The 56-year-old facility is an icon of Toronto's industrial past amid proliferating waterfront condos.
On a waterfront teeming with condo developments and office buildings the Redpath sugar factory is hard to miss. It takes up a full city block on Queens Quay East, and giant ships from Guatemala or Brazil (it depends on the season) dock at its wharf every day to deliver thousands of tonnes of raw sugar. The hot, sweet scent of sugar processing wafts from the factory onto nearby streets, giving it a palpable presence in the area even when it’s out of sight.
Redpath is a landmark, and an icon of an industry that once anchored this city. Today manufacturing in Ontario is nothing like it used to be. According to a Mowat Centre report, 300,000 manufacturing jobs have left the province in the past decade. Nearly 50,000 of those were in Toronto. Now manufacturing accounts for only 9 per cent of jobs in this city [PDF]. And in April Quality Meat Packers closed its Tecumseth Street doors, taking with it another 750 factory jobs—as well as the last vestige of the industry behind Toronto’s Hogtown moniker.
But the remarkable 4.25-hectare, 24-hour Redpath factory has no plans to uproot. It needs to be on the waterfront to receive its shipments of sugar. “We have a very bulky product,” explains Redpath’s president Jonathan Bamberger. “Toronto is many things, but efficient road transport isn’t one. I can resort to cycling to work, but you can’t carry goods that way.” He explains it doesn’t make environmental or economic sense for Redpath to have a factory away from Toronto’s wharf.
But although the factory has been on the waterfront since 1958, the recent proliferation of waterfront condos could put Redpath out of business. If residences are built too near the loud, all-hours factory, Redpath may find itself in violation of the Ministry of Environment’s noise codes—and that could close them down, Bamberger says. He explains that violating noise codes has less to do with the amount of noise the factory produces, and more to do with who can hear, for example, the docking of Redpath’s freighters in the wee hours of the morning—an office building next door is okay, but condos, where people sleep, are not.
“People think it might be nice to look outside their window and see ships coming in. But at three in the morning when a ship blows its horn, they might be unimpressed.”
In the past seven years, Bamberger says, he’s spent a million dollars annually on legal fees to negotiate with developers who want to build next to the factory. “It’s impossible to get a big factory to be totally silent,” he says. One solution is the creation of buffer zones—offices and other buildings that separate Redpath from noise-sensitive condos.
Buffers around the factory, such as the Corus building and George Brown College, also create diversity on the lakeshore. “I think most people are quite comfortable with a city that is mixed-use,” says Bamberger. “We want something interesting—and the ships coming in for Redpath are quite interesting. We just need to make sure people aren’t woken up at two in the morning.”
“A lot of our employees live here in Toronto. When they’re stuck on the Gardiner they may not be happy, but I think they’d like to see a vibrant waterfront and not a derelict one.”
There are challenges to keeping a 56-year-old factory operating in a rapidly evolving city like Toronto, but Redpath has been trying to keep pace in part by investing in new technologies such as software that tracks its shipments. The company has also launched online marketing efforts, including a Redpath TV video series.
“As a Torontonian, I think it’s great watching the city develop,” says Bamberger. He insists the factory is here to stay—cargo ships and sugary scent included.