Liberty Village is a neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is bordered to the north by King Street West, to the west by Dufferin Street, to the south by the Gardiner Expressway, to the east by Strachan Avenue, and to the northeast by the CP railway tracks.
Liberty Village is located on one of Toronto's oldest settlements.
Fort York, on the south edge of community, was established by the British military in 1793.
In the 1850s, both the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway and the Great Western Railway laid tracks across the community, cutting it off from rest of the city and altering plans to develop the area for residential purposes. Instead, Liberty Village became home to several institutions, including the Toronto Central Prison, opened in 1873, and the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women (on the site of today’s Lamport Stadium), opened in 1878 for women convicted of "vagrancy", "incorrigibility", or "sexual precociousness." Provincial Secretary William John Hanna forced the closure of Central Prison in 1915, and all its buildings were demolished except for the paint shop and chapel. "Liberty Street", for which Liberty Village is named, was the first street both male and female convicts would walk once freed.
The area's proximity to the railway tracks led to its growth as an industrial area. In 1884, John Inglis and Company opened a factory to manufacture heavy machinery, boilers, and later, electrical appliances. Inglis' success led to its expansion onto Central Prison lands. In 1891, Massey-Harris (later Massey Ferguson) built a factory to produce agricultural implements. Other companies which established in the late 19th century included Toronto Carpet Manufacturing, St. David’s Wine, and Ontario Wind Engine and Pump.
Industry continued to flourish during the early 20th century due to the area's excellent railway access and many spur lines, as well as a plentiful labour supply from nearby Parkdale. New companies included Brunswick-Balke-Collender (manufacturer of billiard tables and bowling alleys), Irwin Toy, Canada Metal, Simmons Bedding, Hinde and Dauch Paper, and Sunbeam Incandescent Lamp (later Canadian General Electric).
Many of the factories produced armaments, bombs, and weapons during both world wars, and much of the soil pollution in the area dates from those periods.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, manufacturing operations within Liberty Village began to decline due to a shift from rail to road shipping, the need for larger manufacturing facilities, and lower manufacturing costs in suburban or offshore locations. In 1990, the Toronto Carpet Manufacturing plant on Liberty Street shut down, and the Inglis plant (owned by Whirlpool since 1985) ceased operations in 1991. The Inglis factory and Massey-Harris factory (with the exception of 947 King St. West) were demolished.
Decreased industrial activity and lower property values caused many Liberty Village buildings to fall into neglect.
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The Liberty Village name was introduced as a positive 'brand' by the property owners and developers in the area in conjunction with the City of Toronto. The neighbourhood aims to distinguish itself from Parkdale, which now begins west of Dufferin Street. Its location is considered one of its finest assets being a 15-minute walk to the Lakeshore, 20-minute streetcar ride to the financial core and a 20-minute walk from the entertainment/fashion/gallery districts of King St. West.
Partly because of this, Liberty Village has experienced phenomenal growth from 2004 to the present in terms of new condos/lofts, office space, a new park, and a multitude of new shops and restaurants.
The ongoing gentrification of downtown Toronto has been pushing farther outwards from downtown (see Queen Street West, Niagara, Distillery District), encouraging rapid development. It has become a trendy neighbourhood for young professionals and artists pushing farther west for less established areas, while still remaining a short walk or streetcar ride from the core. Many old factories have been repurposed as lofts while others have become restaurants, gyms, furniture stores and galleries, as this area was primarily a former heavy industrial area.
The industrial building that used to house a paper company and up until 2003, the Irwin Toy Factory, was converted into industrial residential lofts and mixed commercial use spaces. The Toronto Carpet Factory Building on Mowat Avenue and its surrounding campus of industrial structures is an example of 1900s' turn of the century industrial architecture and currently houses a mixture of design, technology, media and marketing companies. Old storage and factory spaces at Liberty Street and Hanna Avenue were converted into commercial spaces in the 1980s and 1990s, and they comprise Liberty Market. The Market houses design firms and collectives, media, technology and marketing firms, and an eclectic mix of retail stores. Structures from the old Inglis Factory and the former Massey Ferguson Head Office surround the heart of Liberty Village, further testifying to the industrial history of the neighbourhood.
