Historic Toronto foundry site to be partially saved under new agreement

A historic Toronto property the Ontario government was seeking to demolish to make way for a housing development will be partially saved under an agreement reached between the City of Toronto and the province. 

The Dominion Wheel and Foundries Ltd. Manufacturing Complex, located at 153 to 185 Eastern Ave., was at the centre of a fight between the province, local community groups and the city. One residents’ group involved in the fight says it is “completely happy” with the new plans, as the two buildings it sought to save are being retained.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done but we’re in this for the long run. We’re just really happy we’re able to start working together on it,” said Franca Leeson, co-founder of Friends of the Foundry

The century-old buildings sit on a provincially-owned parcel of land that is being sold to an undisclosed buyer and redeveloped as a mixed-use housing development.

Demolition began in January but was halted after residents won a temporary court injunction. A hearing on the matter was later postponed to allow consultations between the province, the City of Toronto and the local community.

On Friday, the City of Toronto released a statement saying it had reached an “agreement in principle” with the province on the fate of the site after the completion of a cultural heritage evaluation and heritage impact assessment.

A rendering of the Dominion Foundry site in Toronto released in February by the Friends of Foundry group. (Friends of the Foundry)

The reports recommended the retention of some features of the site and the demolition of others.

Under the agreement, based on recommendations by Core Architects, the complex’s Cleaning Room and the two Machine Shops buildings will be preserved, while the Warehouse and Office buildings will be demolished. The two-storey high brick wall along Palace Street will also be retained.

The demolitions were necessary “due to programme requirements, the site conditions, and heritage related constructability issues,” the report said. 

Residents ‘completely happy’ with decision

Leeson said “the buildings the community cares most about” are the Cleaning Room and the two Machine Shops buildings.

“They’re keeping enough of [the site] that we’re completely happy,” she said. 

“What we really wanted was to retain those big gorgeous windows in the Machine Shops and the overall character of the site, and this does that.”

Friends of the Foundry, together with several architects, urban designers, and affordable housing experts, released a design proposal for the site in February that they said would create hundreds of residential units, community space, and retail, all while preserving the site’s most important historic buildings.

The site made headlines when local community groups came out against the province’s plans to demolish it to make way for an affordable housing project. (Submitted by Evan Madill)

Leeson said the group was consulted as members of the Ontario public on the reports. They were told of the outcome on Friday, shortly before the agreement was made public.

She said the developed site could be a “real focus and real heart of this neighbourhood.”

“It’s not Buckingham Palace, we know that. We were in favour of adaptive reuse with proper interpretation of the heritage value of the site and that’s exactly the direction they’ve gone,” Leeson said.

The city’s statement also said that any future owner of the site would have to enter into a Heritage Easement Agreement, which would identify “elements of the buildings that must be retained and what changes and types of development may be allowed.”

“The province has committed to conserving the cultural heritage value of the property, while also providing for affordable housing,” the statement said.

The cultural heritage evaluation report, conducted by Stevens Burgess Architects, said the portion of Eastern Avenue where the Foundries is located is “one of the few streets remaining from the early nineteenth century.”

“The complex is one [of] the only remaining, albeit incomplete, examples of of an industrial complex borne of a period of railway expansion within the newly developed precinct: the West Don Lands. The property yields an understanding about the area as an industrial centre and the theme of railway expansion during the first half of the 20th century,” the report said. 

“The property is a landmark within the West Don Lands community and the four buildings support a key linkage to the area’s industrial past.”

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