The Ups and Downs of The Richard L. Hearn Generating Station

Gritty and raw, iron and steel beams, industrial, passageways and tunnels, brick and concrete. Toronto History. If any of this makes sense to you, then you know we are about to talk about the Richard L. Hearn Generating Station, one of Toronto’s largest and most rarely used spaces.

Toronto’s massive wealth of space in the Portlands has seen its years of ups and downs since it opened in 1951. Originally, the Richard L. Hearn Generating Station burned coal which was shipped out on the Saint Lawrence Seaway to ports around the globe.

Environmental complaints in the early 70’s about the heavy smog that was emitted from the Stations eight chimney stacks lead to the installation of a single smokestack, which cost nine million dollars but it also landed the Station in the record books at the time with having one of the world’s tallest smokestacks (215 m/705 ft.). This move greatly reduced Toronto’s air pollution and the area around the plant came to be known as a popular fishing and recreation spot.

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The Smokestack at the Generating Station which was once the tallest in the world at 215 m. Photo courtesy of P. McDines.

The Station was decommissioned in 1983 after it was unable to meet the increasing financial demand that cogeneration ( natural gas and coal) would cost.

Since it was decommissioned there were many talks and many different plans to restart the generators and switchboards, with none coming to fruition mostly because of city and provincial politics

In 2002, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) gave a long lease to a film studio ( 32.5 years, according to the City of Toronto’s Waterfront Secretariat) who had ambition plans to convert the Station into a 28 thousand sq.m. multi purpose film and production studio and call it ‘Great Lakes Studios’. Many of the interior boilers and equipment was removed to make room for the renovations, which sadly also did not make it to completion.  

Since then, the Station has been a haven for urban explorers and photographers. It began getting serious about opening up its doors as a venue for events and film in 2010 when it was used in a movie, and in 2014 for Luminato’s Big Bang Bash and Yves Saint Laurent Opening Night Party. In 2015 Luminator hosted UNSOUND on the property and again in 2016 Luminator used the grounds as their festival hug, utilizing most of the space for art and performance.

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The original brick exterior painted with “Don’t Look Back” at the loading entrance for Luminato ’15. Photo courtesy of P. McDines

 

 

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One of the tunnels inside of the Station lit with artist installations during Luminato ’15. Photo courtesy of P. McDines.

 

Recently there have been a few commercial shoots, but that’s about it. So far, Luminato Festival seems to be the only lucky infrequent resident of the Station. Stats show that the 5.6-acre venue has proved to hold 10,000 people.

 

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A look inside the Station at the still exposed wiring and steal.

Written By: Paula McDines

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