The letters “MSF,” placed at the bottom end of the Leaside Business Park, appeared without notice on a map of the proposed Ontario Line on the Metrolinx website last summer. If you asked Metrolinx what that meant you received the standard reply – “we’re looking at several possible locations for a Maintenance and Storage Facility to serve the Ontario Line.”
Fast forward to April 7 to an email: “the location will be announced tomorrow.” To the small businesses lining the plaza on Thorncliffe Park Drive north of Overlea Boulevard, it was more than a surprise since the proposed location is in the heart of Thorncliffe Park.
The Maintenance and Storage Facility (MSF) is the central location for the inspection, cleaning and maintenance of the Ontario Line trains when they are not in service. It requires a lot of land, 17.5 hectares or 43 acres – the equivalent of 24 soccer fields. The chosen location straddles the Walmsley Brook ravine, taking in the Thorncliffe Park Drive plaza and the lands currently occupied by a storage facility on the west side of Beth Nealson Drive.
Metrolinx claims to have evaluated nine sites along the Ontario Line’s length, finally choosing this location. Apparently, they considered a site farther north on Beth Nealson that would have taken in Silcorp and Lincoln Electric. Perhaps the potential loss of engineering jobs by their parent companies’ repatriation to the US was considered by Metrolinx to be a greater loss than the impact on small businesses in Thorncliffe Park, which likely could relocate? In reality, there are no easy choices when locating a large industrial facility in a built-up city. In the case of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the decision was a little easier – the former Kodak industrial lands in Mount Dennis were looking for another use.
Who is affected in Thorncliffe Park? The list includes Iqbal’s Halal Food Market, and Kebab and Sweets – cultural icons, as well as an essential food source to Thorncliffe’s large South Asian population – Trupti, a well-known spice dealer, Belyea Brothers Heating and Cooling, Greenbird Electrical Solutions, and the Masjid Darus Salaam Mosque. The total of almost 50 businesses also includes a pharmacy, doctors’ offices, travel agents, lawyers, a gym, a small religious school, a shipping business, Potters Studio Inc., and East York Meals on Wheels.
I spoke to Ali Baig, owner of Greenbird Electrical Solutions, about what this would mean for his business, established, and expanded with the help of his two sons, over the last two decades. He showed me his warehouse, laid out and carefully fitted to meet his business needs. Heartbreaking to now consider having to move, and upset that his lifework developing his business in this location is threatened. But more than anything, angry that Metrolinx announced this out of the blue, without consulting him or his fellow commercial tenants in the plaza. (He doesn’t know if they consulted with the plaza’s owner.).
Metrolinx promises to “work with property owners and tenants to support their relocation.” Ali and other tenants in the plaza need to come together for their common interests, get independent business evaluations, and hire a lawyer. They need the resources to fight for fair compensation. Maybe the Leaside Park Business Association can help them find suitable accommodation in the Park. Interestingly, Greenbird is already a LBPA member.
Ultimately, there is the economic, religious and cultural loss to the Thorncliffe Park community. Let’s hope Thorncliffe can emerge stronger, but they’ll need determination and a lot of support from the wider community.