Former Toronto Hydro building becomes refugee shelter, thanks to Iranian-Canadian immigrants


The first and only city-run refugee shelter in Toronto successfully opened its doors Tuesday, with about 20 refugees climbing off a bus and dropping their heavy luggage in their new temporary space — all thanks to Iranian-Canadian immigrants who dished out millions to purchase the former Toronto Hydro building for the cause.

“We wanted to give back to the community because we, as immigrants ourselves, we know the struggles they have when they come to a new country,” said Hamid Ghadaki.

Hamid and his first cousin, Hessam Ghadaki, are part of four families who escaped war-torn Iran in the 1980s and founded the development company, Times Group Corporation, in Canada.

“I was in Grade 3 when I was in Iran and there was a war going on at the time, so I missed most of Grade 3 because schools were closed and then I was put into the Canadian system here,” said Hamid.

“It was difficult for me in a way. I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know anyone at the school, so coming to a new country can be difficult.”

A couple of decades and many development projects later, the group purchased an 80,000-square-foot former Toronto Hydro building on Yonge Street, north of Finch Avenue, for $122.5 million in early 2018.

Members of the family-run company contemplated what to do with the massive space until they saw a sign — literally.

“It was a couple of months later we saw a notice from the city that they were looking for shelter space to house refugees and newcomers, so we jumped at that,” said Hessam.

“This building would be perfectly retrofitted for that use.”

The cousins said city staff then had a walk-through of the space before signing the deal with Times Group Corporation.

“It just seemed to be the perfect match for us, having a facility that met the specifications that the city was looking for in terms of size, proximity to transit and overall layout,” said Hessam.