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Toronto’s other castle – The Glengrove Hydro Substation

April 2021

When someone mentions Toronto’s castle, most thing of the historic Casa Loma, a large château that was once the majestic home of Major-General Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, CVO, a Canadian financier and soldier; once the biggest private residence ever constructed in Canada.

Some long-time residents of Toronto will remember the Glengrove Substation, also known as The Castle.

When hydro-electricity came to Toronto in 1910, coincidentally a business venture Sir Henry Pellatt, the power that was generated at the Niagara Falls generating station was transmitted to the city on high tension transmission lines. So that the hydro could be used by consumers, large transformer sets needed to be set up across the city, designed to step the power down for use in homes.

As these transformer substations looked rather ugly, hydro companies would enclose the equipment in buildings and behind walls that were aesthetically-pleasing designs, like a mock home or institutional building, that would blend seamlessly into the neighbourhood.

Built in 1930, the Glengrove Substation was one of the most elaborate substations built. The ivy-covered, rough-cut stone architecture, windows and Gothic Revival arch doorways give the substation the appearance of a castle or English baronial estate.

A set of oak doors on the side of the building resemble a castle drawbridge, allowing access to the transformers inside.

Glengrove Substation is still in use by Toronto Hydro, and is referred to by employees as “the flagship.” The windows on the building come to life when the interior lighting is switched on at night.

Toronto Hydro has a total of 277 substations throughout the city, some of which can be found at:

2035 Bayview Avenue. A smaller, less elaborate, former transformer house was built beside Sunnybrook Hospital on Bayview Avenue. It was designed to look like one of the hospital outbuildings and thus, has a plain, institutional appearance.

The Bayview Avenue Substation was abandoned several years ago, and is now a target of graffiti artists and slowly crumbling.

29 Nelson Street, in the John and Richmond area. Built in 1910 and designed like a Victorian-era warehouse or office building of the era, it’s the oldest known substation still standing.

51 Blackburn Street (Gerrard and the Don Valley Parkway, built in 1988) and 31 Manitoba Street (behind the National Trade Centre, built in 1992), are the newest substations. Their glass-block features are notable, but they look like utilitarian structures.

555 Spadina Road. Built in 1950 in the ritzy Forest Hill area is designed like a Georgian Revival home.

640 Millwood Road. Built in 1940 in Leaside, it’s a charming red brick Cape Cod-style “house.”

165 Burbank Drive. Built in 1957, it’s designed as a progressive Modernist home.

54 Reid Manor in Etobicoke. This 1970 substation is designed as a late Modernism house, looking like one of the many ranch-style homes built in that time period.

74 Livingston Road in Scarborough. Built in 1965, it blends in so well that the only indication that it’s not a real home are the Toronto Hydro warning signs on the front door.

Although most substations are purposely built as fake homes, two actually were homes that were bought by Toronto Hydro, gutted and converted to substations: 746 Scarlett Road in Etobicoke, a small Arts and Crafts cottage that still has the original bedrooms on the second floor, and the little postwar bungalow at 159 Ellesmere Road in Scarborough.

Sources: The Castle – Glengrove Substation | Hiking the GTA, Bayview Transformer House | Hiking the GTA, Power Houses: Toronto Hydro’s Camouflaged Substations | Urbanist (weburbanist.com), Hydro Substations, G&M article by UT Forumer! | UrbanToronto.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/torontos-other-castle-the-glengrove-hydro-substation/

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