Province pauses demolition of heritage buildings in West Don Lands after blowback from city, residents

·3 min read

The provincial government has put a pause on the demolition of heritage buildings in the West Don Lands downtown until Wednesday after major backlash from city officials and residents.

Community members and city councillors demanded the demolition plans be halted in an effort to preserve the structures when construction crews arrived on site Monday and started to tear them down. The St. Lawrence Community Association applied for a court injunction Thursday to temporarily stop the demolition with the city listed as an interested party.

Ontario's Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said Friday the province has made the decision to pause as a "good faith measure."

"This morning, the province received the decision concerning the request of the St. Lawrence Community Association seeking an interim interlocutory injunction to stay demolition and environment remediation activities at the government-owned land at 153 to 185 Eastern Ave.," Clark said in a statement.

"Although an injunction was not ordered, as a good faith measure towards the City of Toronto, I have called Mayor John Tory to advise that the province will pause [plans] until next Wednesday Jan. 27."

The Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company site, a provincially owned property, is subject to a Ontario ministerial zoning order issued in October.

The order, one of three for the West Don Lands, paves the way for housing construction and allows the province to bypass municipal planning processes, including public consultations.

The four buildings on the site were constructed between 1917 and 1929 and were added to the City of Toronto's heritage register in 2004.

Tory thanks province for pausing demolition

Toronto Mayor John Tory welcomed the province's move.

"Although I wish this situation had started in a more cooperative manner, I want to thank the Minister for acknowledging that there are concerns raised by the City, the community, the local councillor and myself which require discussion, and thank the Minister as well for agreeing to an immediate five-day pause," Tory said in a statement Friday.

Tory said city staff met with provincial officials Friday morning to try to resolve the situation and will hold further discussions over the coming days. He said the issue will also be coming to city council at the end of January.

"I remain hopeful that a path forward can be found that gets more affordable housing built and at the same time takes proper notice of community concerns such as heritage," Tory said.

Grant Linton/CBC
Grant Linton/CBC

When word spread last week that the demolition was about to begin, prompting community leaders and politicians to speak out against the plan, the province told CBC Toronto it was within its authority to make the move.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents Ward 13, Toronto Centre, is one of the critics of the demolition and called the province's plans "outrageous" and an "act of vandalism."

Wong-Tam says while she and others are "pleased" to read Clark's statement, she continues to call on the province to stop the project.

"This province's action of reckless demolition was carried without consultation and without adherence to their own heritage policies," Wong-Tam said in a statement Friday following the announcement.

"A temporary pause does not reverse the already extensive damage of the accelerated demolition we have witnessed over the last few days during a global pandemic or restore the community's faith," she said.

Wong-Tam says the province could show a "real act of good faith" by halting all further demolition and consulting with the city and the community.

The ministry insists "heritage elements" will inform the design of any new buildings on the site.

"The province has been clear that this provincially-owned property – which has been largely abandoned for over 40 years and requires demolition to allow for significant environmental remediation – will be revitalized to allow for the construction of new affordable housing, market housing, and community space," Clark said.

In his statement, Clark says that the ministry has provided documentation prior to the initiation of the injunction, including a Heritage Impact Assessment and Cultural Heritage Documentation Report.