Bombing along the Gardiner just east of Dufferin, it was always my practice to take a loving and longing look to the north at the endless windows and angled roof of the mythic 9 Hanna Avenue.
That huge, decrepit wartime factory for quite a period of time housed the most whacked-out, eclectic mix of artists, artisans, carpenters, musicians and refugees from the law most likely ever assembled, all living illegally under one roof.
The top-floor studio I occupied, tucked into the southeast corner of the two-storey building, was once a large washroom for factory workers who, as the myth around the place went, made ammo for the second world war.
It had a poured concrete floor and didn't share a wall with any other space in the building. In other words, it was perfect for a band - well, almost perfect. In the studio across the hall lived and worked a painter of some repute who hated our sonic incursion into his visual field.
My bandmates and I tried to ameliorate his feelings by glueing carpet to the wall as soundproofing. I don't think this accomplished much, although we all got incredibly wasted before crashing precipitously into paralyzing headaches from the pot of LePage glue. My first and only glue high.
The entrance to 9 Hanna was breathtaking, opening onto a huge expanse of empty space easily the size of a high school football field. The rooms housing the studios were built around the perimeter. Because the front door was never locked, people started hearing about this huge open space.
Especially in the winter, I met with many a surprise: a dozen juggling unicyclists practising one night, a martial arts group another, dirt bike racing on a Friday night, joggers on Sunday morning. All this on top of the goings-on of the regular tenants. Doubtless, no one asked permission.
It sounds like another world, another city where artists, entrepreneurs and drifters could colour outside the lines, where corporate chain stores and condo conversions hadn't sucked up just about every square foot of available, affordable warehouse space.
I'm not really knocking Toronto's growth to big-time-city status. The industrial neighbourhood around 9 Hanna, for example, has been transformed over the last 15 years since I lived there from a pocket of economic desolation to a fantastic community of arts and high-tech entrepreneurs.
It's fun to be down there, and the coffee's good. But few artists or cabinetmakers could ever afford it now. What effect does this space squeeze have on the work people produce?
Finally, the day came when, tooling down the Gardiner and looking north, I realized nothing was there. The back half of the building, where I'd lived, had been completely dismantled, and the rest was renovated beyond recognition.
I knew 9 Hanna would inevitably succumb to the momentum of the times, but it bummed me out to see it all the same.
I drove in silence for quite a while, thinking how tough it must be these days for juggling unicyclists to find rehearsal space. And I said goodbye to the creaking hulk of metal, glass and peeling paint that once stood defiant, waving its flag of nonconformity for everyone to see.