I’d like to do more (and have a list of ideas), but time and other priorities pop up.
Our first installment way back, Part 1, dealt with some of the customers located at the east end of Rexdale around Islington/Highway 401. Now we’ll look at a long, winding spur known as CN’s Highbury Industrial Lead, and many of the past (and present) local industries along it that utilized rail to ship their goods.
Located in Rexdale at Mile 11.7 of CN’s Weston Sub (the line running between Brampton and Toronto, formerly the Brampton Sub until the mid 60’s, and presently owned by Metrolinx/GO Transit since February 2009), the long winding track was built in the mid-50’s to serve the hive of industry popping up in the new Rexdale area of Etobicoke, that in the post-war period was being developed from sprawling farmland into sprawling neighbourhoods and factories.
The area pre-development in 1950, and shown progressing in 1956. This and further aerial closeups below are from the City of Toronto Archives imagery from various years between 1950-1985 as-noted (source, and a very handy one at that).
CN’s employee timetables for that era show the new spur line designated as the Highbury Industrial Lead, as it’s still known today in present timetables. Car Control diagrams for the 60’s include it as part of the Rexdale Industrial Zone, Zone X (i.e. each of the sidings here have X-prefixes. E.g. X-211, X-226, etc):
Above: CN’s Highbury Industrial Lead, highlighted in green, winding its way through the Rexdale section of Etobicoke in 1969, along the Highway 27 corridor, with major roads and customers listed. Additional spurs and sidings (blue) off the mainline (yellow) will be covered in a future installment as time permits. For a larger zoom-able image, click here.
There’s plenty of early aerial imagery of the area, here’s the trackage in 1960 as development further progressed:
Tour of the Line, and Industries
From research over time on the various local industries, access to a few select CN employee timetables dating from the 1960’s-80’s, as well as a handy Car Control diagram booklet or two, I’ve been able to piece together some of the local customers that used rail back in the day, and those that still do:
Starting at the top:Above: Customers in the area between the CN Weston Sub and north of Belfield Rd c.1969. Check out that string of 40′ boxcars just sitting there. Gone today, but everywhere back then.
Canadian Iron & Foundy (Canron) – Pressure Pipe Divison
A large iron and steel structural fabricator, they were responsible for much of the construction of the CN Tower, as well as many other large building and structural projects in Canada. As with most large national firms back in the day, they had diverse interests and complementary holdings. Located here in the 1950’s was their Pressure Pipe Division site (their structural division site was located west of Highway 27 on another spur), a large sprawling property with lots of metal and pipe stacked up (potential flatcar and gondola loads, note the line of empty bulkhead flatcars).
Canron originally entered the plastic pipe business by acquiring Grandview Industries and Johns-Manville Pipe, and over time they focused solely on plastic pipe manufacturing. Canron’s pipe division was later acquired by Ivaco Inc (Montreal QC), who owned it until the 1992 merger between Scepter Manufacturing (maker of those red plastic jerry gas cans) and Canron Pipe (forming IPEX, which still has a site west of Highway 27 that gets occasional rail service).
It’s unknown when they left this site, but 1985 aerial imagery shows the property cleared and the building undergoing partial demolition. By 1987 some additional new buildings were being built on site (it appears the rail spur may have been removed then), and today a trucking/ transportation warehouse occupies the property. Note that Canron continued to use their other property west of Highway 27 until around 2004, but more on that in another post.
Status: past customer. Site redeveloped, no rail.
Canadian Keyes Fibre Company Limited (CKF Inc.)
A Canadian manufacturer of food and retail packaging, disposable plates and utensils from a variety of different materials, CKF has been operating at this site since the 50’s. Eventually their small square building expanded and presently occupies the entire block. Rail traffic: covered hoppers of raw material used in the manufacture of their products.
Status: current active rail customer.
Highbury Developments Ltd
I haven’t been able to find too much information on Highbury Developments Ltd. The only reference I can find is an old Supreme Court of Canada case between the Etobicoke Board of Education and Highbury Developments Ltd. over a land dispute. What can be gleamed from that amid all the legalese is Highbury was a land developer in the 1950’s who owned parcels of land in Etobicoke it was developing for residential and presumably industrial use. Perhaps they developed some of this industrial area of Etobicoke (hence the name of the industrial lead/spur), although it could have just been named such because they were an early customer along it. This is the perfect example of old names living on on the railway decades after the original companies or people vanish, and nobody really knowing why they’re called that name anymore.
Extra digging didn’t yield further useful information about the company beyond that – perhaps they were bought out or went under sometime in the 60’s. The main building appeared under construction in 1958 aerial imagery and in 1960 appears to have construction equipment including cranes in their lot, in addition to a rail siding.
By (or sometime before) 1969, the property was occupied by Westeel Rosco Ltd., who had a number of sites in the Rexdale area back in the day. Originally Rosco Metal Products Limited, Westeel (Western Steel Products Limited) acquired them in 1965, hence the name. They were an industrial and agricultural metal company, dealing with sheet metal, siding, roofing products, and agricultural storage bins (source).
