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Modern heritage is still heritage

Statement on Iran plane crash My thoughts are with our Persian-Canadian community who lost loved ones in the devastating plane crash last night. I know we have an incredibly tight-knit Persian community in Don Valley North who are feeling this tragedy deeply — I share your grief. The Iranian Women's Organization of Ontario will hold a vigil tomorrow at 7 PM at 1761 Sheppard Avenue East. Details here.



If you take a look at the boundaries of Don Valley North, you may notice something unique. At its core, it's made up of "Phase Two"s. By that, I mean the area east of Leslie Street extended out from Canada’s first planned community, Don Mills. And the area between Bayview Ave and Leslie St extended from the original village of Willowdale into a giant, modernized Willowdale "Phase Two". I think this is why we have a tendency to care deeply about what happens just beyond our borders. We care about plans for a Yonge Street transformation in Willowdale because we feel part of it in some way.

We took an interest in the Shops at Don Mills transformation even though it's south of the 401 and far from our subway corridor because it really is the area where our community originated. It's where farm houses began to disappear, making way for the post-war residential neighbourhood. Many people bought homes in the area to make the very short commute to IBM at the dawn of the technology boom. Mid-century heritage An item on North York Community Council this week considers a unique part of Don Mills heritage and it deserves our attention. Part of what made Don Mills so successful was its rich offering of employment for the post-industrial work force.

At the corner of Don Mills Rd and Eglinton Ave, a massive manufacturing plant sprouted during the 1950s, preparing to build the ill-fated Avro Arrow aircraft. Instead, it became Canada’s first IBM plant and employed many former Avro employees. Then, futuristic commercial buildings began to fill in the belt of land between IBM and the planned residential neighbourhood to the north. Bata Shoes, Grand & Toy, Wrigley's Gum, Foresters and other Canadian businesses competed to build the most state-of-the-art modern headquarters. Every top-flight business park also needs a hotel, so Isadore Sharp, founder of the Four Seasons Hotels, hired Peter Dickinson to build the grand Inn On The Park hotel and the Four Seasons headquarters on Leslie Street. At Council, we determined this is a valuable part of our North York mid-century heritage.

We voted to add eight buildings to the list of heritage properties and seven more should be listed but have been deferred to a later date. We need to list them as soon as possible — as Don Valley Northerners, we have learned the lesson of how brand new transit lines can radically change a neighbourhood. I don’t want to see the neighbourhood surrounding the Eglinton Crosstown stations at Don Mills and Leslie have to re-learn this lesson — the former IBM plant (now Celestica) is already being converted into a massive new high-rise community, similar in scope to the Canadian Tire lands. All of the employment opportunity and the architectural heritage nearby should be listed to ensure heritage is a required part of the planning conversation.

Look around Listing a property in the heritage register doesn’t lock it down forever — full designation of heritage status does that. With listing, any development application will kick-start a heritage report and consideration of what can be done to preserve or honour what is on site. As growth pressure continues, and with provincial planning regulations changed to encourage even more than we bargained for, I think it's crucial we consider our suburban history and look around us to see what needs to be preserved. In the heritage area discussed above, we’ve already seen the carving up of the Inn on The Park. The swanky dining room where my Sixties family enjoyed Mother’s Day brunch is now a car dealership.

The distinctive Bata Shoe building is gone, making way for the Aga Khan Museum — listing it as heritage would have slowed down the planning conversation just long enough to consider an offer the City had to dismantle and relocate that small architectural treasure. With that in mind, I’d love to know your thoughts on the treasures in our midst here in Don Valley North. What do you think should be preserved in honour of our suburban heritage?


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