Employment numbers from the City of Toronto tell the story: between 2003 and 2013, the city shed 46,000 manufacturing jobs, a 26-per-cent decline, while the number of service-sector and office jobs rose by 155,000.
Quality Meat was one of the holdouts, employing hundreds of butchers and meat packers in what might be the bloodiest of businesses.
Porcine epidemic diarrhea has killed millions of pigs in the United States and thousands more in Ontario, driving up prices for the animals by 36 per cent this year on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Farmers whose barns haven’t been infected by it are having a very good year; slaughterhouses and processors are not. Given the porous border, the prices Canadian pig farmers command are set in Chicago. (The virus, which has no cure, does not affect human health of food safety.)
Meat companies such as Maple Leaf Foods and Quality Meat are forced to pay more for pigs at a time when they face low-price competition from makers of cheaper, imported food. So while the price of a market-ready pig in Ontario has soared by about 75 per cent to about $280 in the past 12 months, the price of a pork chop at the grocery store has risen by just 16 per cent.
In April court filings, Quality Meat said it had been losing money for a few years because of soaring pig prices and the decline of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. currency. The company blamed pig prices when it sought court protection in April from the farmers and others to which it owed $70-million. Quality Meat did not respond to requests for comment.
An slaughterhouse in an area whose warehouses are being replaced by condominiums might be an anachronism, but the stench of pig manure and the din of squealing pigs about to meet their end have not stopped people from buying houses in the area.
David Nicholson knew the plant was there, but it didn’t stop him from buying a condo a few blocks away. He’s not bothered by the smells. But he was put off by the sights and sounds of the transport trucks, the squeals and the snouts and ears poking through the vents. “I’d love to see it go,” Mr. Nicholson says after a recent game of tennis at the courts around the corner from the plant.
Brad Lamb, a realtor who works in the area and lives in a condo overlooking nearby Stanley Park, says houses within sight of the slaughterhouse sell on the day they are listed. At the same time, he says the slaughterhouse and the changing neighbourhood outgrew each other long ago.
“It’s inconceivable to any sane person to imagine a pig slaughterhouse in the downtown core,” Mr. Lamb says. “The pigs come in on trucks and they have to go along the Gardiner expressway in gridlock, they have to drive up Strachan in gridlock, and they have to turn down Wellington Street, which is a busy city street, and they have to pull into this archaic facility. It should’ve happened a long time ago.”
Mike Layton, city councillor for the area, says Quality Meat’s efforts to keep trucks moving quickly in and out of the plant were increasingly frustrated by the rise of residential traffic in the area. “As condos have marched their way west … it has put additional congestion in the area. And so we get complaints about the amount of traffic in the area from the folks at Quality Meat, because this is an industrial operation,” he says.
Mr. Otto, the historian, says Quality Meat led the fight to ensure the recently built Strachan Avenue bridge over top the railway did not bypass Wellington Avenue, onto which its trucks turn right into the plant. The change required the Metrolinx rail corridor be lowered by an additional 10 feet. “One of Quality Meat’s legacies is a better bridge on Strachan Avenue.” Mr. Otto says.
If you ask activist and area resident Sylvia Fraser, she’ll tell you it was the pigs themselves that closed the plant.