Josh Matlow October 1st, 2015

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Protecting a view to the past at De La Salle College

Josh_Matlow_column‘Real Heritage Honours the Past but Embraces the Future’

These words are prominently displayed on a banner that De La Salle College recently attached to its fence.

I couldn’t agree more with this statement.

This beloved historic property flanking the east side of Avenue Road between Farnham and Oaklands represents an important piece of Toronto’s social and architectural past. Senator John Macdonald, the entrepreneur, politician and philanthropist, commissioned the stunning “Oaklands” mansion for which the location is best known and named his property after the many oak trees that lined his land.

That’s why it is so deeply disappointing to be fighting a current development application that proposes to obscure, dishonour and dismantle the already provincially recognized cultural and architectural heritage elements located on this site and remove a significant number of the mature trees.

A developer plans to build 28 townhouses at the southwest corner of the De La Salle College property — 13 fronting Avenue Road and 15 fronting Oaklands Avenue. In order to do so, they have applied to demolish the historic Gatekeeper’s House at this corner, relocate the heritage-designated iron and stone Oaklands Gates to the north end of the property and clear-cut 40 of the existing 69 mature trees flanking Oaklands Avenue.

I have made it clear to the applicant from the outset that I cannot support this proposal in its current form.

I’ve heard from many of my constituents and even residents beyond my ward that they share my opposition. Repeated attempts by myself and residents to share concerned feedback with the school and the applicant (in hopes of arriving at a revised proposal that everyone can live with) have, unfortunately, been ignored.

Recently, the applicant chose instead to appeal their original proposal directly to the Ontario Municipal Board. This is a move they chose to make before city staff even had a chance to complete their review of the heritage impact assessment, as well as the tree removal and replacement plan.

Fortunately, the city’s Heritage Preservation Services department recently completed a study I requested several years ago, identifying the need for additional protective measures at this site under the Ontario Heritage Act. These new protections include the Gatekeeper’s House and the importance of one of the last remaining, unfettered views of the old Lake Iroquois shoreline, atop which sits the heritage-protected “Oaklands” mansion.

I am happy to report that the Heritage Preservation Services’ recommendations I requested were successfully moved at city council on Sept. 30. They will serve as an important component of our ongoing efforts to protect a remarkable example of Toronto’s built heritage.

We must take action to preserve each piece of the unique, fragile urban ecosystem that contributes so greatly to Toronto’s uniqueness, beauty and livability.

We’ve lost too much already.