For decades, Toronto has been known as Hogtown, but the city could see its last pig slaughterhouse close next week.
On Tuesday, a Toronto judge will be asked to appoint a receiver to sell the assets of the abattoir that has been idled in bankruptcy protection, ending 100 years of pork production on the downtown site.
The move, if unopposed by creditors, will mean the end of the plant that accounts for about 25 per cent of Ontario’s pork output.
Toronto, formerly the cattle and pig stockyards for much of Southern Ontario, was once home to four large pig plants, earning the Hogtown nickname.
But the last remaining abattoir has been buffeted by volatile pork markets, and slowly surrounded by condominiums in a neighbourhood that is eager to shed its gritty past.
Quality Meat Packers Ltd. and Toronto Abattoirs Ltd., two related companies that operate the plant that slaughtered 23,000 pigs a week, sought protection from creditors last month, saying the sharp rise in pork prices made it unable to pay its bills.
Prices for live pigs have shot up by about 45 per cent this year as a virus has spread to 6,000 U.S. farms and killed millions of piglets. Traders in Chicago set the price for hogs by Canadian slaughterhouses, which have also been pinched by inexpensive imported meat and a lower Canadian currency.
The price paid by Ontario pig processors has climbed to about $280 from $160 in the past year.
A representative of the slaughterhouse did not respond to two requests for comment.
The abattoir is in an industrial part of the city that borders the railway tracks. The plant’s owners last year approached the city about changing the land’s zoning to allow residential and commercial uses, a sign they plan to leave eventually.
The city responded by including the abattoir’s parcel in a larger review of land use in the neighbourhood.
Mike Layton, city councillor for the area, said the tricks is to balance industrial strength and urban renewal, while ensuring people can work where they live.
As for Hogtown, he said Toronto justifiably lost that image long ago.
“I’m not sure people have a strong association of Toronto being a centre for pork manufacturing,” he said. “It’s been a lot of years since we’ve had a lot of operations going on and since then a lot of new people have moved to Toronto, so I’m not sure folks are that connected to that particular industry. I personally think it’s one of the last remaining pieces of our industrial roots in the neighbourhood and that’s a cause for, maybe not concern, but to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. We knew it was never going to last forever – the city around it has grown up considerably.”
Brad Lamb, a realtor in the area who lives in a condominium a block from the plant, said he takes no joy from any company’s failure, but slaughterhouses do not belong in a congested downtown.
“I don’t think anyone living in the city would miss that place,” he said, adding the abattoir’s presence has not deterred home buyers or builders in the area. But the eventual development of the site is key to a rejuvenation of the area, he said.
Quality Meat Packers and Toronto Abattoirs, owned by Toronto’s Schwartz family, owe about $70-million to creditors that include 70 pig farms. The largest creditor is a related company, Quality Meat Packers Holding Ltd., which is owed more than $19-milliona total of $38.6-million.
The holding company has told creditors it plans to go before a Toronto judge on Tuesday to ask that Farber Financial be appointed the receiver.
David Schwartz, sole director and president of all three companies, said in an affidavit filed in court the slaughterhouse could not secure enough pigs to operate at “an economically viable level” during the period of creditor protection.
Mr. Schwartz is the grandson of Nathan Schwartz, who founded the operation and opened his first butcher shop at St. Clair Avenue West and Dufferin Street in Toronto.
Quality Meat’s products include Legacy Pork, Mini Grills sausages and Pork’n Pull meat, many of which are exported to Asia.
The Schwartz family also owns Great Lakes Specialty Meats of Canada in Mitchell, Ont. According to a source, pig farmers have been withholding deliveries of animals there each day until payment has been guaranteed.
The plant’s 750 employees have been on layoff since the start of the shutdown, and the company said it expects they will be paid all wages owed to them.
Porcine epidemic diarrhea has been found on dozens of Canadian farms, mostly in Ontario, but its effects on the size of the Canadian herd have yet to be felt. Farmers whose animals are hit by the virus face financial devastation as the pigs they plan to sell in six months die. But the producers whose barns are untouched by PED have been enjoying record prices for their pigs.