Chair's message on preserving Toronto's heritage sites

The last few weeks have been a disturbing and troubling time for many involved in the protection of heritage sites in Toronto.

Two sites in particular stand out; the Dominion Foundry Buildings, located within the West Donlands and the First Parliament Site located at the intersection of Front Street East and Parliament Street.

At the Foundry site, the Province began a unilateral demolition to enable the construction of a high-rise residential development with affordable housing and at First Parliament, the Province indicated its intent to expropriate lands owned by the City to assist with the development of the new Ontario Line.

There are similarities to these properties and the actions being taken. The Province has ownership of all or part of these sites, both have been studied and researched for many years, both are of heritage significance, both have had industrial uses during their history, and although discussions had occurred with the community the current actions lacked consultation. As well, in both cases new, and exciting uses had already been identified by the City and the community for these sites.

The Province indicated that they needed to remove the Foundry Buildings because they were in poor condition and that the land was contaminated. There is no question that buildings deteriorate if not cared for and one wonders how the Province as owner and public trustee was looking after these buildings. Remediation of this former industrial site should not come as a surprise and does not necessarily require complete removal of existing buildings to accommodate.

Why is it when large infrastructure projects are envisioned, they always seem to have a negative impact on significant heritage sites? First Parliament is, as the name implies, the site of our first parliament buildings burned during the War of 1812, by the Americans. It has also been a site of human activity for at least 15,000 years. Numerous Indigenous communities have lived, fished, hunted, travelled, traded, and farmed on this land. It is an incredibly significant historical and archaeological site and deserves better then to be conscripted possibly for construction and staging and an access shaft for a rapid transit route.

One must ask why there is such a limited regard for our heritage sites? And most importantly, where is the will to consult with communities and develop creative projects that meet the progressive needs of society, but at the same time provide good places to live and add to our quality of life. There are excellent examples around the world and within the city of reuse projects that incorporate new development amongst heritage buildings – one close by is the Distillery District.

Much is underway by the City and by heritage and community groups to stop or put a hold on these projects to encourage consultation and alternative solutions. Currently, a court injunction has stayed the demolition of the Foundry buildings until late February. In the meantime, please make your opinions heard, write to your local councillor and MPP or sign the petition to stop the demolition of the Foundry Buildings.

Unfortunately, as a society we do not seem to learn from our previous mistakes with respect to heritage issues. Our solutions many times seem to focus on either/or scenarios verses a united approach. We are doomed to keep repeating this approach at the detriment of our heritage unless we can embrace the will to do it differently. The pandemic is helping us realize that we need to change the way we inhabit this earth. This is a good time to take stock and determine new approaches for a better integration of heritage buildings within new developments. It should not be a battle but a creative process that results in a better and more liveable city for us all.


A blue signature

Richard Moorhouse,
Chair, Heritage Toronto

February 4, 2021 (updated)

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