The Queen City Vinegar Co. Lofts is an authentic loft conversion of an early 1900s warehouse into 38 new and vintage lofts. The building was built and owned by the Queen City Vinegar Company, obviously, and is located on River Street in the Corktown area off Queen Street East. The loft conversion by Streetcar Developments was originally built for the Queen City Vinegar Company Limited in 1908, and now sports two new storeys of new-construction glass addition.
Rather than divide the designs by ‘new building’ and ‘old building,’ the lofts on the new floors were given some of the same character and unique attributes that are found in the original three floors. Reclaimed brick from the original building was used to create walls in the new floors, maintaining the authenticity of this hard conversion. Polished concrete floors complement the wood post-and-beam ceilings. Exposed ducting adds the industrial chic finish that lends credence and cool to any conversion project. Large windows take in amazing cityscapes and views of The Don.
The 36 Queen City Vinegar Co. Lofts range from 624 to 1,030 square feet. First-floor lofts boast soaring 14-foot ceilings, the second and third floors have respectable 12-foot ceilings and the fourth and fifth boast 10-foot ceilings – all of which enhance the spacious feel of these lofts. Almost all of the lofts include their own balcony or terrace, perfect for stepping out for the view or some sunshine. The balconies and terraces are furniture-sized so you can entertain company or serve brunch outdoors – an unusual find in a loft conversion project.
Not simply relying on the beauty of the architecture, the appointments and finishes of these lofts are spectacular. Stainless steel appliances are shown off properly in these open-concept designs, where funky floor plans often include an island for functionality. Stone countertops are incredible and kitchens are finished with high-end cabinetry. The building has only 18 parking spots, though, and no visitor parking. And the only amenity is a 15-square-metre meeting room. But there are 24 bike storage spots for those who pedal.
Not everyone is a fan of the addition, I know I am not, as it appears the old warehouse has been somewhat overwhelmed by the additions. It is hard to be surprised by the transformation, but in this instance it seems excessive. Viewed from the southwest, the new complex all but smothers the original, hiding most of the original vinegar factory. From the east, there is no evidence of the warehouse at all and 19 River appears to be only a dark modernist box made of glass and steel. Such a conversion raises the thorny issue of our relationship with history. If a building is worth saving, why would we allow it to be so dramatically altered?
Located on the east side of River Street in the first block north of Queen Street East, the three-storey factory was constructed following the issuance of a building permit in 1907 and first recorded in the tax assessment rolls in May 1908. It cost $20,000 to build at the time.
The Queen City Vinegar Company hired architect J. Francis Brown to design the building. Following his success in 1899 as the designer of the prominent Board of Trade Building (in association with the New York City firm of James and James), Brown received numerous commissions for a range of residential, commercial and industrial projects throughout the city. In the King-Spadina neighbourhood, his designs established the architectural standard for the City’s manufacturing district, where a number of Brown’s Classically detailed warehouses remain today and are recognized on the City’s heritage inventory.
Contextually, the Queen City Vinegar Company contributes to the character of this area along the west bank of the Don River where industrial uses were introduced in the 1840s with the development of the original Don Brewery, directly to the east of the Queen City Vinegar Co. building. The Lager Brewery Building (dating to 1876-1877 and the oldest surviving portion of the Don Brewery) still stands as the Malthouse Lofts and is also designated heritage. To the west, the Dominion Brewery complex at 496 Queen Street East is another important former industrial site in the immediate vicinity that is included on the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties.
Interestingly, there is a connection between brewing and vinegar! Malt vinegar production has long been a side industry for many breweries, especially in and around Toronto in the mid 1800s. To make malt vinegar, brewers would first brew an ale beer then introduce vinegar bacteria. Once the ale was converted into vinegar (a process that could take anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks) it would be strained, stored and aged to mellow the acidic bite of the malt.
Vinegar of all types was an important commodity in the 19th century as it was used extensively in cooking, pickling and preserving meats as well as in industry. Malt vinegar was the primary vinegar used in England, and most English recipes from the 1800s calling for vinegar are referring to malt vinegar unless otherwise noted. Imported vinegars were also subject to a customs duty, further supporting the burgeoning home industry. However profitable brewing vinegar may have been, brewers had to be careful to keep it in an area separate from the rest of the brewing operations, lest all their beers turn to vinegar! Maybe this is why there was a separate vinegar factory next to the main brewing complex…
So there is a possible connection between the old Don and Dominion Breweries and the Queen City Vinegar Co. Just think of malt and cider vinegar. And, even more telling, in the 1980s, both the vinegar factory and the malt house were part of the same parcel of land, the same lot. Could it be that the Don Brewery owned the vinegar works? The two remaining buildings line up almost exactly, right on the southern lot line. Built 30 years apart, it is hard to tell what connection they may have had, especially with 90% of the Don Brewery gone. And the old machining factory at 21 River is a foot from the Queen City Vinegar Co. building, but that does not mean they are connected in any way other than being neighbours.
The Queen City Vinegar Co. Lofts is a lovely example of an early 20th century industrial building with features of Edwardian Classicism are found on the principal façade, the first bay of the south elevation, and the roof line with decorative detailing above the latter two walls. Rising three stories above a stone base, the structure is clad with red brick and trimmed with stone. A brick parapet and a cornice with modillion blocks extend along the west roof line and wrap around the first bay on the south wall.
The west façade is organized into seven bays by brick pilaster strips with stone blocks. Centered in the first storey, the main entrance is set in a stone surround where piers with incised panels incorporate Classically derived ornamentation. A nameplate carved into the stone above the main entrance still reads “QUEEN CITY VINEGAR COMPANY LIMITED”. Over the entry, an entablature and a segmental-arched pediment with dentils and modillion blocks mimic the roof detailing. The flat-headed window openings on the west façade and in the first bay of the south elevation display quoins, corbelled sills and labels, apart from the third floor where a stone string course links the window heads.
Once a slum for immigrant workers, Corktown is truly coming into its own. With the revitalization of Queen Street East ramping up ever faster, this area is one to keep your eye on. The Queen City Vinegar building was converted by Streetcar in 2008 as part of the transformation of a derelict rear lane industrial area into residential. The Corktown Lofts and Malthouse Lofts were also converted during the early 2000s, changing the area for the better. There is also the relatively obscure Carhartt Lofts kitty-corner on Queen, and the Tannery Lofts up the street on Dundas.
For as much as Corktown itself is being renewed however, it’s becoming just as well known for the two huge new neighbourhoods being constructed at its borders. To the north is the new Regent Park, where condo buildings are going up and changing the Corktown sky almost daily. To the south, the massive West Don Lands development is taking shape. Projects changing the area include the fantastic River City by Saucier + Perrotte Architects, the new TCHC Buildings at King and River, Underpass Park, Don River Park now at the foot of River Street, and the entire Canary District, just south of the neighbourhood and future home to a new George Brown campus and the largest YMCA in Canada. The number of cranes visible in the sky in this once-desolate parcel is truly staggering.