Loading articles...

What's that smell? Life near Toronto's downtown slaughterhouse

A stroll along King Street West on a summer’s day can be an assault on the nostrils, and while some residents of the Niagara neighbourhood west of Bathurst say the stench emanating from the nearby pig slaughterhouse isn’t pleasant, they admit it’s bearable.

The stink may be even more tolerable for people looking to buy or rent in the area with slightly lower real estate prices around the Quality Meat Packers plant at the foot of Tecumseth Street.

“You end up getting used to it,” local resident Sabrina Mancini said of the smell.

The slaughterhouse began operating as a municipal facility in 1914. Quality Meat took over in 1960 and it has no plans to move, but condominium developers are ready to swoop in should the company change its mind.

“It’s a big site and I know for a fact that developers — their intention is to develop it once it’s no longer viable for their industrial operation,” local councillor Mike Layton told CityNews.

While it’s easy to think of the negatives of having a century-old abattoir sandwiched between the booming club district to the east near Spadina, and the trendy Liberty Village to the west near Dufferin, there are some significant benefits: it keeps ever-escalating real-estate prices in check and provides hundreds of manufacturing jobs close to the downtown core.

Smell versus price

Nick Johnson, vice president of human resources at Quality Meat, said the company maintains a good relationship with its neighbours and as condominiums continue to sprout up around King West, the slaughterhouse helps keep real estate prices at relatively reasonable levels.

“[Residents] are happy with us being here knowing that it will keep the major re-gentrification of the neighbourhood at arm’s length,” he said.

“So most of these people are looking for affordable property or affordable rent and part of that means they’re in a neighbourhood that’s still semi-industrial.”

Downtown real estate agent Lisa Munro said the slaughterhouse does keep prices down in the popular area.

“You can save a bit of money. As soon as you get north of Queen there’s a percentage increase,” she said.

Munro said property prices around the slaughterhouse are between 15 and 20 per cent lower than homes in other areas not affected by the stink.

“It’s a stigma,” she said. “It affects the value for sure.”

A vestige of Niagara neighbourhood’s industrial past

The Quality Meat plant could very well be the last vestige of the area’s industrial past. Another manufacturing business — Morgan Solar on nearby Ordnance Avenue — is moving out and will be replaced by residential units.

“We’re landlocked here. We’ve squeezed every square inch we can out of the space we have. All of our growth will have to be elsewhere – that was the reason for moving into the Mitchell market,” Quality Meat’s Nick Johnson said of the company’s facility near Stratford, Ont.

Both Layton and Johnson said the few complaints about the smell usually come from condo dwellers new to the area who may not have been informed they were purchasing a unit so close to a meat processing plant.

That number of complaints could rise in the future: an application has been filed to transform a heritage property directly across the street at 109 Niagara St. — the home of a former casket company dubbed “the coffin factory” — into two condo towers, 15 and 19 storeys tall.

Odour acceptance

Local residents admit the smell isn’t pleasant, but it’s familiar.

“It’s not as bad as it used to be. But it’s worse if you’re west of the plant,” said a resident named Clayton who’s lived in the area for more than 20 years.

Sabrina Mancini has lived in a Niagara neighbourhood condo building for five years.

“[The smell] can definitely be challenging at times.  The smell either comes in wafts — you smell it and then it’s gone. But sometimes the smell is there and doesn’t go anywhere.   It also has different degrees of stinkiness,” she said.

“The more predominant smell is manure-like and although it’s not welcomed, it’s bearable. ”

Another resident named Yarek who lives at Niagara and Tecumseth streets equates the smell of his neighbourhood with a more rural experience.

“It’s just the smell of manure right? So it’s just like coming to a farm,” he said. “That’s how I cope.”

Mancini said she’s always surprised to see packed patios in the area on the particularly smelly summer days, but Shane Connolly, manager of the Foggy Dew pub on King Street, said the slaughterhouse hasn’t hurt business.

“The smell definitely comes by our restaurant quite a bit in the summer,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. I’ve never filed a complaint.”

“Our patio’s full when it’s sunny, with or without [the smell].”

Smells and sounds

Aside from the stink, the constant stream of trucks flowing to and from the plant is also a big concern for locals.

“There are houses there — little workers cottages — that have been there for a long, long time and I think those neighbours are more concerned over the trucks rather than the smell,” Layton said.

Johnson admits delivery and shipping is one of the biggest challenges of running a downtown abattoir, but says the company has measures in place to ensure it remains a good neighbour.

“We have very strict times about when [trucks] can and can’t arrive,” Johnson said. “And when they get here they’re not allowed to use their back-up alarms before 7 a.m.”

Local resident Clayton said the trucks are noisy but he said living near the facility is a trade-off.

“There’s a lot of people being employed,” he said.  “There’s the ying and the yang.”

Layton also noted the abattoir provides “hundreds and hundreds of jobs downtown.”

“[Quality Meat] is really an industrial manufacturing operation —maybe one of the last ones in the core,” he said.

The facility is part of a dying breed of urban slaughterhouses, Johnson said.

“The American ones, due to scale, have moved right out — not just out of the city but right out to the rural communities,” he said.

“Some of the other cities that typically had meat-packing districts, like Winnipeg — that’s completely shut down … there are no slaughterhouses in downtown Winnipeg anymore. Same in Edmonton [aside from a few poultry processing plants].”

Meat processing facilities also continue to operate in the west end near St. Clair Avenue and Keele Street and those facilities have drawn complaints from new residents in nearby townhomes.