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History of the Weston Conservation District

The idea of creating a Heritage Conservation District in Weston began in 2004 after residents won the fight to save 18 Fern Avenue, the former Gardhouse residence, at the Ontario Municipal Board. The Weston Historical Society organized a meeting with a small group of interested people, including Toronto’s Heritage Preservation Services representative Brian Gallagher.

After lengthy consultations with representatives from the City and other Conservation Districts, we called a neighbourhood meeting to gauge the community’s interest. The largest turnout that Preservation Services had ever seen supported the idea. Councillor, Frances Nunziata went to Community Council to request that a by-law be passed to authorize the study of Weston as a potential Heritage Conservation District.


Due to the large number of homes in the area, the study was divided into three phases to make it more manageable. Realizing how much work was involved we created a new entity, separate from the Weston Historical Society to administer the study. We formed a Board, drew up bylaws and started researching the homes in Phase1.

 

Phase 1

Recognizing that we would require a heritage planner for the Phase 1 study, we sent out requests for Proposals. After a number of interviews, we selected Bob Martindale of Martindale Planning as our consultant. By the fall of 2006 the research was complete, Phase 1 had been photographed, and the consultant was ready to deliver the first draft of his report to the Board. After modifications, we presented the report to the community. The response was overwhelmingly positive.


City Council passed a by-law on September 27, 2006, officially designating Phase 1 as a Heritage Conservation District. An appeal against the by-law was settled in April 2007 and on August 20 of that year the Ontario Municipal Board approved the Weston Heritage Conservation District Plan. Our dream had finally taken root.

Phases 2 and 3

Just as the WHCD Board was applying the finishing touches to Phase 1, a crisis flared in the proposed Phase 3 study area. In April 2007, neighbours reported that the former Sainsbury residence at 96 Queen’s Drive was under serious threat from a developer who wanted to demolish the heritage bungalow and replace it with two large, modern houses. In the months that followed, the community succeeded in persuading the Committee of Adjustment to deny the builder’s severance and variance requests, however the Ontario Municipal Board granted the developer’s appeal on January 17, 2008. In her decision, the OMB Chair wrote “The Board appreciates the residents’ concern for their community’s heritage and its built environment. The facts, however, are that the subject property is not in an approved Heritage District, nor is it listed or designated. There is, therefore, no legal argument to prevent the demolition of the existing building.” Her message was a clarion call to the community.


Immediately following the adverse decision, the WHCD Board voted to more than double the boundaries of Phase 2 Study area in order to bring properties like 96 Queen’s Drive under its protective umbrella.

Follow this link to a map of the Weston Heritage Conservation District showing the revised Phase 2 and 3 study areas.

Phase 2 is off to a promising start. We launched the new study on April 26, 2008. Shortly after that, on May 27, the community elected a new slate of officers to the Board of Directors. We have formed committees to administer projects such as the creation of this website, and to photograph buildings and streetscapes in Phase 2. A wealth of volunteers from the neighbourhood has stepped forward to assist.

As soon as the Phase 2 study is complete and that area is designated, we will turn our attention to Phase 3.

With a new Board of Officers in place we set to work on the expanded area of Phase II.

One of the first things we did was to create a new website. This allowed people to learn about HCDs and what we were trying to accomplish. It also enabled anyone in the community to sign up as a member to receive updates and emails from us. This website received a nomination for best website in 2009 of the year from Heritage Toronto.

On the administrative side we bought insurance and applied for and received a $49,000 Trillium grant. This was a totally new endeavour for us as we had never received a grant before. It stipulated that we had to raise $1000 of our own each year. So we began, what is now an annual event, the Weston Neighbours Night Out BBQ. This was an event that everyone in the neighbourhood was invited to and was held in the local park. We sponsored it and set up a display to inform people about the WHCD and its implications. This event would grow to be one of the largest in the city and be a major fundraiser for us.

We also participated in the annual Queens Drive Garage Sale, every year. We set up tables at a house that was on Queens Drive and set up a display about the WHCD. Proceeds from this easily covered the $1000 per year required by Trillium.

We organized Halloween parties, although the second one had to be cancelled due to lack of ticket sales. We created and sold a calendar which included scenes and houses from Phase I. Local businesses advertised in the calendar to help us out.

