Sure, Toronto’s creative class gets all the hype, but we’re still a city that makes things. We surveyed six local factories to discover what they mean to the city.
It comes as no surprise that the well-documented rise of Toronto’s creative class over the past decade coincided with a dramatic drop in manufacturing jobs in the city. Toronto’s 2011 employment survey shows a sector in free fall, dropping from the second-largest employer 11 years ago to second last, ahead only of industries categorized as “other.”
In 2001, manufacturing in Toronto boasted 186,800 jobs, but the subsequent decade saw the number of factory jobs drop 31.2 per cent to 128,600, the most significant decline of any industry over that period. There remains only one manufacturer on Toronto’s Top 25 employers list, and it’s Montreal-based Bombardier, ranking 25th for its plant at Downsview.
The good news? The job-shedding has slowed dramatically in recent years, and the sector appears to be stabilizing: after losing a staggering 25,700 jobs between 2006 to 2010, a drop of only 900 jobs between 2010 to 2011 shows the city may have stopped—or at least eased—the bleeding.
And yet, amid all these job losses, Toronto is still a city that makes things.
Hidden pockets of urban manufacturing still dot both predominantly residential communities and low-density commercial neighbourhoods not far from downtown, and business is good. Wander the city and you’ll find manufacturers in what we may think of as the strangest of places. They demonstrate that, while our perceptions of what it means to work in the city have shifted, the reality of people making things here has not. And by being aware of the enduring manufacturers in our midst, we can have a clearer idea of what it means for many to live and work in Toronto.
Here, we take a look at a few of the city’s most resilient manufacturing hubs:
Redpath Sugar Refinery
Photo: Randy Risling/Toronto Star
Address: 95 Queens Quay E., #HAR
Established: 1854 (on Queens Quay since 1958)
History: Though the company itself was established by John Redpath in Montreal in 1854, the Toronto refinery has been a staple on the waterfront since the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958. A collection of international parts help make a working whole: Redpath uses a German-made machine to unload Brazilian and Guatemalan sugar, before robots designed in California seal it in small packets for sale throughout Canada. And as the recent $11 million investment in a new unloader attests, despite its incoming residential neighbours, the Redpath refinery aims to remain a waterfront fixture for the foreseeable future.
Controversy: Redevelopment around the Redpath factory only began in earnest in recent years. For decades, the company went about its business, outlasting its industrial neighbours on the waterfront until the nature of the community—where there had been no community before—suddenly changed.
“We’ve been on the waterfront on our own for so many years that we didn’t have to think about what our neighbours might want,” says Redpath president Jonathan Bamberger. But as Waterfront Toronto began developing their vision for the city’s shoreline, and as neighbours like Corus Entertainment, George Brown College and the 80-acre, 6,000 residential unit development at West Don Lands move in, the refinery has been forced to come out of its shell.
The Redpath factory has gotten along with its new neighbours thus far thanks to extensive talks with Waterfront Toronto to ensure “compatible” and “non-sensitive” neighbours can move in beside them: companies that won’t mind the noise and commotion of 1,000-foot cargo tankers full of raw sugar coming into port at any time of the day or night.
“But we’re a sugar factory at the end of the day—we’re not a chemical refinery or anything, so we’re a fairly benign factory, all things considered,” Bamberger said. “And is the smell of processed sugar that bad? I don’t think so.”
Contribution to Toronto: Like other industrial sites anxious to make sure their new residential and commercial neighbours are content, Redpath found that knowledge is power. And what better way to get to know the neighbours than throw a party and invite everyone? And where better than the city’s blue edge? Waterfront celebrations, tall-ship festivals, and children’s theatre have brought Redpath and the surrounding community together.
Bamberger also notes that the transformation isn’t only happening around the refinery, but inside as well. Computerized machinery requires skilled labourers to operate, helping the city retain workers in high-paying jobs that are in demand.
“There’s a gap in the Toronto labour market,” Bamberger said. “Not everyone can be an investment banker, but we still need high-paying employment, and manufacturing jobs can fill that niche.”
