Queens Wharf and Toronto Ferry Terminal Salvage

During the construction of new infrastructure and buildings, it is not unusual for old artifacts and historical discoveries to be unearthed. During the excavation for new condo developments in downtown Toronto, two significant historical finds were made. Two wharfs, one dating back to the early 1900’s and the other, dating back to the 1830s, were uncovered. These wharfs, known as the Toronto Ferry Terminal Wharf and the historic Queens Wharf, held great historical value and shed light on the city’s maritime past.

The Queens Wharf

Queens Wharf
1910 image of the old Queens Wharf

The Queens Wharf, which was constructed in the 1830s, was found at the southeastern corner of the grounds of Old Fort York, at the foot of Bathurst Street. This discovery was made in March of 2006 while excavating for what is now the Malibu condo development.

One of the most significant military-built wharves was the Queen’s Wharf, which stood as a symbol of the naval significance of Fort York and New Fort, as well as the importance of controlling access to Toronto Harbour. Over time, it served various purposes, including accommodating railways.

The wharf is historically significant as it was the eighth one constructed along the original shoreline. Interestingly, it was also the third wharf built by the military. Throughout its existence, this wharf has been known by different names such as “The New Wharf,” “The King’s Wharf,” and eventually “The Queen’s Wharf.”

Toronto Ferry Terminal
Toronto Ferry Terminal Wharf Wood

Toronto Ferry Terminal Wharf

The historic Toronto Ferry Terminal Wharf, built in 1912, was discovered during excavation for a condo development at Bay Street and Harbour Street in downtown Toronto in January 2007. Today, it is known as the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal and serves as the main departure point from the city to Toronto Island.

Initially, the docks in Toronto were located on the east side of the Toronto Harbour Commission Building at Bay and Harbour Streets. However, in 1918, due to land reclamation efforts, the docks were moved to Queen’s Quay West, between Yonge Street and Bay Street. This new terminal continued operations until it was eventually demolished as part of a waterfront redevelopment project that started in the 1970s. In January 1972, a third terminal was established at a new location approximately 100 meters to the east. This relocation was part of a larger waterfront project that included filling in the Bay Street shipping slip and constructing the Harbour Castle Hilton and Harbour Square condos.

In 2013, the Toronto City Council made a unanimous decision to rename the terminal as a tribute to the late Jack Layton, former leader of the New Democratic Party and Toronto City Councillor. The station sees approximately 1. 2 million passengers annually, with the majority of them traveling during the summer months.

Discovery of the Wharfs

While excavating back in late winter of 2006, developers uncovered a remarkable piece of history. As they dug deeper into the ground, they stumbled upon large wooden beams intricately tied together, forming crib-like structures.

Recognizing the significance of their find, construction was immediately halted, and archaeologists were summoned to assess the situation. Upon closer examination, archaeologists unveiled the remnants of what is now known as the historic Queens Wharf.

Dating back to the 1830’s, these wooden structures provided valuable insights into the rich maritime history of our city. The Queens Wharf served as a bustling hub for trade and commerce in earlier times, connecting our city to distant shores.

As further excavation took place down the road less than a year later, developers unearthed yet another piece of our maritime heritage – the Ferry Terminal wharf. This discovery shed light on our city’s important role as a transportation hub from the city to Toronto island.

Wharf Wood exposed

The wood used in their construction had been remarkably preserved due to being buried underground, shielded from the ravages of time and exposure to oxygen. However, as much as we desired to preserve these historical treasures in their original state, it became evident that this would not be possible. Unfortunately, once exposed to the air, the wood began its inevitable process of decay. The beams would gradually start breaking down and would eventually succumb to rotting. Given these circumstances and after careful consideration by experts in historical preservation, it was determined that removing the wharfs was the only viable option.

Timbers being dumped

Why Did They Bury This Old Wood?

• Cost-effectiveness: Dismantling large structures like wharfs can be a time-consuming and expensive process. Burying them in fill offered a more cost-effective solution at the time.

• Land reclamation: By extending Toronto’s border into Lake Ontario, valuable land could be reclaimed for future development purposes. This expansion allowed for urban growth and accommodated the city’s increasing population.

It is important to note that these decisions were made based on the understanding and needs of that era. Urban planning has evolved significantly since then, with greater emphasis on environmental preservation and sustainability.

Will the wood continue to decay?

Not once it has been dried. The reason the wood has stopped breaking down is due to the process of kiln drying. When wet wood is exposed to air, bacteria start decomposing it. However, by subjecting the lumber to kiln drying, the bacteria are effectively killed off. As a result, the wood becomes usable without any worries of further decomposition.

