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Korex Soap Factory

December 9, 2012

Early one afternoon, two years ago in late September, I met up with a small group of photographers and explorers in a little cafe for a monthly meetup. People chatted, and for a while we discussed potential sites we could explore around the city. Someone mentioned a decommissioned soap factory, and we settled for it. This was the first time I had ever visited the Korex Soap factory. I returned with some friends about a year later, but our visit was cut short by a patrolling security guard. He insisted that I erase all my photos of the complex, so these photos are only from my first visit.

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IMG_0332 The factory was left behind by the Goliath corporation Unilever in full functionality. With much of the power in the building still running, walking around inside felt like the workers were there the day before. In 2002, Unilever sold the plant to Korex Don Valley. However, the new owners could not match Unilever’s high wages, and after five years, Korex had to rewrite their contracts. About two thirds of the factory’s staff went on strike. The remaining staff continued to work for almost a year, but the reduced output caused the company to loose its consumers, and file for bankruptcy. That May, in 2009, two hundred and seventy workers lost their jobs. The complex was left as it was at the end of the day, giving it a very deserted and ominous aura. Light switches wait to be flicked off one last time, messes left for tomorrow still remain untouched years later. Pallets of soap pellets still wait to be made into consumer cleaning products of various name-brands. Lever, Dove, Sunlight – the factory was decorated with their advertising. A very old looking Sunlight poster hung on a wall next to a more recent advertisement for Lever, and I laughed to myself, realizing how many different products are made by the very same hands.

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IMG_0382The locker rooms were an invasion of privacy, and I was the convict. I had wandered away from my explorer companions, not knowing what I was walking into. Spare clothing, family photos, books, company forms, files, and letters all left behind by former workers of the plant led me to realize at the time exactly what had happened here a year before. One could almost imagine a worker on the bench, putting away his work boots after another day at work, unaware this would be his last. How will he take the news? What will he tell his family? Where would he work now? Questions were beginning to fill my head. I had peered, perhaps too deeply, into the lives of others through a one-way mirror.

IMG_0327I rejoined the group, and we continued to browse the various soap-making machines, guessing what their purposes may be in the production line. At this point, we had crossed over to the main building on the complex. Snaking through the hallways and dodging any security cameras in the building, we passed directly across and above the security hut, where the guard was very likely napping.

After finding the last of what the factory had to offer us, our group decided to call it a night. A door took us outside, where an old set of tracks run right between two buildings, through the center of the complex. The darkness provided us with good cover as we crept through bushes and under fences back towards the city streets.

The group disbanded for the most part; it was late and nearing the next day. I went with a few others who still hadn’t got their fill of exploring for the night to get some skyline shots from the Canada Malting Co.

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These photos are linked to my Flickr page. Any photos from an inevitable return(s) to this location will be added to its Flickr set. You can find the set here.

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