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Symes Transfer Station

December 11, 2012

Many years ago, before the days of environmentalism, concerns for global warming and sustainability, this city had one simple solution for waste: incineration.

Symes plant, circa 1934

The above photo, from City of Toronto Archives, was taken in 1934 upon completion of the Symes Road Incinerator. The station was built by the city to be a new site for incinerating garbage, featuring two towering smokestacks, and wonderful art-deco architecture of the time. The brick building has a very unique style to it, that in my mind sets it apart from other buildings and city infrastructure remaining from its time.

IMG_0435The city stopped burning its garbage in the 1970s because of air pollution and health standards, so the need for a new purpose arose. The twin smokestacks were torn down, and the Symes Incinerator became the Symes Transfer Station. The building operated as such for about another two decades before the city closed the plant completely.

Today, little remains from Symes’ past. Notwithstanding some broken windows, and some crumbling bricks, the exterior is much the same as it was when built. The inside, however, is stripped and bare. One of Symes’ two garbage compactors remains inside the building, but beyond this almost nothing is left to suggest its history. It has been about 15 years since the city left the site to rot, yet the presence of man has all but gone.


IMG_1093Over time, Symes has essentially transformed into a hidden gallery of anonymous artwork. Graffiti cover the walls, bringing new life to an otherwise very dead place. Many notable names in Toronto’s street art scene are splashed over the bricks in an explosion of colour. There is not a room left untouched by the hands of vandals.

IMG_0441This wasn’t always the case for Symes, though. Such is the outcome of many years of neglect. Though the building is being driven further into the ground with each passing year, one can’t help but appreciate the beauty within all the destruction.


The basement is home to lots of peeling paint, lockers, mold, and old records kept by the staff, some dating back to the 70s and 80s. Further up, the top floor has two cranes and two very large garbage chutes for loading trucks with garbage. Light shines through the iconic round windows that line the walls of the top floor. Outside, the roof gives a great view of West Toronto and the distant downtown cityscapes.


From incinerator, to transfer station, to urban gallery. Symes is a building of many faces, and a long history. As for its future, my guess is as good as yours.

These photos are linked to my Flickr page. You can find the set here.

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