A bit of Berczy history … Boxing-in Berczy

11 Jun

While many people think Berczy Park dates back to the era of Old Town Toronto, they would be surprised to discover that the original park, prior to its 2015-2017 renovation, was only constructed in 1980.

berczy-park-2016_1980-aerial-shotThe park was part of an urban renewal project to redevelop many blocks of the St Lawrence Market neighbourhood. Countless blocks of historical structures were bulldozed and left as desolate parking lots until City officials determined new uses for the prime land.

But what stood on the Berczy Park site before it became a parking lot? Among the occupants of this irregular-shaped city block was the original factory of the Progress Paper Box Company (a predecessor of a company that celebrates its 100th birthday in 2017).

Progress Paper Box#1 copyToronto resident Marla Lukofsky recalls that her father’s father Morris Lukofsky, a new immigrant from Russia with no English and little money, came to Canada in 1914. Once settled in Toronto, he and his wife started a small storefront hatbox company on Spadina that turned into Progress Paper Box. Co. in 1917. When business grew, they moved the company to 31-37 Wellington St. East near the Flatiron building and stayed there for decades. They made boxes for everything from games to candies, from toys to clothing. Marla’s father, Lou Lukofsky later took over the company and made it even more successful.

Marla notes that “In 1967, the City of Toronto forced my father and Progress Paper Box Co. Ltd. out of his landmark building and property. The City gave him the standard rate allowed and Lou eventually found property on a barren lot near Keele and Finch.” The company went through a few name changes since then, including Progress Packaging and ProgressLuv2Pak, but it marks its 100th birthday in 2017.

As Marla points out, “This is a Toronto Story. This is a Canadian Story. This is an immigrant’s story. This is my father’s story.” And it’s an important part of the Berczy Park story too.

What else existed on the Berczy Park site? Claire MacKay’s history book, The Toronto Story (Annick Press), gives some clues, since each chapter illustrates the corner of Wellington and Church Street through the years (See the images below).

According to MacKay, the Berczy Park lot was a wharf-side pasture back in 1818 and by 1840 a stage coach office and The Wellington Hotel occupied the site, adjoining a tented circus and livery stable. By 1930, a handsome block of office buildings dominated the vista, including the Gooderham & Worts/Flatiron Bldg (1892), located close to the Stock Exchange at Wellington and Leader Lane. By the late 1960s, only the Flatiron Bldg survived, with a parking lot occupying the rest of the block, before Berczy Park was constructed in 1980.

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