Urban Expansion and Industrial Nature: A Political Ecology of Toronto’s Port Industrial District


This article analyses political and economic practices involved with the production of an industrial form of socio‐nature — the Port Industrial District — during the early decades of the twentieth century in Toronto, Canada. Informed by historical documents from that period, as well as using contemporary concepts from urban theory, we analyse the creation of a major land mass and southern extension of Toronto within a political ecology framework. We explicitly link the concept of socio‐nature with the dynamics suggested by theories of capital and spatial expansion, thereby bringing ‘nature’ into a more central position in understanding urban development processes. The Toronto Harbour Commissioners, the central organization in this land‐creation process, reflected, we argue, more the ideological preferences and economic interests of local elites than an efficient institutional design for solving a multi‐dimensional ‘waterfront problem’. The harbour commission and its supporters envisioned and promoted the new industrial district, the pivotal section of its 1912 waterfront development plan, as a general strategy for intensifying industrialization and growth of the city. The massive infrastructure project is best understood as a spatio‐temporal fix to productively absorb capital through spatial expansion and temporal deferment. A new institutional arrangement consolidated political and economic relations through practices that made possible the production of a new form of socio‐nature and reshaped the eastern section of Toronto’s central waterfront as an industrial landscape.