Another fundraiser was a poster that showed off the beautiful architecture of Weston. Numerous volunteers took pictures of the many homes and another volunteer did the graphic design. Sorting through 2500 photographs to narrow them down to thirty was no easy task!

The last item that we would sell was the 1878 map of Weston from the Illustrated Atlas of York. A beat up copy of this antique was rescued from the garbage at the Toronto Archives and copies were made in order to sell them. This can still be bought today. This was especially nice as it still had the original colouring of the 1878 version rather than the black and white look of the republished 1830s.

Eventually we raised $35,000.

We met as a Board about every two weeks except in the summer time. Keeping it reasonably formal we had an agenda with minutes and reports received on an ongoing basis. Our AGMs always had a guest speaker and everyone in all of Weston, north of Lawrence Avenue West was invited. We tried to be as open and transparent as possible with newspaper articles, displays and answering any questions that people requested. We also advocated for neighbours that were having problems with unsympathetic development that threatened their property, by writing letters of opposition and appearing at the Committee of Adjustment.

The research on Phase II was not getting done and so a personnel switch took place. The President stepped down to take over the organization and monitoring of the research and a director became the President. The focus for the next year was to get the research done so we could hire our heritage consultant again.

Trillium wanted them hired right away since the money for the grant was meant to be used for that but the consultant felt we did not have enough research done.

By this stage we were a lot more computer savvy. We were now able to photograph the assessment rolls and send them out to volunteers who would then transcribe them onto Excel spreadsheets, one page at a time. No need for the volunteers to go down to the Toronto Archives. All the assessment records, at five year intervals, from 1881 to 1967, for all the houses in Phase II were transcribed. Directories from 1966 to 1985 were copied. We also collected plans surveys and other information we could find.

About this time Toronto Preservation Services (TPS) was changing their process for creating Conservation Districts. They needed to make the system stronger and the final products more consistent. They created Heritage Conservation Districts in Toronto, Procedures, Policies and Terms of Reference which included the Built Form and Landscape Survey Form, that everyone had to follow. This tripled the amount of research work that would have to be done but it was decided that we would continue the research while TPS worked on other areas of the city. By the time we were done it would be our turn next.

We created an online form that matched the paper copy of the Built Form and Landscape Survey Form. Homeowners and researchers could now enter their own information right onto the computer if they wanted to.

We reconnected with TPS and found that things had changed even more. There were all new people at Toronto Preservation Services who had never heard of Weston, they had no idea we were working on Phase II and they had a priority list of areas that we were not on. On top of that the city now paid for and ran the creation of the Districts all by itself, without volunteer help. We had 49,000 from Trillium that was no longer needed. We had numerous meetings with TPS and it was suggested that while we waited our turn we could hire a consultant to do a study of the Weston Phase II area. It was also noted that the City was still going by the old boundary of Phase II and needed to update their information with the expanded boundary.

So this time we hired ARA Consultants. They brought in a couple of bus loads of students to help and they created the WHCD Study Research – Phase II Report.

In the meantime we kept in touch with TPS trying to get them to work on our area but for the most part we played a waiting game with the City. During this time we met less often but still advocated for local homeowners, with newspaper articles and went to the Committee of Adjustment and the OMB when necessary. We spoke to the Planning and Growth Management Committee in the hopes of getting higher on the priority list. Our councilor, Frances Nunziata, put a motion forward for Preservation Services to include the expanded area in the study when it happened.

Once again our councilor passed a motion that included how long an area has been on the waiting list as part of the criteria for picking the next HCD and since we had been waiting for 10 years that shot us to the top.

Good news came our way in 2018 when we heard that a study to do Phase II had been put in the budget. Finally in 2019 we were notified that TPS was ready to start on our area. They came to a meeting up in Weston at the Weston Historical Society and showed us a rough outline of how the study would proceed. Unfortunately they also showed us that they would be going by the original boundary of Phase II and so excluding many wonderful homes and streetscapes in the extra area. It also meant that many people who had helped out over the years were now not included in th
e Phase II study.

As of this writing we have not been able to convince the City to change their mind and so the study is proceeding using the original boundaries of Phase II.

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