Eventually this site was cleared and built over by CKF’s ever-expanding factory, circa 1987.
Status: past customer (property developed over)
Air Reduction Company Ltd.
Otherwise known as “AIRCO”: a New York based supplier of industrial gases (oxygen, argon, etc) for welding and other uses. Given the size of the building, it was probably a local distribution centre.
Status: past customer or vacated, no rail.
Large light bulb and electronics manufacturer. Again, judging by the size of the building it was likely another local distribution centre or warehouse, which were often located in industrial areas in the suburbs where land was cheap and with nearby access to highways and rail lines. The building is currently home to Brenntag Canada (chemical distributor), who gets rail service (tanks).
Status: active customer (Brenntag).
C.I.P. Ltd. (Hygrade Corrugated Containers)
Formerly the Continental Wood Products Company, they changed their name in 1966 to Hygrade Corrugated Containers Ltd. Again, likely another container and packaging manufacturer.
The site has changed hands in the past and is currently occupied by big box building supply store Rona, who gets inbound lumber loads on centre-beam flatcars. Here is a photo of a CN local servicing Rona, taken by “Cityslicker” via Railpictures.ca: http://www.railpictures.ca/?attachment_id=17619
Status: active customer (Rona).
Not entirely sure what the deal here was, but it appears Ambassador Books was a Toronto-based book and print publisher back in the day. It was the 60’s after all – small companies having their own private rail sidings and spurs was much more common then than now. Being a publisher, boxcars of newsprint rolls and inbound/outbound loads of printed products would have been the likely traffic, if this site was a printing operation and not just a distribution warehouse.
Status: past customer or vacated, no rail.
Moving south to Belfield Road:Above: Customers in the area below Belfield Rd., c.1969. The line headed south along the Ontario Hydro corridor, and serviced customers on either side. Highway 27 and the local service road (City View Dr.) can be seen at the far left.
Monarch Fine Foods
Opened at 195 Belfield Rd. as Monarch Fine Foods in the early 1960’s, the plant later became Thomas J. Lipton Inc (T.J. Lipton of soup making fame. Both Monarch and T.J.Lipton brands merged in 1993 under the Lipton banner), before becoming Unilever in the 2000’s (Unilever always had a corporate stake in Lipton). The plant makes Becel brand margarine and Hellmann’s brand mayonnaise (source), and takes in tank cars on its three tracks. In the past it has handled reefers as well, probably for outbound product, but most of that kind of rail traffic now travels in refrigerated trucks and containers today.
Status: current customer (Unilever)
Midland Superior Co.
Midland Superior Co. was a trucking company, this is likely one of their road-rail transload terminal/warehouse operations. Apparently the company was CN owned, they were eventually merged into a CN trucking firm, which was later spun off.
Status: past customer or vacated, no rail.
Canadian Canners Ltd (as Aylmer Foods Warehousing Ltd)
Built in 1962 as part of a joint venture between Canadian Canners Ltd and Three Highways Warehouse Ltd (forming joint venture Aylmer Foods Warehousing Ltd), a 120,000 square foot warehouse was built at 55 City View Dr. Rexdale to facilitate product distribution in Ontario and to the east. The operation was discontinued and warehouse sold off in 1981.
Canadian Canners Ltd. (and their Alymer brand) dealt with canning various perishable food items such as canned fruits, sauces, and tomatoes, peaches, pears, Del Monte juice drinks, done in various factories in southern Ontario and Canada. On the King’s Highway 409 page, you can see CN 50′ insulated boxcars on the spur, par for the course for carrying canned food perishables by rail at the time (due to the tight curve, it’s noted in timetable that cars greater than 50′ were prohibited on this siding).
In recent years Thomson Terminals Ltd (trucking/transport/logistics) has been the longtime tenant of the building and was a user of rail service. More on them in a bit.
As for Canadian Canners, Del Monte of California had control over the company for a while, but it was eventually absorbed into Nabisco in the mid-80’s.
(Source: The History of Canadian Canners Ltd)
Status: past customer, no rail service.
Highway 409 Hits The Scene.
When Highway 409 was constructed through this area of Etobicoke in the mid-1970’s, the highway was built below-grade and squeezed around much of the existing development. Bridges were built at-grade over the highway for the main rail spur and customer sidings, as well as Hwy 27, local and access roads. Some excellent 1978 photos of the completed area can be seen in the Highway 409 photos section of the King’s Highway Page. Note the GMD switchers, standard fare switching power for the time on CN.
Above: Highway 409 construction progression in 1973 vs 1975.
