The Ontario government has temporarily stopped the demolition of buildings at the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company property in Toronto’s West Don Lands following an outcry from heritage and community advocates.
According to a statement issued by Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark Friday afternoon, the decision came after St. Lawrence Community Association sought a court injunction to halt the destruction of the buildings. A court hearing on the matter was scheduled for Wednesday.
“The Province has been clear that this provincially-owned property, which has been largely abandoned for over 40 years and requires demolition to allow for significant environmental remediation, will be revitalized to allow for the construction of new affordable housing, market housing and community space.”
Ontario NDP MPP Suze Morrison, who attended the site and stood at a vehicular entrance to the site, and Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam both criticized the Ford government’s decision to demolish the buildings. A crew showed up at the property, located at 153-185 Eastern Ave. between the Don River and Cherry Street, on Monday and began tearing into one of the buildings on the site.
“Call off your bulldozers and come to the table, Doug. The community has questions and they deserve answers. Heritage can be preserved in future development. The only thing lacking here is political will and vision,” Morrison tweeted Friday afternoon.
In a statement released Friday afternoon, Mayor John Tory thanked Clark for stopping the demolition for now. However, he said he wished the move “started in a more cooperative manner.”
“I remain hopeful that a path forward can be found that gets more affordable housing built and at the same time takes proper notice of community concerns such as heritage,” he wrote.
“Building affordable housing should be a priority of all governments right now and we should all be committed to doing it as quickly as possible, but we must also consult with local communities in a timely manner since any new development, good as it may be, will have an impact on existing communities.”
A Toronto police spokesperson said officers were called to the site at around 12:50 p.m. on Friday because people were blocking construction workers from accessing the site. However, no one was arrested or charged.
The demolition of the property began under the Ontario municipal affairs and housing minister’s zoning order (MZO) process under the province’s Planning Act, which involves a permit being issued by the minister that supersedes municipal planning and consultation processes. Three MZOs were issued in 2020.
A spokesperson for Clark previously said the MZOs are all for vacant, provincially owned properties and will “accelerate” the building of almost 1,000 new affordable housing units.
The provincial government has yet to release a specific plan and design for the site or a definitive breakdown of affordable and market housing units.
Under the Ontario government’s COVID-19 shutdown regulations, demolition is allowed to continue in accordance with public health regulations.
The company, which made railway equipment, first established operations on the property in 1914 and the buildings were built between 1917 and 1929, according to a City of Toronto report. City staff recommended adding the property to the municipal inventory of heritage properties, calling the buildings “architecturally significant as a good example of an industrial enclave in the area.”