Tag Archives: Spadina Avenue warehouse/lofts

The Systems Building at 40-46 Spadina Avenue—Toronto


The Systems Building is located at 40-46 Spadina Avenue, on the west side of Spadina, between Wellington St. West and Adelaide Street. In the 1920s, there were three houses located on the site, with the postal addresses 52-56 Spadina Avenue. These postal number were later changed. In 1928, only one of the houses was occupied, and the following years, all the houses were demolished. The 1929 Toronto Directories indicate that the Systems Building had been constructed on the property. The full name of the company was “Business Systems, Printers Specialties Limited.” 

The five-story, red-brick structure is typical of the brick and beam warehouses on Spadina Avenue between Front and Richmond Streets. It was constructed as a warehouse loft, the various floors containing open space that could be divided into separate areas to accommodate the requirements of the companies that rented space within it. On the east facade facing Spadina, there were large doorways on both the north and south ends of the building. They allowed easy access for different renters. The east facade has very few architectural details, any ornamentations that exist created by the brickwork. The other three sides have even less detail than the front of the structure.

Despite the plain architectural style of the Systems Building, the two entranceways are rather grand, with their stone and brick arrangements that surround them. They are perhaps the most impressive architectural features of the building.

Similar to earlier decades, today, the building offers prestigious rental properties to a variety of tenants, there being a high demand for rental space in the city’s heritage buildings.


The east facade of the Systems Building, overlooking Spadina Avenue.

DSCN4611   DSCN4615

The sign above the north entrance of the building (left photo) and the north doorway (right photo), with its impressive trim of stone and brick surrounding it.


The southern portion of the east facade, with the steps to the south entrance of the building.


The south entrance of the Systems Building on Spadina, with the stone trim surrounding it.


The east facade, facing Spadina, the two entrances of the building evident in the photo.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view links to Toronto’s Heritage Buildings 

To view previous posts about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


                 To place an order for this book: .



The Steele Briggs warehouse at 49 Spadina Ave.,Toronto

49 Spadina

The five-storey warehouse on the east side of Spadina Avenue, between Front Street and Clarence Square, was built in 1913, the year before the outbreak of the First World War. It was constructed for the Steele Briggs Seed Company, founded in 1873 by Richard Steele and Sylvester Briggs. The warehouse was needed to consolidate the company’s operations within a single building. Previously, their offices and storage facilities had been in several locations in the downtown area.

In the early decades of the 19th century, seed production was an enormous business. Canada was a rural nation, the number of families who farmed the land a far greater a percentage of the population than today. The rural areas of the provinces, especially in Western Canada, were the company’s largest customers. As well, homes in cities across the nation maintained gardens to grow vegetables and herbs for their kitchens. The mail-order seed catalogues published each year in late-winter or early spring were eagerly sought. Purchasing seedlings from growers was considered too expensive for most families, so they bought seeds. Nurseries that sold plants were rare, although town markets sold seedlings. In Toronto, people could purchase them at the St. Lawrence Market.

The Toronto Directories reveal that in 1912, the land on the east side Spadina Avenue, between Front Street and Clarence Square, remained empty fields. It was an ideal location for a warehouse as it was close to the rail lands. After the Steele Briggs building was erected, it built its own private railway siding. The tracks for the siding remain visible today in the parking lot on the south side of the building. The company shipped seeds all over Canada, its success partially due to the fact that it developed seeds that were acclimatized specifically for Canada’s growing season. In 1961, the Steele Briggs Company purchased the William Rennie Seed Company. This company was important in the history of Toronto.

William Rennie was born in in Scarborough in 1832. In 1860, he moved his family to a farm in Markham, Ontario. However, in 1870 he rented out his farm and moved to Toronto, where he founded the William Rennie Seed Company. For the next 91 years, the company’s business activities centred around Adelaide and Jarvis Streets. In the early days, many of the seeds that the company sold were grown on Rennie’s five-acre farm on the east side of Grenadier Pond. His homestead was also in this location. Seeds not grown on his farm were imported from Scotland—oats, barley and wheat. As his business grew, he also imported bulbs from Holland. William Rennie was influential in the creation of the Toronto Industrial Exhibition of 1873, which in later years became the Canadian National Exhibition. He also helped found the first annual “fat-stock show,” the forerunner of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. A Toronto Island ferry, the Thomas Rennie, was named after one of his sons, who became a prominent businessman in his own right.

The red-brick Steel Briggs warehouse at 49 Spadina Avenue remains as impressive today as when it was constructed. In 1913, its address was 2 Clarence Square, and even today, its alternate name is the Clarence Square Building. When it was built, the lower portion of Spadina Avenue, below King Street, was industrial and dominated by the railroads. The entrance to the building was on the north side, facing Clarence Square.

The cornice on the top of the Steele Briggs Building is plain, the facades containing few ornamentations. On the north and south facades there are pilaster (faux columns), constructed with the same red bricks as the facades. They rise from the ground level to the top of the second storey, where they are capped with stone. They then continue on the third and fourth storeys, and are again capped with stone. On the fifth floor, stone blocks have been inserted above and below the windows. Though the building has few architectural details, its facades are symmetrical and orderly. It is a handsome structure that enhances the avenue.

When the Steele Briggs building was erected, five storeys was considered ideal, as if more floors were added, it required more expensive structural supports. The wood support beams in the building are reduced in size on the upper floors, as they support less weight. Containing high ceilings, the warehouse is a typical brick and beam construction. The support timbers remain today, visible on each floor. On the ground floor, large oak doors on three sides of the buildings open onto loading platforms, where horse carts, and later in the 20th century, trucks could pull up to unload sacks of seeds. The platforms on the south side of the building allowed the sacks of seeds to be loaded onto railway cars and shipped across the nation. The loading and unloading of the large sacks were done by hand, assisted by pulleys.

Today, the warehouse contains offices and is considered one of the city’s most prestigious rental accommodations as it is an attractive heritage building. 


View of the loading platform on Peter Street on December 30, 1926, the Steele Briggs building in the background. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, S 0079, It. 0176.


This photo was taken about 1913, the year the Steele Briggs Building was constructed. Behind the Steele Briggs Building (upper right-hand corner) can be seen the trees in Clarence Square. The photo gazes north on Spadina. In the foreground, the demolition work on the Spadina Wharf is being completed. In the top left-hand corner of the picture are the towers of the old Union Station of 1884. The old bridge over the railway lines, south of Front Street, is also visible.  City of Toronto Archives, Series 1244, It. 0235


View gazing north on Spadina from near the bridge at Fleet Street, on June 28, 1925. The Steele Briggs warehouse is on the right, and it has a water tower on its roof. The towers on the old Union Station of 1884 are on the far left. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1580, It. 0090

Series 372, Subseries 58 - Road and street condition photographs 

Gazing north on Spadina on June 16, 1946, from the intersection at Front and Spadina Streets. The Steele Briggs Building is on the right.


The north facade of the Steele Briggs Building, facing Clarence Square. (photo, 2014)


The west facade (left-hand side of picture) on Spadina and and south facade (right-hand side) of the building.


                    Architectural details on the north facade.


Tracks of the railway siding on the south side of the building (photo taken 2014)


   Wooden beams in the lobby of the structure (photo 2014)


Doors that open onto a loading platform on the south side that was used to load the railcars.


Interior of one of the loading platforms on the south side of the building. (photo 2014)


      The Steele Briggs Building, viewed from Spadina and Front Streets.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its buildings:

To view previous blogs about old movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


                         To place an order for this book: .



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