The above shows a 1985 aerial view of where Highway 409 now runs, showing the various bridges needed for the main spur and sidings. Canadian Canners Ltd. on the left eventually became a Thomson Terminals Ltd warehouse. Below, another warehouse on the lower left built in the 70’s (unknown who used it at the time but Thomson Terminals also owns it today) received rail service via two curved sidings leading in between the buildings. The only hint of that today is a nick at the corner of one of the buildings to allow the tight curvature. And yet another warehouse was built in the early 80’s opposite the Canadian Canners site, on the east side of the tracks (off Iron Rd) with its own siding as shown above (yes, also currently also home to Thomson Terminals). Original and previous ownership is often difficult to ascertain in cases like this, as tenants changed over time, and old Car Control diagrams and track maps only show a limited snapshot of what or who was there at the time.
Continuing south below Highway 409:Above: continuing south along the hydro corridor, the view just north of Dixon Road, c.1969. Try as I might, I can’t find any evidence that any of the buildings on the far left along Hwy 27 in the image ever had rail sidings.
Dominion Steel Company of Canada Ltd. (DOSCO)
Above 1957 images from the Panda Associates fonds of the Canadian Architecural Archives, via the University of Calgary (source)
Again, another big Canadian player in the steel manufacturing business for heavy industry. Plant built in 1957 with two rail sidings, site shut down in 1995. Not too much activity at the site until the late 2000’s, presently the Toronto Congress Centre north building.
Status: past customer, now the Toronto Congress Centre
Information here was a bit harder to find, but from what I’ve found it appears this building was originally built and owned by Chrysler. I’m not aware of any automotive assembly plants in the area, and it doesn’t appear to have the rail infrastructure in place for automobile loading/unloading into railcars, so it was probably a distribution warehouse or satellite manufacturing plant (making parts and components to ship to final assembly plants). It became a Sears warehouse (furniture/mattresses) in the 80’s/90’s, and is presently the Toronto Congress Centre’s south building, in use for conventions and public events. For those who remember, in the past it was where the annual March model RR shows of the late 90’s/early 2000’s put on by CARM (The Canadian Ass. of Model RR’ers) were held.
Status: past customer, now the Toronto Congress Centre
Saving the Best for Last: Ontario Hydro / HEPC
But the neatest thing was at the south end of the Highbury Industrial Lead: the spur extended south and ended just outside the Ontario Hydro (then known as the Hydro Electric Power Commission (HEPC) of Ontario) Richview Transformer Station, named after the nearby Richview residential area of Toronto.
Above: At the southmost end of the line was the Ontario Hydro (Hydro Electric Power Commission of Ontario) Richview Transformer Station, nestled just north of Highway 401 and Highway 27. Note the spur curving and ending next to a paved area outside the plant, to help facilitate cranes and other unloading methods.
To do this, the line had to cross Dixon Road at-grade at a level crossing just east of Highway 27, headed through a hotel parking lot (the present day International Plaza Hotel):
Above: level crossing with Dixon Rd. c.1969, with the previously mentioned Chrysler warehouse at the top. The hotel parking, constructed on the hydro corridor, eventually grew to the west of the tracks over time. Typically there’s not much you can do land-use wise with an active hydro corridor, other than farming it or turning it into parking lots. Also note the drive-in movie theatre at the NW corner of Dixon & Hwy 27.
This long stretch of track, with no other customers to the south, existed to deliver large hydro transformers and other supplies by rail to the site. It was common back in the day that most hydro stations and substations were either located by rail lines, or had their own (often lengthy) spurs to inside or just outside of the property. Ontario Hydro’s sprawling transformer facilities in Pickering were probably the source of many of the dimensional loads delivered.
CN employee timetables noted that 24 hours notice was required to the Metro [Toronto] Roads Department and the Metro Toronto Police (to direct/stop traffic) for movements over the over the track crossing Dixon Road. It is unknown how long this trackage remained intact with level crossing (likely removed in the 1990’s), but the note was still present in the 1990 CN employee timetable. A rail spur crossing a busy Toronto roadway at grade would never be built today, much less one that would see very infrequent service. Photos of any rail movements here are rare, and it would be nice to come upon some one day.
(An additional aerial photo showing the crossing of Dixon Rd. and the end of the spur in 1959 can be seen on the King’s Highway site’s Ontario Highway 401 Photographs page 2 (specifically here, at the top)
Status: past customer, spur removed.
Over time a lot of the sidings have been taken up and the spur has receded, and today it only reaches as far as Belfield Rd. GO Transit (pre-Metrolinx formation) bought the Weston Sub from CN in 2009. A lot of the unused spurs that were left in place have since been taken up, and the sleepy single track mainline with service tracks has been upgraded to 3-4 mainline tracks for expanded GO service and the Union-Pearson Express trains.
Above: some present-day aerials via Google Earth.
But the Highbury trackage is still in regular use by CN (who has switching rights over Metrolinx/GO’s tracks) – a source indicated that CN locals #549 and #559 presently switch the area. A little under half a dozen customers remain that still use rail service. Most of the tracks south of CKF were taken up a few years back, so no customers south of Belfield and Highway 409 get service anymore (but you can still see some disconnected track in place at Thomson Terminals). The leg to Ontario Hydro is but a memory, and easily missed if you didn’t know it ever existed at all.