Knob Hill Farms gets a Metrolinx makeover

Photo by Rachelle Baird

What remains of the original part of the Ontario Malleable Iron Company and what Metrolinx plans to keep

The sound of silence will soon to be replaced with bells and whistles at Front and Howard Streets in Oshawa.

What many have called an eyesore in the city for 17 years will soon be getting a new look, thanks to Metrolinx.

The former location of Knob Hill Farms will receive a new life in the form of a train station. The old building’s location will be the site of the Lakeshore East GO train stop when the line is extended to Bowmanville.

Many people may not realize this abandoned building was not just once a place to go grocery shopping. In fact, at one time, it was a malleable iron factory.

Ontario Malleable Iron Company, as it was called, was founded in 1872 by brothers John and William Cowan.

The Cowans were committed to the city. Both were trustees for the Oshawa General Hospital, now Lakeridge Health Oshawa, the board of education and the public library.

John was also mayor in 1887 and William served on the town council from 1889-1894.

Some people assume Robert McLaughlin’s Ontario Carriage Company was Oshawa’s first industrial giant, but that is not true. Ontario Malleable Iron Company was founded five years prior.

Malleable Iron is a trade name for iron that can be bent or shaped by force, making it perfect for pipe fittings, automobile castings and bogie wheels for the Bren gun carriers used during the First and Second World War.

In 1898, a grey iron foundry was added, which is a form of cast iron that is cheap to produce but very strong.

In 1913, the company increased its supply to meet the demands from the Ford Motor Company, then in 1919, it started to produce products for General Motors.

Products produced by the company were sold throughout Canada and other countries, bringing thousands of dollars in work to Oshawa, according to city archives.

The company closed its doors for good on March 16, 1977, then sat empty until Knob Hill Farms took over in 1980.

Knob Hill Farms was a chain of grocery stores founded by Steve Stavro in 1951 and operated in several locations across the GTA.

It operated until 2001 in Oshawa but closed due to growing competition in the grocery business.

To this day the building remains empty.

The building is classified as a heritage building, meaning it holds a significant importance to the city’s heritage and could be protected against demolition.

How does a building become designated as a heritage building?

“The designation of a property is decided by community members. A permit is submitted, reviewed, there is a meeting, and then the decision is made,” says Margaret Kish, senior planner for the city of Oshawa.

According to the Ontario Heritage Act, designation promotes awareness of heritage properties and ensures that any changes to the property respect the overall value.

As to what will happen with the old building, according to Metrolinx it is the early design stages. But Metrolinx does plan to preserve some of the historic façade along Front Street, the original part of the Ontario Malleable Iron Company.