By Franca Leeson –
Much has happened since demolition equipment began to tear down heritage buildings on the Dominion Wheel and Foundries site on Eastern Avenue in January 2021. The community protested, we took them to court, demolition was stopped and an agreement reached by August 2021.
Today the heritage buildings still standing on the site are protected by a city by-law passed in July 2023, giving the site the heritage designation it should have had when the Ford government attempted to demolish it for a quick sale into private hands.
The province used a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) to bypass community consultation and municipal planning, giving a then-unnamed developer permission to drop three high-rise towers into the middle of a carefully planned midrise neighbourhood.
The Ford government insisted this emergency order and demolition was necessary to meet an urgent need to build affordable housing – the same argument it made for attempting to remove land from the Greenbelt and expand the boundaries of unwilling municipalities. They even put up a sign at the intersection of Rolling Mills and Palace Street that said so. Three years later, that sign is surrounded by parked cars, and is looking very tired. It stands in what is now a parking lot. Although the site was sold to Aspen Ridge Homes in March 2022, the developer will not break ground until 2025. Strangely, this is good news. The Foundry’s Canary District neighbourhood is already scrambling to provide infrastructure to existing residents.
For example, the nearest school is more than a kilometre away. Plans to build one have been delayed as Metrolinx – a provincial agency – temporarily appropriated the designated site at Bayview Avenue and Mill Street to support construction of the Ontario Line subway.
The nearest large grocery store is Rocco’s No Frills at Front and Princess Streets, but that building will be demolished to make way for a very large residential/commercial development. In Canary District, a mid-sized grocery store has leased a ground floor space, but its offerings will skew to higher-priced gourmet products.
This puts a lot of pressure on a neighbourhood whose parking and roadways were designed to discourage car use. Canary District currently has approximately 4,300 residents, while the Dominion Foundry development is expected to bring in 1,800 more. Other developments being built or planned in the area will bring the final population up to 11,000 or more, two-and-a-half times the number of current residents.
Developer Aspen Ridge has been building goodwill in the community by meeting with representatives, sharing plans and timelines, answering questions and listening to concerns. Updated designs have addressed some community members’ concerns.
In addition to the three towers, plans include public space at the site’s southwest corner to be landscaped and maintained by the property owners. Within the site the streetscape is designed to encourage pedestrian access and discourage unnecessary vehicular traffic.
The Machine Shop (the building on the east side of the site) is to be restored and updated, then handed over to the City of Toronto for use as a community space. What kind of programming will be there, and how it will be funded, remains to be seen.
The remaining heritage buildings — the west Machine Shop on Palace Street and the Cleaning Room at the intersection of Rolling Mills Road and Eastern Avenue — will be integrated into residential towers, which will have 1,038 units: 774 condominiums and 264 affordable rental apartments. The definition of “affordable”, and who will manage the property, are still undetermined.
The community remains cautiously optimistic. Aspen Ridge clearly wants to play nice, as do we. We all want a development that enhances rather than harms the neighbourhood. Let’s hope we can do this together.
Friends of the Foundry (https://www.friendsofthefoundry.com/) is a local advocate group that helped prevent the demolition of the heritage buildings, and is now helping with plans to redevelop the Dominion Wheel and Foundries site.