Toronto is a city of invisible histories. Where condos, parking lots and parks stand in place of bygone civic landmarks, the city wears the clothes of a younger place. West of Spadina, Maud Street is one such palimpsest, with the Waterworks Building and St. Andrew's Playground—both historic in their own right—offering little clue to the urban landscape that preceded them. At the northeast corner of the Adelaide Street playground, however, a small Heritage Toronto plaque tells the compressed story of a century.  

Waterworks Building Redevelopment, Toronto, by MOD, Woodcliffe, Diamond SchmittThe Waterworks Building viewed from the southeast, image retrieved via Google Maps

Spanning from Adelaide to Richmond between Brant and Maud Streets, the Downtown Toronto block was once home to St. Andrew's Market, with land set aside in 1836 for what would soon become the city's third major public market. Following in the wake of St. Lawrence and St. Patrick's Markets—completed in 1803 and 1836 respectively—the new hub opened to the public in 1850. However, the next century would see the palimpsest of history repeatedly wiped clean, with a fire destroying the original building ten short years after its opening. 

The 1873-built market building, image via Toronto ArchivesThe 1873-built market building, image via Toronto Archives

Built in the Renaissance Revival style, a larger market replaced the original structure in 1873. Fronting Richmond Street, the new market also housed a police station, a public library branch, and a community hall. To the south, the green space fronting Adelaide was used as a public park since 1880, becoming St. Andrew's Playground in 1909. Yet, by the turn of the century, the evolving urban landscape quickly left the market largely—and then entirely—empty. The structure was demolished in 1932.

Waterworks Building Redevelopment, Toronto, by MOD, Woodcliffe, Diamond SchmittAn aerial view of the site, image retrieved via submission to the City of Toronto

The better part of a century later, the Waterworks Building that replaced the market in 1932 is now a vacant, outdated—and heritage-designated—building in its own right. In 2015, the vision to redevelop the public works facility as a mixed-use community hub came to light, with Build Toronto's guidelines calling for a YMCA—and a new public market—to anchor the site. This month, a plan to build 15 affordable ownership homes within a larger development was approved by City Council, along with a $30 million loan guarantee to build a new YMCA on site. Headed by private developers MOD and Woodcliffe, the project would see the 2-storey Waterworks Building front a new community hub for the neighbourhood's rapidly growing residential population.

Waterworks Building Redevelopment, Toronto, by MOD, Woodcliffe, Diamond SchmittAn axonometric drawing of the project, looking northwest, image retrieved via submission to the City of Toronto

Following a competitive bidding process, the site was sold to the developers by the City—operating via the arm's length agency Build Toronto. The sale was contingent on the inclusion of an on-site YMCA, as well as a new home for Eva's Initiatives for Homeless Youth, with the specific conditions of the sale informed by a series of community and stakeholder consultations.

Waterworks Building Redevelopment, Toronto, by MOD, Woodcliffe, Diamond SchmittThe view from the southwest corner, image retrieved via submission to the City of Toronto

Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the 13-storey building would incorporate the complete Waterworks Building at its base, with 314 residential units planned through the horseshoe-shaped expansion above. 15 of these suites will be affordable housing units, which are to be managed by Artscape, a not-for-profit organization. Meanwhile, the restored Waterworks Buildings below will house a split-level, 4,078 m² YMCA, and a space for Eva's Initiatives for Homeless Youth, alongside a 2,651 m² food hall and retail space at street level. 

Waterworks Building Redevelopment, Toronto, by MOD, Woodcliffe, Diamond SchmittThe mix of uses, image retrieved via submission to the City of Toronto

In maintaining the Waterworks Building and restoring a food hall to the site, the redevelopment aims for a more contextually sensitive approach to a site arguably characterized as much by erasure as presence. We will return in the coming weeks with a more in-depth look at the project, including an interview with MOD's Gary Switzer and Noorez Lalani, and Woodcliffe's Eve Lewis. In the meantime, more information is available via our dataBase file, linked below. What do you think of the project? Feel free to leave a message in the space provided on this page, or join the conversation in our associated Forum thread.