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Stock Yards and Packing Houses

New Canada Publications, division of NC Press Ltd. 1985 ISBN 0-920053-31-9

Aerial Views Stock Yards and Railway

Atlas Gunn's and Swift Canadian 1906

Map Stock Yards

Map Packers Area

Ontario Stock Yards was located in West Toronto between the Canadian Pacific Railway shops and yard, and the meat packing houses and abattoir of Canada Packers and others. It was created in 1944 by the Government of Ontario to succeed The Union Stock Yards Company Limited, a private business chartered in December 1900 and opened on August 28, 1903 in Toronto Junction at Keele Street and St.Clair Avenue West on part of a one hundred acre site planned to also include abattoir and packers. It was to be a replacement for the earlier established facilities in downtown Toronto. These included the Harris Abattoir near Strachan Avenue, the Matthews-Blackwell plant (1898-1929) at the foot of Bathurst Street and the William Davies Company on Front Street East at the Don River.

St. Lawrence Market 1888 Public Archives of Canada

The very first place in Toronto for the sale of cattle, sheep, poultry and other farmer's goods was the St.Lawrence Market established one hundred years earlier in 1803 at King, Jarvis and Front Streets. It still continues to operate in its newer (1833) location to the south.

In 1873, Donald Gunn of Beaverton established a produce business at 73 Front Street East. He later became a packinghouse operator opening a plant in West Toronto.

In 1874, William Davies built a packing plant near the GTR Don station at Front Street East and Overend Avenue. Here, ice was cut from the Don River and used in the summer to cool meat products. Davies, a butcher, had come from England in 1854 and set up in a stall at the St.Lawrence Market.

The Western Cattle Market was established in 1877 on the south side of Wellington Street West just west of Tecumseth Street to replace the livestock section of the St.Lawrence Market on account of the growth of that area. It was served by the Grand Trunk.

Toronto Municipal Abattoir and Cold Storage foot of Niagara Street. May 10, 1915

Article 1913

In 1905, the Levack Company built the first slaughter house in West Toronto. It was quickly bought by the D.B.Martin Company who in turn sold it to Swift Canadian in 1911. Nearby, Gunns Limited opened another plant in 1907. Harris Abattoir Company Limited also relocated in the same area.

Collection of R.L.Kennedy

The Harris Abattoir Company Limited c.1920
Archives of Ontario/Canada Packers Collection

A major fire in 1908 destroyed most of the stock yards buildings which were then replaced with new ones.

The Union Stock Yards was involved in a unique situation whereby a charter was sought for a railway to serve it following the refusal of the Grand Trunk Railway to build a siding into the stock yards. Junction Terminal Railway

CNR siding, track on the right is lead from CNR West Toronto to Canada Packers and Swift's.

Note white and red pole is TTC bus stop for Runnymede route eastbound.

CN 815093 double deck stock car used for small animals.

The stock yards were served by both CNR and CPR with two tracks along the north side of West Toronto Street going to the CPR and one track along the south side of St.Clair Avenue connecting to a CNR lead running between their West Toronto yard and the various packing houses which were also served by CPR.

In the 1920's farmers and drovers began to truck animals to the stock yards instead of shipping them by rail. Trucks include Geo.Constable of Churchill, Ernest Crickmore of Lynden and Percy Reynolds of Bond Head.

Click to enlarge
Canada Packers, looking northeast along St.Clair Ave.W. from Symes Rd. to Keele St. 1960
Archives of Ontario/Canada Packers Collection

Aerial view of Packers and Stock Yards

In 1927, the financially troubled Gunns was acquired by Harris as well as the U.S.-owned Matthews-Blackwell plant. Harris and Davies merged, creating Canada Packers Limited on August 13, 1927. Canada Packers was by far the largest plant, by the 1950's it had some 26 tracks and often over 150 cars including a small fleet of intra-plant wooden box cars that never went beyond their property. Swift Canadian had seven tracks which were in the 1950's switched only by the CNR. The CPR switched most of Canada Packers providing a switch engine and crew two shifts a day five days per week and one day shift on Saturday. Canada Packers had its own weigh scale, yardmaster and car checker! They never had their own locomotive. The CPR had a lead track running from West Toronto Yard through a city park north across St.Clair Avenue. The CNR had a lead running west from their West Toronto Yard past the stock yards and curving north where it connected with the Canada Packers private trackage at the same point where the CPR lead also connected. By 1980 active sidings had dwindled to only 8 or 9 in the Packers, still including a scales and 4 in Swifts.

Other small plants included Frank Hunnisett Limited (1932) on St.Clair Avenue with a short siding next to the CNR lead as it curved into the Packers. Canada Packers acquired Hunnisett in 1940 although it continued to operate under its own name. Canadian Dressed Meats on Ryding Avenue (since 1948) which was owned by Burns Foods of Calgary. It was served by the CPR directly from West Toronto Yard. Grace Meat Packers (York) Limited on Glen Scarlett Road since 1969, had no siding. Prime Packers Ltd. built a plant in 1954 on Ryding Avenue. Prime sold their plant in 1983 and it continued to be operated by Ryding Meat Packers and its affiliate, Regency Veal. All Lean Boneless Beef was another small operator.

The Beef Terminal was a small facility on the south side of St.Clair built in 1969 on the CNR lead with a small siding and housed six small tenant speciality meat packers one of which was Kosher. These were Corsetti, Crown, Dominion, Monaco, Piave and Stoiou.

The stock yards peaked in 1977 and began a rapid decline thereafter until it closed February 10, 1994. Redevelopment began with Home Depot, the first of the "big box" stores to locate on the stock yards site and the CPR shops. A new stock yard was established near Cookstown a small community north of Toronto without any rail service which was no longer required. Following a corporate takeover, Canada Packers closed, the property was levelled and eventually redeveloped with housing.

Swift's packing house history.

Swift's was sold to Can Amera Foods in 198x which by this time produced only edible oils at the plant. In another corporate takeover it was acquired October 15,2002 by Bunge which on 3/29/2004 became Bunge Canada and continued to operate and receive daily rail service by the CPR. Following an expansion of their plant in Hamilton the plant was shutdown and demolished 5/2009. The property was sold to developer Trinity Development Group which began in 2012 a big box mall of nearly 20 acres known as The Stockyards.
A side effect of this was the abandonment of the CPR spur from West Toronto Yard through the former
Canada Packers plant since this was the last industry using rail. The right of way was sold off to Ken Shaw Toyota which used parts of it for their automobile dealership and sold what they didn't need.


The coming of mechanical refrigeration in the late 19th century meant a reduction in the cost of meat. Another factor contributing to lower costs was the new-found ability to refrigerate by-products that, in the case of some of the larger processors, number as high as 150! It was said that the packer should end up with "not an atom left." One packer suggested that from a hog "everything should be used but the squeal and apparently some people use that too!"

The long bristles from the neck of a pig and the hairs that grow in the ears of a cattle beast may be used in paint and shaving brushes. Glue can be made from animal blood. The blood is also high in nitrate content and an excellent source of fertilizer. Strings for tennis racquets may come from sheep intestines. Bones are ground into meal to fortify human and animal foods. Fats from hogs are rendered into lard and those from cattle into a tallow employed in the manufacture of soaps. The hides are of course in demand for multiple usages. One processor was to proudly state that an entire carcass of beef had been sold from his plant at less than he had paid for the live animal. This was made possible by the sale of the by-products.

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