Coxwell Stables. Photo by Joanne Doucette.
How to solve a little mystery?
When I looked for articles about Coxwell Stables in the newspapers of 1919, I found very little which is surprising. Why?
All the sources on line, including the architects who remodelled in 1985, state that it was built in 1919, but this is not actually true, I found. In fact strong opposition from Coxwell Avenue residents delayed its construction until 1920.
The Coxwell Stables (on Coxwell Ave. just south of the train tracks) were built in 1919 to accommodate the horses that pulled Toronto’s Public Works Department vehicles. After the horse-drawn vehicles were replaced with automobiles, trucks and other machines, the stables were used mainly as a storage facility. In 1981, the Toronto Historical Board designated the building a historical site and CityHome, the City of Toronto’s non-profit housing company, subsequently bought and renovated the site to offer affordable rental housing (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2010; Toronto Community Housing, 2010).
These are just a few of the sites that list the date at 1919:
Here are some of the articles that show what really happened. But, before that, let me note that Coxwell Stables was not the first large stable on Coxwell Avenue. T. Eaton Co. opened a large stable on the east side of Coxwell probably begun in 1918 and finished in 1919.
Toronto Star, Sept. 25, 1917 The City of Toronto sold land on the east side of Coxwell just south of the railway tracks to T. Eaton for $30,000. The land was described as “scrub and full of swamps”.
Toronto World, Jan. 22, 1918
From the Toronto Public Library Digital Collection.
The City of Toronto decided to build a stables for the Street Cleaning Dept. City Architect W. W. Pearse probably began drawing up plans that year in anticipation of building in 1919. Globe, Sept. 18, 1918
The neighbours living in the newly built Toronto Housing Company buildings on Coxwell did not appear to have objected to the T. Eaton Co. Depot with its large stable of horses. They did, however, object strenuously to another stable on the street. Why were stables a problem for residents?
Stables meant large accumulations of horse manure and large accumulations of this meant a very large smell that would virtually saturate the air especially on hot days. As well, stables attracted flies, particularly horse flies which have a painful bite.
City Council squabbled fiercely from time, at the least provocation. The Street Cleaning stable project provoked Ald. Miskelly who offered to fight Controller Sam McBride, but backed down. The site had been chosen the year before and for most of Council it was a “done deal”.
Toronto Star, Dec. 16, 1919
The residents were putting pressure on Ald. Miskelly and Ald. Baker. Toronto Housing was also building new homes north of the tracks in a new subdivision east of Coxwell. Who knew that those streets began as subsidized housing? Globe, Dec. 16, 1919
The first item of business for City Council in 1920 was a petition from the neighbourhood. They wanted the City Stables projected stopped. Globe, Jan. 13, 1920
City Street Commissioner Wilson was beside himself. The City Architect, W. W. Pearse, who is usually given credit for the Coxwell Stables, was by this point very ill and the acting City Architect G. F. W. Price took over the project’s design and saw it through to completion. Globe, Jan. 23, 1920
The Board of Control had now received tenders for the Coxwell Stable project. Residents were worried about depreciation of the value of their homes. Ald. Hiltz (soon to become Mayor Hiltz) brought up the Eaton’s stable right across the street. The issue now was that the City wagons hauled garbage (though it wasn’t dumped on Coxwell) while Eaton’s wagons were clean. Eaton’s was switching to motorized trucks but like the City, continued to use horses as well for years. Toronto World, Feb. 4, 1920
Maguire was the only hold on the Board of Control. He wanted to put the City Stables on Morley Avenue (Woodfield Rd.) but people there were already objecting.Toronto Star, Feb. 17, 1920
Toronto World, Feb. 19, 1920
The City moved to award tenders to build Coxwell Stables. Toronto Star, Feb. 24, 1920
Work began in the spring of 1920
These are the new stables, ready for occupancy on January 4, 1921. Note the small windows on the stable’s south side and on the east side of the building. These small windows were installed at the eye level of a draft horse. People who cared about their horses knew that they appreciated sunlight.
Yard ready and waiting for the heavy draft horses. The Harris Coal Co. is visible on the north side of the railway tracks in the distance.
In the summer of 1921 there was a heat wave. The horses suffered and collapsed. To save them, the City collected garbage in the morning, starting at 4 a.m. Toronto Star, July 8, 1921
Coxwell Stables wins the Cup! Globe, July 2, 1931, but the days of horses were numbered as the City of Toronto switched to motorized vehicles.
The garbage was left out front on the sidewalk but if there was a laneway it was put it there for pick up. Horses had an easier time negotiating these narrow, muddy lanes than trucks, but their days on the Street Cleaning Department were numbered. Photo from The Evening Telegram, 1940s.
After the City of Toronto switched to motorized trucks, Coxwell Stables became the City Pound. Globe and Mail, May 24, 1941
In the 1940s CityHome bought the Coxwell Stables from the City of Toronto Public Works Department and in 1984 Oleson Worland Architects renovated the old buildings completely as housing. They kept the original Arts and Crafts exterior appearance. The Coxwell Stables, now owned by Toronto Community Housing, has nine two-bedoom apartments, one one-bedroom apartment and one bachelor apartment. The Toronto Historical Board designated the Coxwell Stables as heritage buildings. The Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950 attributes the Coxwell Stables to George W. Frederick Price, not W.W. Pearse. Their listing is below
TORONTO STREET CLEANING DEPT., Coxwell Avenue, near the GTR Overpass south of Hanson Street, stables and offices for the City of Toronto, 1920 (Toronto b.p. 35610, 30 Nov. 1920)
He also designed the St. Patrick’s Market on Queen Street West near John and the Coliseum at the C.N.E. So finally, some credit is going where it most likely belongs and another minor historical mystery is solved. We still enjoy this beautiful old complex of buildings today as well as the renovated T. Eaton Depot across the street, now also housing. As my storytelling ancestors would say, “And so the story is told.”