About this unique wood

What they found was a combination of old growth hemlock and old growth pine. Both softwoods, commonly harvested from our natural forest, todays trees are much different than those in the past. On top of being part of Toronto’s history, the wood itself has some interesting characteristics making it highly sought after.

What is Old Growth Lumber?

Old growth wood is a term used to describe timber sourced from trees that have been growing for a significant amount of time, typically hundreds of years. 

These trees have competed for space and light, resulting in unique characteristics and exceptional durability. By counting the annual growth rings, we can estimate that these trees began their growth around 200 years ago before being harvested. Its desirability stems from its longevity and distinct qualities. 

It’s interesting to note that Old-growth wood possesses several advantages over modern wood.

• It has a significantly higher number of growth rings per inch, making it denser and more compact.

• This density contributes to its increased resistance to decay and damage.

• Old-growth wood offers superior strength and hardness compared to contemporary alternatives.

• Its stability is noteworthy as it maintains its structural integrity over time.

live edge old growth hemlock table top
live edge old growth hemlock table top close up picture

Another fascinating aspect of this old growth wood is its distinct color palette. Over time, the timbers have absorbed minerals from the earth, resulting in a unique range of colors that cannot be replicated. From rich earth tones to subtle hues, each piece of wood tells a story through its vibrant and natural shades.

Generally, pine wood found today is often seen in a creamy white or pale straw color. However, when it comes to reclaimed pine from old wharf reclamations, the wood takes on a honey tone with subtle tans and browns present throughout. The modern Hemlock wood has a pale yellow to light brown color, while the Hemlock obtained from wharf wood exhibits an overall gray tone with hints of tan and a subtle green undertone.

What can old growth wood be used for?

After the wood has been dried and processed, it becomes highly versatile in its usability. It can be transformed into a wide range of reclaimed furniture pieces such as solid wood tables, wood feature walls, organic wood beam side tables, and chunky beam benches. Our reclaimed wood furniture selection offers various options that not only add a rustic charm to any space but also prioritize the preservation of the material.

Whether used in architectural projects, furniture making, or artistic endeavors, incorporating old growth wood from the Queen Wharf and Toronto Ferry Terminal wharf adds an element of beauty and uniqueness that cannot be replicated with modern materials. Its dense composition, intricate growth rings, and captivating color palette make it a truly remarkable choice for those seeking exceptional quality and aesthetic appeal.

The excavation of these historical wharfs not only uncovers a piece of Toronto’s history but also offers insights into the craftsmanship and materials used during that era. It serves as a reminder of how our urban landscape has evolved over time and highlights the importance of preserving our heritage, one reclaimed furniture piece at a time.

old growth hemlock beam side tables

We are Sean and Melissa, a husband and wife team from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, who took our passion for the environment along with our vision to reduce our urban forestry waste, and started Canada’s original log salvaging company.

Since 2004, we have taken discarded city trees doomed for mulch and firewood and have salvaged these logs into handcrafted tables and other solid wood furniture products. We are one of a few companies handling all areas of reclamation from log selection, milling, drying, woodworking and metal fabrication.

We have been featured in numerous design magazines, newspaper articles, blogs and television shows across North America sharing our designs and insights. With almost two decades of experience in the salvaging and furniture manufacturing industry, we have learned a few tips and tricks along the way.

We hope you enjoy our future blogs and find answers to some of your wood and design questions.

Maybe one of these will fit your space?

Made to Order Dining Table and Home Desk

Looking for a specific size, color or design? We mostly build custom to order as everyone is looking for different size and color combinations. By starting from scratch, you can select your favorite elements to produce a piece just right for you.

Ash Counter Height Table – 5 Foot – 4-6 Seater
  • Size: .75″ x 24″ x 57″ x 36″h
  • Wood type: Ash
  • Edge Type: Live Edge
  • Finish: Stain/Urethane
  • Base: Blackened Parson
  • Seating: 4-6 seater
  • Origin: Locally Made in Ontario
Dark Stained Maple Wood Kitchen Table
  • Size: 1.75″ x 30-35” x 54″ x 30″ h
  • Wood type: Silver Maple
  • Edge Type: Live Edge
  • Finish: Stain/Urethane
  • Base: Blackened Parson
  • Seating: 4 seater
  • Origin: Locally Made in Ontario

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Melissa and Sean sitting on a log

The People behind the Brand

Sean and Melissa founded Urban Tree Salvage back in 2004 when recycling felled urban trees was not a mainstream industry.  They are the Canadian pioneers of repurposing urban forestry waste and have created thousands of custom wood dining tables and other solid wood products to clients across Canada and worldwide.

Sean & Melissa