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The Wellington incinerator, aka the Wellington Destructor, is big, strong and voluminous. It was built in 1925 for a lifetime of hard work and hard knocks.
Horse-drawn wagons crawled over its arched access ramp, laden with barrels of stinking fish, crates of rotten eggs, dead cats and dogs as well as the usual dreck, all of which were poured into the Destructor’s flaming bowels. The stench, combined with that of the abattoir next door, must have been interesting.
The 91-year-old Destructor’s days as a garbage incinerator ended in the 1960s. Today it sleeps in mouldering retirement, half-hidden in scrub near the far end of Wellington near Strachan, a forlorn-looking object stripped of its chimneys, with access barred to all but the pigeons that fly in and out of its broken windows.
On Saturday, October 1, Architectural Conservancy Ontario’s Next Gen, a group of students and emerging professionals, gathered for their fifth annual design charette at Fort York National Historic Site. Their goal: resurrection of the Destructor.
Wayne Reeves, chief curator of Toronto’s Museums & Heritage Services, led a tour through a complicated and fascinating neighbourhood that encompasses Fort York, with its park and new library, the edge of a forest of condo towers, the Gardiner Expressway, railway tracks, some charming relics of Victorian housing and a host of industrial buildings.
The Destructor sits midway between Condoland and Liberty Village that badly need spaces in which to work, live, play and simply hang out – all of which could be available if the Destructor and its surrounding landscape were developed. There’s opportunity in this dilapidated building.
When the much-delayed Fort York foot and bike bridge is completed, it will land, at its north end, in Stanley Park, across the street from the Destructor, which sits in the middle of a trio of lush heritage landscapes.
In the Blue Barracks at Fort York, Megan Torza of DTAH (architects of the Fort York bridge as well as Wychwood Barns and the Don Valley Brick Works) talked about the complicated topography around the Destructor. It straddles Garrison Creek, which now runs beneath it in a storm sewer. These factors might be assets for landscape architects who understand them or potential traps for architects who don’t.
Mary MacDonald, senior manager of Toronto Heritage Preservation Services, finished the briefing with her thoughts about the conservation of ex-industrial buildings and how adaptive reuse of the Destructor for its community would complement the Official Plan.
Then the charette began. Six teams of a half-dozen or so were given three hours to invent schemes for the Destructor’s future.
Judges of the charette (Azure Magazine director Nelda Rodger, PUBLIC WORK landscape architect Chester Rennie, Kate Zeidler of Kate Zeidler Interior Design, ERA Architects’ Michael McClelland and Heritage Preservation Services’ MacDonald) noted the teams’ understanding of the needs of people who live in tiny condos in the area for public spaces they can treat as their living rooms and gardens as well as their studios and workshops.
The Destructor’s size and resilience would allow it to be used for practically anything: from the usual daycare, ESL, art and exercise classes to rental of spaces for “post-industrial industry” and for the heavier work that “makers” like to do. These might include fire-breathing activities – this really turned the judges on – like blacksmithing, which are hard to pursue in Toronto and would be appropriate for a former incinerator.
And the look of a revitalized Destructor? Suggestions ran from encouraging graffitists to decorate its walls to acquiring the former abattoir to the east, and incorporating its landscape into the Destructor complex. To compensate for the Destructor’s lost chimneys, new chimneys in lattice steel were proposed as mounts for temporary exhibits of art work that would be visible for kilometres around, day and night.
Exciting ideas for what might be the brilliant future of a neglected, decaying tomb waiting to be awakened and restored to a new life.
Richard Longley is past president of Architectural Conservancy Ontario.