The Spice

Hiding in one of the modest alleyways in Toronto’s Little Portugal, this limestone brick warehouse was built around 1907. Hogtown, as Toronto was nicknamed then, was internationally known for its cured meats. Initially the warehouse was established as a family business, specializing in importing and exporting a much-needed ingredient the local hog industry required—spice. After the cured hog meat boom was over in the early 50s, the warehouse was split up and used by various other businesses until it deteriorated completely.

The Spice Factory before its much-needed rehabilitation

Fast-forward to 2009: this factory’s industrial structure was now in desperate need of a complete restoration. Enter Arts & Labour.  We took the project on because in the bones and history of the building, we saw a wealth of untapped potential. Our goal was to preserve the warehouse’s robust interiors as well as accentuate its undecorated exterior. In doing so, our reimagining of this prominent building would also help rejuvenate the appearance of the whole block.

The Spice Factory
Restored main entrance (left), 1943 calendar from Oppenheimer Casing Company discovered underneath the declining drywalls (right) ©2018 Revelateur Studio

After a careful selection of the most imaginative and resourceful design professionals, our team worked tirelessly to achieve the goal.  One of the biggest challenges we encountered was not rehabilitating the physical components of the building, but rather experiencing the countless obstacles presented to us by the Toronto Planning Department. Yet, despite these roadblocks, our no-nonsense blueprint was finally approved and our building permit was granted. In fact, ours was the first building permit ever issued by the City of Toronto for what is known as an “unchronicled warehouse”.

The restored 2nd level ©2018 Marcos Armstrong

It was critical for us to preserve the warehouse’s original structural framework while bringing its functionality into the 21st century. Given its untouched, no-frills appearance, our goal was to utilize the utmost environmentally-sound, yet industrial materials. However, the ultimate task was to preserve as much of the building’s DNA as possible. After all, with its many large windows, and two loading docks, the warehouse was a true jewel; spacious, open and continually filled with ever-changing natural light.

The restored 3rd level loft (right) with its stairs (left) ©2018 Revelateur Studio

Two years later, our process was completed and finally, the newly updated and refreshed warehouse became a source of delight, not only for our team, but the whole community.

By sensing The Spice Factory’s untapped potential, we were ready and willing to face obstacles we knew would be worth the battle. We sensed that if we could make a civic asset out of a building that would otherwise go unnoticed, the project would be worthwhile in many ways. Sharon VanderKaay, a design educator, commented of Arts & Labour and The Spice Factory project, “You know how to get things done that haven’t been done before. You work through obstacles. In the final analysis, how does it make people feel? One could say that it makes people feel proud about their street because creative people have chosen to live and work here and this is a quiet hive of activity.”