An old ball bearing factory from sometime around the turn of the century, 347 Sorauren is actually a composite of the initial mill style warehouse with two new additions, featuring a combination of interesting industrial finishes. Features include ceilings up to 20 feet high, with massive timber columns and beams. Vintage meets contemporary at the 48-unit Sorauren Lofts building, with dramatic metal or wood ceilings with open web steel joists and 6-foot windows.
The Sorauren Lofts have all the features that make loft conversions appealing, including huge windows that let in lots of sunlight, soaring ceilings that range from 15 to over 20 feet high, some with mezzanines. Some units have brick walls, some painted and others exposed. You might even find a cool archway dividing rooms! Concrete floors, or hardwood, depending on where the unit is located in the old factory.
It looks deceptive from the front, but the building is actually much larger than it appears. What’s really cool is that the unit to the right of the front door is carved from the old office of the factory. The bathroom is in the old vault, complete with original safe door! Weird note, some of the interior units have no windows, only skylights. Not sure I have ever seen that before.
The Sorauren Lofts has one of the best hallways in any loft in Toronto. Unlike many loft conversions, this building has a couple of patios, on the south side facing the park. Parking is weird, it is in a small lot across the street, plus a few behind the building, by the tracks. The building is, however, steps to Sorauren Park, which has tennis courts, an outdoor rink and a foodie-friendly farmer’s market that runs year-round. It’s also walking distance from good transit options, including the Dundas West subway station and Bloor GO Station.
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, a manufacturing area grew along Sorauren Avenue, just south of Dundas Street. Industry was spurred all along the Canadian Pacific Railway lines lying to the immediate east, which over the years belonged to several railroads including the Credit Valley Railway and the Toronto, Grey and Bruce. The strip along Sorauren was also just south of a major rail junction, near where Annette, Dundas & Dupont streets all come together. From this lucrative location at the northern tip of Parkdale, a factory could easily connect by rail with all of southern Ontario.
The Chapman Double Ball Bearing company was part of that industrial neighbourhood, one that included leather goods manufacturer Winnett & Wellinger (now the One Columbus Lofts, candy manufacturer Robert Watson (the Robert Watson Lofts), and the Dominion Bridge Company – who would later manufacture parts for major Toronto projects such as the Prince Edward Viaduct. Production at Dominion Bridge was changed during WWII to manufacture munitions, and that afterwards Dominion Bridge chose to renew operations at other facilities.
The TTC acquired the old Dominion property, and used the site as both a bus garage and machine shop. The old bus garage was eventually torn down and Sorauren Avenue Park created. The old Canada Linseed Oil Mill still sits, vacant and forlorn, at the eastern edge of Wabash Avenue, abutting the train tracks. The Wabash Community Centre is still working away to redevelop this brownfields industrial site for public benefit.
Chapman probably had more than the one building at one time, as their address was 339-351 Sorauren Ave. I am pretty sure the building that forms the southwest corner (not sure how part of the same building is a different property, but such is life) used to be part of the Chapman factory. It is a separate commercial space now, but the buildings are attached, making me think they used to be part of the same whole. Obviously there was nothing more to the north, as the Robert Watson factory sits just across the alley, standing on that spot since 1907. Believe it or not, the old Chapman ball bearing factory is the older of the two factories!
Looking at the 1910 map, you can see 347 Sorauren Avenue – but it clearly shows that 345 Sorauren did not yet exist. I have been told (by someone who worked at number 345) that the southern addition was originally built as a one-storey storage building for Chapman, sometime after 1910. A second and third floor were added later, though he does not know when. Yet another, smaller, three-storey structure was added to the east of storage building, also at a later date. The front portion of number 345, the three-storey structure, is a separate property, while the eastern single storey addition is part of the lofts – where the few patios are!
I have found reference to the company, with a Sorauren address, in the January-June 1919 edition of Canadian Machinery and Metalworking. The ad reads: “Chapman Double Ball Bearings CONSERVE POWER! There is too much power going to waste the world over. This fact has been noted by the British Government and sweeping reforms are contemplated in Great Britain. Canada also wastes much power. A reform is necessary here, too. Babbitt bearings are being used too often where Chapman Double Ball Bearings should prevail. The adoption of Chapman Double Ball Bearings, wherever an axle or shafting needs support in the transmission of power, results in a saving of 75% of friction loss. Now in use in over 2,000 Canadian factories. Fit any adjustable hanger. Adopted by Canadian and United States Governments.”
Another, even older ad from the 1916 edition of Canadian Wood Products Industries states: “Your Loose Pulley Trouble Disappears when installed with CHAPMAN BALL BEARING LOOSE PULLEYS A little vaseline once a year is all the attention and lubrication required. Our Loose Pulleys cannot run hot and do not cut the shaft. Write us for particulars and price list. The Chapman Double Ball Bearing Co. of Canada, Limited 339-351 Sorauren Ave., Toronto, Canada”
Also mentioned in the 1905 Toronto City Directory, but without an address. No background on the company, just various mentions and reprints of ads. Doesn’t seem to appear on 1903 Goad’s map. But it does show up on the 1910 map, named and everything. It must have been a company of some import, to be mentioned by name. The Robert Watson building to the north was not so noted, for instance. At least we know it was likely built sometime between 1903 and 1905.
Over the last forty years, Sorauren Avenue has changed considerably, with most of the old industries leaving the immediate area. There was an article in the Toronto Star that picks up in 1995, talking about artists and their studios in old factories on Sorauren. There were fights with the city over zoning and derelict landlords letting the buildings go to pot. The article is mainly about 347 Sorauren, but it does mention the tenants of 350 Sorauren being evicted. The landlords of both buildings were not keeping them up to code, they were dangerous fire traps according to the city. So 25 tenants at 350 Sorauren were evicted because of their bad landlord. I guess the building was bought cheap after that and converted. Same with 347 Sorauren, I assume those tenants also got turfed, which led to it being converted to lofts as well.
The old factories and warehouses on Sorauren Avenue were home to dozens of artists’ studios at one point. They were pretty undesirable places back then, but that was the point. The spaces were large and strange and rundown, but they were also fun and collective – and the rent was cheap. The same story as on Carlaw Avenue in the east end, and even up in The Junction. There used to be about 1,000 artists working – and often living – in the old industrial buildings that line Sorauren. Now, there are only a few left and they’re all in 251 Sorauren Avenue, just south of Wabash.
Many of the old industrial buildings along Sorauren have found new life in a way that benefits the community, either as homes, new businesses, or in the case of the Dominion Bridge site / TTC Garage, a public park. The rest of the artists left when the young families moved in after the park was built in 1995. The old TTC facility at the corner of Wabash and Sorauren was torn down and the park was created on the land. And now the area is popular again, with those who appreciate heritage buildings and love loft living.
Part of the rail corridor which once connected the local businesses to their suppliers and buyers is now becoming the West Toronto Railpath which, when completed, will connect bicyclists in Toronto’s west end to the downtown core.