The former industrial area has been transformed into a crowded neighborhood filled with apartments
If Dante wrote his Inferno today, Toronto’s Liberty Village would justify its own hell. It would be populated by soulless apartment developers and the 30-something sheep that live in the buildings’ box-like units. What was once a beautiful industrial area on the western edge has had its whole life suffocated out of it — especially in the eastern part closer to Strachan.
Start: Wednesday, 1:30 p.m., Dufferin and Liberty
I thought I would start my walk near the official Liberty Village sign, which is so overwhelming that it seems like an afterthought. It is at least in the nicest area of the neighborhood, which has retained its industrial appearance, just like the Distillery District on the opposite side of town.
But as you go east, things get more and more modern … and more crowded.
The buildings of the Toronto Carpet Factory are among the only pleasant aspects of Liberty Village.
What is there to do and see?
The buildings of the Toronto Carpet Factory north of Liberty between Mowat and Fraser are stunning. They have preserved their red bricks on the outside and there are lanes and courtyards to wander around and appreciate details such as wrought iron railings and old-fashioned windows. There is even an outdoor table tennis table in the complex. The buildings are only a few storeys high, so pedestrians do not feel overwhelmed. There is a useful map of the historic buildings painted on the side of a building in Liberty and Fraser.
Along and south of Liberty are various companies such as SiriusXM, Insight Productions, Kobo and Zoomermedia, which has its own complex and the MZTV Museum of Television.
North of Liberty is the massive Lamport Stadium, training ground for the Toronto Argonauts and partly home to various rugby teams. There is so little green space in the village, it is a pity that it is not an open park. Last summer, police violently removed homeless camps next to the stadium; what is left is a small playground.
Attempts at public art (like Po Chun Lau Spirits) and seating only emphasize the ugliness of Liberty Village.
Liberty Village BIA has installed public art throughout the neighborhood. Some pieces, such as the Po Chun Lau 2007 sculpture Spirits, are lost in the middle of the city mess. The painted elongated blocks also look like they are trying too hard to be interesting. More successful are a number of painted iron benches that reflect the history of the area.
Because it borders all sides – Dufferin to the west, King and the train tracks to the north, Strachan to the east and the Gardiner Expressway to the south – Liberty Village actually feels contained as a village. Too bad it lacks character.
The most important thing it needs is a center. Lamport could have been. The parking lot at 15 Hanna could be that too; from there you get a great view of everything around it, including the Liberty Market Building. Imagine if this parking lot was underground and the space was open; what a great place it would be to gather.
North of East Liberty and east of the Atlantic Ocean is the neighborhood’s second worst feature: a strip-like suburb with shops to supply residents with things for their cramped apartments (EQ3, Kitchen Stuff Plus), food for their pets (Global Pet Foods) and themselves (Metro) and banks to help fund their 450-square-foot palaces (too many to mention).
Although there are some unique food and retail stores — Organic Garage at Hanna, Big Rock Brewery on Liberty — the neighborhood is filled with fast food joints: Pizzaville, Harvey’s, Tim’s, Booster Juice. This sets it apart from the more classic distillery. One of the saddest attractions in the area is Popeye’s under a historic smoke stack.
East of the Atlantic, the fact that there are no exits to the south or north means that you are forced to go east towards Strachan. If this was a wide, lively street with interesting shops, that would be fine. As it exists now, traffic (both car and pedestrian) is directed directly to Strachan.
Condo developments like this one in East Liberty create a sense of confinement.
Which brings us to the worst feature of the neighborhood: apartment development in the southeast. Although the apartments are not as tall as the buildings on City Place, the apartments are lumpy and generic. And because the north and south are blocked off, one feels particularly cramped.
Liberty Village Park, across much of the development, is a sad spot of greenery that can only be seen on a brutal piece of sculpture and other condominiums.
Liberty Village Park, one of the rare green areas in the neighborhood, provides some relief from the concrete jungle.
The neighborhood feels so inhuman that the city has currently put up a sign saying they are “conducting a study to meet the need for more open space and community services and facilities due to significant residential and commercial growth.”
Um, good luck with that.
End: 14:40, East Liberty and Strachan
After being trapped in a concrete jungle, I suddenly coveted open spaces. No wonder so many hipsters gathered in nearby Trinity-Bellwoods Park during the first wave of the pandemic. I bet the floppy hat girl lived in Liberty Village.
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