Artscape, a non-profit urban development organization that revitalizes buildings, neighbourhoods, and cities through the arts has a strong presence in Liberty Village, providing mixed live/work spaces for local artists. Its influence can be seen throughout the neighbourhood and maintains the valued tradition of a neighbourhood that was once dominated by artists searching for affordable living and studio spaces.
Liberty Village is known for its successful Art and Design studios, but media and technology companies also have a strong presence in the community. Many Canadian and US design and technology firms have located to Liberty Village, creating many jobs for the increasing number of citizens that have moved into the growing neighbourhood.
Offices are mostly concentrated in the west end of Liberty Village. New residential developments are currently focused on East Liberty Street, which begins east of Hanna Avenue. Over 20 new restaurants have opened in the past 3 years, providing the residents and workers in the community with many eclectic places to dine and enjoy their developing neighbourhood.
In an academic study of Liberty Village prepared by Thorben Wieditz in 2007, he wrote:
The area’s makeover is supported by newspaper articles that promote the area as an "artsy loft district," a "bohemian enclave," and a "neighbourhood to live, work and play" for people who want to be close to the entertainment district and to the gentrifying Queen Street West area. With the influx of large-scale developers, it is likely that the new developments will obliterate any trace of the "artsy" and "bohemian" residents who once populated the area.
Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star wrote that "Liberty Village illustrates everything that's wrong with planning in Toronto," and that "civic propaganda would have us believe Liberty Village is a shining example of urban vitality". Hume described Liberty Village as "one huge parking lot after another", with very little green space.
While preparing the Liberty Village Master Plan (2013), local residents were consulted on their general views and specific issues with the district. The responses were mixed. There were positive opinions expressed about Liberty Village's "sense of community", "youthful...[and] village atmosphere", and "sense of energy and vibrancy that comes from the concentration of creative sector businesses." Concerns were expressed about traffic congestion, the inadequacy and overcrowding of public transit, and the need to increase the diversity of the type of retail and social activities within Liberty Village. Also identified was need for improved infrastructure, such as better utilization of Lamport Stadium, and the construction of the proposed Liberty New Street along the south edge of the community.
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) operates two of its streetcar routes along King Street West: the 504 King and since June 2016, the 514 Cherry. Both routes connect to King and St. Andrew stations on Line 1 of the subway network, which the 504 King also serves Dundas West and Broadview stations on Line 2 at its termini. The 514 Cherry runs on Dufferin Street south of King and terminates at the Dufferin Gate Loop. This route continues eastbound to the Distillery Loop adjacent to the Distillery Historic District. Subway line 2 can additionally be reached using the 29 Dufferin bus route which travels along Dufferin Street.
At the southern end of Liberty Village there is access to Exhibition GO Station, served by commuter trains on GO Transit's Lakeshore West line. The station is in turn linked to the TTC's Exhibition Loop, served by the 509 Harbourfront and 511 Bathurst streetcar routes.
Liberty Village had its own crowdfunded bus service, known as Line 6, running from the intersection of Pirandello and East Liberty Streets to Union Station during the morning rush hour. The service was created in response to the overcrowded nature of the 504 King streetcar route. and challenging the TTC's monopoly on local public transit service in Toronto.
Line 6 began operation on October 6, 2014 as a one-week trial. The TTC, in response, began running extra buses on King Street West during rush hour to assist with the overcrowding problem. Following the trial period, it was expected that Line 6 service would resume on January 19, 2015 on a long-term basis. Because there were legal questions surrounding the TTC's monopoly mandate to supply public transit in the City of Toronto, this never materialized. Since November 2017, a pilot project on King Street is being implemented that would speed up travel times on streetcars along the central section of King Street.
A pedestrian bridge to connect Liberty Village to neighbouring Niagara was approved in 2011 and construction will begin in 2018. The $11.5 million bridge will provide better access to both Liberty Village and Niagara which is currently cut off by the railway corridor with access to King Street either by travelling west to Dufferin Street or east to Strachan Avenue to travel north to King Street West. Both areas were once industrial lands but is now primarily residential.
A documentary film on Liberty Village titled Liberty Village – Somewhere in Heaven was produced and directed by David Sloma for Rockin' Films. The film was released in 2006 (before much of the current development was completed) and features interviews with longtime Liberty Village residents Corky Laing (who provided music for the soundtrack via his band Cork), Taffi Rosen photographer/videographer, as well as other artists, business owners and workers in the area. The film was made in part with the support of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) through their Filmmaker Assistance Program.