Secret to longevity: Continuing to improve their business while nearby industries dropped like flies—and then working to get along with the new neighbours, whoever they might be.
Canada Goose Inc.
Photo: David Cooper/Toronto Star
Address: 1381 Castlefield Ave., #YRK
History: It’s ironic—and quintessentially Canadian, in a way—that it took the rising popularity of Canada Goose winter jackets in Europe for Canadians to realize the gem they had in their midst.
The plant produces more than 250,000 of the ubiquitous parkas annually here in Toronto, employing in-house fashion designers, dozens of sewing machine operators to blow Canadian-sourced, Hutterite-raised goose down into every nook and cranny of the jacket.
For CEO Dani Reiss, the decision to keep the company’s manufacturing in the heart of Canada’s largest city is a big part of what keeps their outerwear in such high demand.
“The strategy of sticking around [helped] the perception that we are the champions for ‘Made in Canada,’ and people appreciate that,” Reiss recently told the Financial Post.
“A lot of brands have lost an element of their soul by outsourcing,” he said. “It was a calculated risk for us [to stay in Toronto], but the truth is, had we decided to go offshore and manufacture like everyone else was doing, I am certain that we would not be where we are today.”
Controversy: For Canada Goose, the greatest challenge is fending off imitators, not jostling with neighbours over the community’s livability. The company filed a lawsuit against International Clothiers in January 2012 over allegations the company was intentionally manufacturing jackets with a similar logo to Canada Goose’s famous trademark. While the issue was settled in early November, the terms of the agreement are unknown.
However, as Reiss told the Financial Post, “the fact that we are being counterfeited speaks to the presence that our brand has in the global marketplace.”
Contribution to Toronto: A world-class fashion icon that chose to stay true to its roots and keep manufacturing in Toronto when the global trend was moving towards offshore relocation.
“You can’t be a luxury brand without the history and the heritage,” Reiss said to the Post.
Secret to longevity: Making a fashionable winter coat, which is harder than it seems.
Cadbury Chocolate Factory
Photo: Keith Beaty/Toronto Star
Address: 277 Gladstone Ave., #DNW
History: The first chocolates rolled off the assembly line at this five-storey building in 1906 under the Neilson brand name, and by 1919 the Gladstone Factory was producing 5.5 million pounds of chocolate annually. A factory worker by the name of Harold Oswin won an employee chocolate-making competition in 1930 that led to the creation of the Crispy Crunch bar, a treat that’s still made at the factory today. Global chocolatier Cadbury bought the company in 1996. If you live in Toronto, chances are you’ve eaten something from the Gladstone factory, as they make more than 500 million chocolate bars annually.
Controversy: There’s been very little controversy surrounding the Gladstone location, as Cadbury has gone out of their way to be respectful neighbours. And while the constant wafting scent of chocolate would no doubt wear on anyone in time, responding to the needs of local residents has allowed the candy-maker to maintain a positive public presence in the community.
“We’ve hosted several open houses within the last few years to help [neighbourhood residents] better understand who we are, what we do and how to reach us. We aim for an open and transparent relationship,” says company spokesperson Stephanie Minna Cass. Cadbury also does the little things, like respecting the city’s idling bylaw, she said, in addition to keeping deliveries between 7 a.m. 7 p.m. during the week.
Contribution to Toronto: Despite the sheer size of the building, surrounded by two-storey semis and detached homes, the factory has been a mainstay of the community for more than a century. The company is active in the community through charitable donations, support of local restaurants and businesses, school tours to showcase the science of chocolate and, of course, handing out untold bags of what they do best to neighbourhood kids on Halloween.
As well, more than 160 of the company’s 400 employees live within 10 kilometres of the plant, which cuts down on commuting times and helps keep wages in the area.
Secret to longevity: Making chocolate. Oh, and growing with and listening to the community they serve. But mostly making chocolate.
