The Industrial Slum Games? A Look Back at the West Don Lands

Pan-Am games site - West Don Lands
Turn of the century map of the area, itself located south of Queen St and on the west bank of the Don River.

As talk of the 2015 Pan-Am games circulates within the news, I thought I might take a look at the area which will house its Thunder Dome (or Athletes’ Village, as THEY like to call it), located in the former southern reaches of Corktown. This area is slated for redevelopment as the “West Don Lands”.

pan-am games site toronto - West Don Lands

Once brimming with factories, furnaces, and pump houses, southern Corktown also housed a large community of workers. Long forgotten are the cottages, shacks, and general slum conditions of the area during the early half of the century. Looking at these images, one can imagine the poorly insulated houses, wood burning stoves, large families, and the overall cramped conditions which prevailed in the neighbourhood.

During the deindustrialization of the 1960’s and 70’s, entire blocks were wiped out and streets such as Olive, Vine, Water, and Cypress disappeared forever. The area until recently has been mostly abandoned and dilapidated, despite schemes in the late 80’s towards re-development. The only clue remaining of the former neighbourhood is the Palace Street School building (1859), which later housed the now-famous “Canary” restaurant, at the corner of Front and Cherry streets.

Thankfully, the area will experience regeneration with its temporary transformation into an arena of death… or “Athletes’ Village”, and in future as a residential/condo neighbourhood.  Those interested should probably begin the purchasing of babies and strollers.

With photos from the Toronto Archives.

Pan-Am Games site history - West Don Lands
2 to 14 Water Street, 1912


Pan-am Games site history - West Don Lands
Rear of 2 to 14 Water Street, 1912


Pan-am games toronto site - West Don Lands
Laneway off 24 Eastern Avenue, 1936


Pan-am games site history toronto - West Don Lands
Mill Street and Water Street, February 1912


Pan-am games site toronto history - West Don Lands
Corner of Cornwall and River Streets, 1937


Pan-am games site toronto history - West Don Lands
Palace Street (later Cherry Street) School Playground, 1908


Pan Am games site Toronto history - West Don Lands
Cypress and Eastern Ave, looking towards the William Davies Company buildling, 1925


Pan am games site Toronto history - West Don Lands
Interior, slum housing, Sackville Street. A child has stepped into frame during the exposure



About Christopher Butters 6 Articles
Born and raised in Toronto, Christopher Butters is a contributor with a strong passion for history, art, and anything motorcycle related. When he's not writing, he's often taking motorcycle trips to parts unknown, camping, or working on an oil paint sketch in a messy studio.