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Despite outcry from residents and city, province starts demolition at Eastern Ave. heritage site
Jan. 19, 2021
Patty Winsa

A company has begun demolition of the provincially-owned Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company site on Eastern Avenue in Toronto despite a request by city officials to delay and consider protecting the historic site.

“Without even a development application, we have a provincial government, under a global pandemic, rushing to demolish these buildings over the widespread protest and dissent of the community,” said Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose Ward 13 includes the West Don Lands heritage site, on Monday. “We’re really desperate to have a clear understanding of what it is the province believes they’re doing.”

By Monday evening, workers had demolished a part of a building.

The property at 153-185 Eastern Ave. includes four buildings used by the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company to produce railway equipment. Wong-Tam said the buildings, constructed between 1917 and 1929, represent the “largest concentration of heritage assets in the West Don Lands.”

In October, the province issued a minister’s zoning order for the site, which is listed on the city’s heritage inventory. The order allows the government to bypass municipal planning regulations and public input, which is integral to the city’s planning process but not required under minister’s zoning orders.

The minister’s zoning order permits three buildings, the tallest up to 143 metres, said Wong-Tam, but there were no other details or development plans.

Local residents and city officials had no idea the province was moving ahead with plans to develop the land until four days ago, when residents first saw workers on the site, followed by construction equipment.

The province said the demolition of the existing buildings is to make way for affordable housing.

“The government is committed to building significant new affordable housing and new community space to Toronto’s West Don Lands, by leveraging vacant provincial properties,” said Stephanie Bellotto, spokesperson for Steve Clark, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, in an email.

“The province has received all necessary permits and conducted all required studies to conduct this work,” she said, adding that “Infrastructure Ontario solicited bids and awarded the contract through a competitive process.”

On Saturday, Toronto’s chief planner, Gregg Lintern, wrote a letter to the province asking them to confirm that they had followed provincial regulations by undertaking a Heritage Impact Assessment on the demolition.

Lintern wrote that given the inclusion of the property on the city’s heritage register, “the City of Toronto is of the view that conservation of the property’s heritage attributes in the context of the site’s redevelopment should be fully considered prior to any demolition taking place, and we respectfully ask the Minister of Infrastructure to demonstrate how these heritage buildings on this property are being protected through their disposal.”

On Monday, Wong-Tam said “the province has not adequately responded to my communication or with the communication from the chief planner.”

Suzanne Kavanagh sits on the West Don Lands Committee, which has worked with numerous other developers to build affordable housing on city-owned land in the area.

Kavanagh said the committee reached out to Infrastructure Ontario, which manages the site, after it received the minister’s zoning order in October, but never received a response.

“Since when is heritage and affordable housing mutually exclusive?” asked Kavanagh. “We could have come up with a plan to put in that affordable housing on that location. And retain the heritage. And embrace it.”