Introducing the Hangar District, a massive new Toronto neighbourhood

A shortage of studio space has been clipping the local film industry’s wings in recent years, but the first phase of a massive mixed-use redevelopment dubbed the Hangar District at Toronto’s Downsview Airport could help.

Dubbed the Hangar District for its creative reuse of the soon-to-be decommissioned airport’s hangars, it’s the first phase of Northcrest and Canada Lands Company’s ambitious 520-acre id8 Downsview project. The inaugural phase would incorporate 1.5 million square feet of new studio space and offices in the aerospace facilities in addition to delivering 2,800 residential units in future buildings up to 14 storeys. 

“Toronto is turning away hundreds of millions of dollars in film production every year — simply because we don’t have the space — so we’re really excited to be part of that story and part of that industry, which is booming,” Chris Eby, executive vice-president of Northcrest Developments, said.

Although Toronto’s film industry generates billions of dollars for the economy, soundstage capacity has been a problem for some time, and, to Eby, using the aircraft hangars to establish a film-studio campus just made sense to Northcrest, which was created by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP Investments) shortly after it purchased 370 acres of land at Downsview from Bombardier, in 2018 (Canada Lands owns the remaining 150 acres).  

“They [the hangars] are unique in the sense that they’re these big, wide-open spaces with these very high ceilings and with these massive doors in both front and back, which allows you to move things out with relative ease,” he said. 

hangar district
A rendering of the Hangar District showing park and green space along Garratt Boulevard

However high the need for more studios and labs in Toronto is, perhaps no shortage captures more local headlines than housing. On that front, the id8 Downsview project could contribute tens of thousands of new homes. The Hangar District is just one of 10 new neighbourhoods imagined in the development proposal, which is contingent on the approval of a secondary plan submitted in early 2022 as well as a district-specific application handed into the City of Toronto last May.

If the development is completed as envisioned, by 2051 it would encompass close to 50,000 units and attract a workforce of about 45,000, resulting in a daytime population of approximately 120,000 people. 

“It’s the same size as Guelph,” said Eby. “We will be a mid-sized Ontario city, if you like,” he added. “We’re really talking about a city within a city.” 

For context, the downtown highrise CityPlace neighbourhood contains 12,000 units.The id8 Downsview project aims to “preserve the legacy” of the airport’s two-kilometre runway by transforming it into a pedestrian-focused boulevard lined with retail, housing, schools and parks. 

“It effectively becomes the connective tissue for the entire site. It’s the thing that connects all neighbourhoods and does it in a way that creates this lively, vibrant urban environment,” Eby said.

Northcrest hopes to have approvals from Toronto City Council for the secondary plan sometime in 2024, with the district plan to follow three to six months later. 

“The mixed-use aspect here is critical — it’s not just about housing. It’s about having access to parks, having access to jobs, to cultural attractions, [and] to entertainment,” said Eby. “If we’re going to be able to attract the top talent to come here, that’s the mix we think we need.” 

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