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Pigs at the Ontario Stockyards in Toronto, March 14, 1984. (Edward Regan/The Globe and Mail)
Pigs at the Ontario Stockyards in Toronto, March 14, 1984. (Edward Regan/The Globe and Mail)

End of a chapter in Hogtown history after Toronto's last pig plant shuts its doors Add to ...

“They did it by dying off. And the reason they died off starts with the factory farms. They live in such crowded conditions that disease is bound to break out,” says Ms. Fraser, a journalist and author who has lived at Bathurst and King since 1990.

Ms. Fraser says crediting the pigs for the plant’s demise is whimsical. But she takes seriously the animals’ plight. She says she became alarmed at the increasing numbers of pig trucks rolling through her neighbourhood, and two years ago joined Toronto Pig Save, a group that says the meat industry raises and kills animals cruelly, makes food that is bad for people’s health and pollutes the environment. The group wants all slaughterhouses closed, and says no one should eat meat.

For four years, the group would stand on the median at Lake Shore Boulevard and Strachan – they call it Pig Island – holding signs against animal slaughter, and pouring bottled water into the mouths of the animals that poke their snouts through the trailers’ sides.

Weekly protests – or vigils, as the activists call them – still happen at Toronto’s two remaining cattle slaughterhouses, St. Helen’s Meat Packers and Ryding-Regency Meat Packers, and the Maple Leaf Foods chicken processing plant. The three are all that remain near St. Clair and Keele Streets, an area was once home to most of the major slaughterhouses and stockyards but now is dominated by big-box retailers and townhouses.

Ms. Fraser says the end of the downtown slaughterhouse means “one less death camp,” but acknowledges the animals will be sent to Southwestern Ontario or Quebec, where processors have picked up the slack left by Quality Meat’s departure. One of these, Great Lakes Specialty Meats in Mitchell, Ont., is owned by the Schwartz family.

 

THE FUTURE

The amount of tenderloin, bacon and ribs Canadians eat each year has fallen by 13 per cent over the past decade and a half to about 27 kilograms per capita. Bacon may no longer be the standard – if heart-clogging – Canadian breakfast accompaniment for eggs and toast, but it has become loved by the foodie set as a sinful and salty way to jazz up a plate. And the charcuterie craze endures – local chefs tarting up what used to be called cold cuts for restaurantgoers who might eat less fatty, cured meat, but don’t mind paying dearly when they do.

At the same time, Canadian exports of pork have nearly tripled in value since 1998, as consumers in emerging markets begin eating more meat.

It’s against this backdrop that Quality Meat outgrew its plant, as it exported its pork and sausages to more than 30 countries.

The plant is hemmed in by the train tracks to the south, Tecumseth Street to the east, and a patchwork of city-owned works yards and parking lots. A year ago the company signalled it was planning to quit the site when it asked the city to rezone its land to allow retail and residential uses. One source said a developer has offered the company $70-million for the property. The land is part of a broader study by city staff, one that should remake the area, with a mix of condos, shops, parks and even a pedestrian bridge that crosses the tracks.

It’s a rebirth that is inevitable in a once heavily industrialized area where buildings are known by their former uses – the Coffin Factory, the incinerator known as the Wellington Destructor, and now, the site of the slaughterhouse. They are places in name only, known for what they used to be. Just like Hogtown.

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