GE-Hitachi uranium processing plant
Photo: Richard Lautens/Toronto Star
Address: 1025 Lansdowne Ave., #JNT
History: The GE-Hitachi plant at Lansdowne and Dupont may have only made waves recently in its Junction Triangle neighbourhood when it was discovered to be manufacturing uranium pellets, but the factory has been a part of the community for more than 50 years. And the land it’s built on has been owned by GE Canada since the early 1900s.
Controversy: The recent dust-up occurred when local residents first determined the non-descript building off Lansdowne was actually taking natural uranium powder and pressing it into pellets that are later assembled into fuel bundles for use in nuclear reactors.
While the community wraps their collective heads around the idea that a uranium-pellet producer had been at work in their neighbourhood for decades, GE is going to great lengths to convey just how safe the facility is.
“To give a sense of perspective to its safety, if one were to stand on the corner of Lansdowne and Brandon 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for one year, their exposure would be five times less than receiving just one dental x-ray,” says Christopher White, Nuclear Energy Communications Manager with GE.
Contribution to Toronto: The GE-Hitachi plant may not have been what urban planners had in mind when they developed the concept of complete communities, but in many ways the plant is a model industrial neighbour: an unassuming building that employs more than 50 people in high-paying, high-skill manufacturing, and administrative positions. “Many employees walk to work and live in the neighbourhood,” White said.
And at a time when retail jobs are plentiful but provide low-paying, low-skill labour to recent Social Sciences grads, plants like this help diversify the local economy and can serve as important economic engines for local communities and the city as a whole.
Secret to longevity: Providing an indispensable and highly specialized material to the leading player in the energy sector.
Photo: Sean DeCory/The Grid
Address: 195 McCaul St., #COL
History: Kalman Silverstein started the Baldwin Village bakery when most of Toronto’s Jewish community lived in the area south of College Street. But good business enticed the Silversteins to move to their current space just steps from U of T and the hospitals of University Avenue in 1953.
Controversy: The bakery doesn’t have a shop on the premises to sell to walk-ins, likely losing out on the student crowd looking to pick up quality bread on their way home from class. “But we can’t really have people coming in here and handling bread off the lines,” co-owner Jeff Silverstein told The Grid earlier this year.
Contribution to Toronto: Eaten at a Jewish deli in Toronto? Then you’ve experienced first-hand what Silverstein’s brings to the city—some of the best rye bread this side of Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal, served up by delis, caterers like Druxy’s, and some of Toronto’s finest hotels.
Secret to longevity: Pre-holiday orders! The hustle and bustle of filling seasonal demands meant co-owner Mark Silverstein didn’t have 10 minutes to talk to me recently about the business that he and his brothers operate, the third generation to do so since the bakery opened. “I wish business was like this all year,” Mark says.
Quality Meat Packers Limited
Photo: Charla Jones/Toronto Star
Address: 2 Tecumseth St., #KGW
History: For better or worse, this abattoir has made the sights, smells, and sounds of processing hogs a part of the nearby King West and Liberty Village neighbourhoods. And after more than 80 years in operation at its facility near Tecumseth and Niagara, it remains one of the oldest fixtures of the community.
Quality Meat Packers has also withstood the onslaught of condo development in recent years that has razed the area’s industrial past over the past 15 years. In fact, the factory is moving forward with a much-needed upgrade, thanks to a $3 million grant from the federal government in April 2012 as part of a national $60 million Slaughterhouse Improvement Program.
Controversy: The $3 million taxpayer-funded renovation struck many local residents as too much, and some organized petitions against it. It’s one thing to witness hogs being led to the slaughter as you walk the dog in Stanley Park, but quite another to pay for improvements to the plant, ensuring it remains a neighbour far longer than many would like.
In July 2011, concerned residents actually captured video of pigs kept in transport trucks in the summer heat en route to the plant, leading to further criticism from neighbours and animal-rights activists alike.
Contribution to Toronto: If you’re a fan of locally processed pork products, you may have benefitted from Quality Meat Packers. But it’s also estimated the plant employs roughly 800 workers, many of whom live in the GTA.
Secret to longevity: Many people like eating animals. Some of which are pigs.