Create Mad Max-Style Green Meetings At Toronto’s Brick Works

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Evergreen Brick Works
Evergreen Brick Works

Evergreen Canada is a national non-profit organization operating the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, located inside a repurposed brick factory and uber sustainable green meeting venue. For almost 100 years until the 1980s, the factory produced bricks made out of clay dug up onsite in a huge pit in the middle of the city.

Today, the skeleton of the structure anchors the LEED Platinum facility and one of North America’s most vibrant meeting venues championing sustainability and urban renewal. In fact, in 2010, National Geographic named Evergreen one of the top 10 geotourism destinations in the world.

In 1991, Evergreen took over control of the site with a commitment to create an educational center and self-sustaining family attraction. The two main factory buildings have been left intact with their towering rusting beams and brick walls almost untouched. The east building is filled with brick kilns once used to fire the clay bricks, with railway tracks in the stone floor connecting them where workers once transported the material back and forth.

The site was derelict for years, and during that time, graffiti artists painted colorful murals across the kilns and walls for underground rave parties. The Kiln Room is now an art gallery housing permanent and revolving exhibits, such as a new show starting in May highlighting advances in transportation called MOVE: The Transportation Expo.

It’s also a party space for corporate and association groups up to about 500 in this room, although a buyout of the entire facility with full catering is possible for 2,200 pax. The edgy Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome appeal with the restored brick ovens and street art are excellent for networking, and staff is available to talk about the vast array of systems in place designed to showcase the latest advances in sustainability. I love the elevated shipping container room that can be used as a DJ booth, created by members of Discovery Channel’s Junk Raiders reality TV show.

Arlene Stein (left in plaid) in the Kiln Room
Arlene Stein (left in plaid) in the Kiln Room

I stopped in for one of the free weekend hour-long tours with Arlene Stein, program director. We started at a towering steel sculpture depicting the river system that carved out the ravine surrounding the facility.

“The dream has always been that we could create a sustainable operation through funds raised from tenants, corporate events, parking, donations and educational programs,” says Stein. “We have cooking classes, for example, for three different age groups including toddlers.”

“So, basically,” I ask, “this is an attraction for like-minded tourists, groups and families who want to learn more about sustainability but in a fun way.”

“Very much so,” says Stein, who describes the overarching concept as: “From pit to paradise.”

Next to the Kiln Room, there’s an outdoor skating rink. Little kids are falling on their backsides while their parents help them up and send them off with a push. The rink in winter can be reserved for groups, and Stein explains that the heat derived from cooling the ice rink is used to heat the adjacent Cafe Belong.

The glass-walled Cafe seats 100 comfortably with a design signaling the emerging farmhouse-chic trend. Naturally, the dishes served here such as prosciutto-wrapped venison and steelhead trout gnocchi are all sustainably sourced.

Outside, there’s also a large oven made out of hay and packed mud that planners can use for casual pizza parties. And consider dropping by on Saturdays for the year-round farmers’ market.

Cafe Belong
Cafe Belong

CENTRE FOR GREEN CITIES
Adjacent to the historic brick factories, the Centre for Green Cities is housed inside a wholly modern corrugated steel facility. Together these structures are why Evergreen is considered a world class triumph in the field of adaptive reuse architecture. The ground level includes a raw concrete space with nice light for cocktails receptions and small lectures. Upstairs there are two 30-pax meeting rooms and two 60-pax meeting rooms all with natural light.

Stein shows me the open-concept office for the 80 employees who work here. The unique windows consist of three operable smaller windows that can be opened in myriad different ways to create flow within the building. Stein says the facility manager emails the staff every morning about how the windows and shades should be oriented to maximize utilities efficiency.

“We run about 70 percent less energy than what a standard building this size runs,” says Stein.

Centre for Green Cities
Centre for Green Cities (center)

The structure is home to a variety of like-minded tenants including Outward Bound Canada. The adventure-themed life training company offers groups customized leadership and teamwork programs both offsite and at the ropes course located inside Brick Works.

It was surprisingly difficult to leave here. I spent some time in the garden store and had a long late brunch at Cafe Belong. I know I only tapped the surface of Brick Works, and I’m curious to learn more about the research and development. If you visit, drop us a line and let us know what you think.

Brick Works is located about 15 minutes from the downtown hotels. For more info, email events@evergreen.ca.

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