In the late 19th century, before Leaside was even a town, it was a collection of farmers’ fields. The Elgies, who owned a farmstead that included a red brick house now at 262 Bessborough Dr.[/url], were one of the area’s more prominent families.
Likely built in the 1840s, the Elgie house remains standing to this day, though it might be shuffled around soon if developer Renaissance Fine Homes has its way.
Renaissance, which purchased the house last year, plans to demolish a pair of wings added by its previous owners in 1971 and 1990, move the remaining building forward, divide the current lot into three, and build new houses on the two additional lots.
The company has presented its plan twice to the public: once at a meeting on Feb. 27, and once for the Leaside Property Owners’ Association on March 5.
Susan Gordon, who lives on nearby Parkhurst Boulevard, says that everyone who came to the Feb. 27 meeting was outraged.
“I think the idea of subdividing properties is a terrible precedent for our community,” she says. “What’s next? Anything over this much width, we’re going to tear down and squeeze in two houses just so a developer can make more money?”
Geoff Kettel, chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel and vice president of the Leaside Property Owners’ Association, says that moving the house would change the landscape considerably.
“There are two types of heritage values on this property,” Kettel says. “One is the house itself, which is an example of a late 1880s farmhouse, and second is the landscaping, which is the original landscaping of a wealthy family’s country home.”
The Elgie house is currently listed in the City of Toronto’s inventory of heritage properties. However, simply listing a property does not grant it legal protection from demolition under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Even if the city designates the house as historically significant, which would prevent it from being torn down, parts of it may not be protected.
Kettel says the city is currently evaluating the property and will likely present its decision in May.
ERA Architects’ Andrew Pruss, whom Renaissance hired to design the property’s new houses, says the original Elgie estate was a 80-hectare farm, and that none of the original property remains except for an adjacent park, which will be untouched.
“The additions on the house are from 1971 and 1990,” Pruss says. “While interesting and obviously very useful for the owners, they weren’t very sensitive to the original heritage house itself.
“The 1971 addition extended the building to the south, and it’s hard to distinguish between the farmhouse and the addition. It makes it seem like the two are one larger creation, and from a heritage perspective, that’s not really an ideal situation.”
Pruss says he designed the new houses to complement existing properties in the area, including the Elgie house.
“The house to the south is going to have a front porch similar to the heritage house,” he says. “The house to the north would have a gable like the heritage house.”
Matt Garnet, Renaissance’s vice-president of development, says that other developers were only willing to buy the Elgie house if they could obtain a demolition permit for the entire building, while he believes the original house should be preserved.
“I’m retaining the central portion,” Garnet says. “I’m physically lifting the house into the air and putting it onto a new foundation to make it sturdier — and I’m going to great expense to do so.”
Garnet, who is conducting his own historical impact assessment of the area, believes that while preservation-minded residents understand the value of his proposed restoration of the Elgie house, others don’t care about the heritage aspect and simply don’t want the density.
“There will always be those people, regardless of whether it’s me or another developer.”
Parkhurst resident Gordon says the Elgie house, with its sea of green space, was one of the main reasons she and her neighbours purchased their homes. Under Renaissance’s plan, she’ll be facing a brick wall instead of trees.
“Judging from the drawings they showed us, the centre house will not be recognizable in any way as what it was,” she says. “Do I even want to live here anymore, if I’m going to be looking at a brick wall one foot from my fence?”
She believes Renaissance’s plan fails to preserve history as well.
“The front, the portion that looks anything like the house, is going to be set to the side, facing one of the other houses,” she says. “It doesn’t look very sincere to me.”
Gordon recently delivered a notice to other neighbourhood residents, urging them to contact Ward 26 councillor John Parker and encourage him to stop the development.
So far, she says, Parker has been disappointingly noncommittal.
“It’s our 100 year anniversary, and this is the oldest house in Leaside,” she says. “It seems kind of a shame that under those circumstances, this is what’s happening.”
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