Community forged at the Foundry

Franca Leeson –

In the 1920s, the Dominion Wheel & Foundry forged railway equipment and
printing presses. In the 2020s, it forges community activism and engagement

The newest chapter in the story of the historic foundry on Old Eastern Avenue began in Sep­tember 2020 when its owners, the Province of Ontario, made a deal to sell the Dominion Foundry site. One month later, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clarke issued a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) – bypassing municipal planning, a previous heritage designation and community consultation – to give an unnamed devel­oper permission to build three high-rise towers in the mid-rise neighbourhood.

The community immediately wrote protest emails and let­ters to the minister and Premier Doug Ford. If any of these pro­tests were read, there was no sign of it; instead, the province rolled onto the site in January 2021 and began to demolish the heritage buildings.

This galvanized the commu­nity even more. Residents post­ed videos, photos and messages on social media, causing neigh­bours to pour into the street and loudly voice their objections to a crew of bewildered demolition workers.

By the end of the first day, news crews and reporters were on site, as were two MPPs, a city councillor and even more people from neighbouring com­munities.

Over the next few months, through protests, petitions, me­dia interviews, press releases and court action, this previously unorganized community suc­ceeded in stopping the demoli­tion. Three of the five buildings on the site were saved, and the province agreed to require the still-unnamed purchaser to pre­serve the remaining heritage as­sets.

There was magic in the fight. Saving the Foundry became the catalyst for something more sig­nificant than stopping one dem­olition — it brought about the birth of a new community. Out of the cold fires of the foundry furnaces emerged a nucleus of activists, organizing and ani­mating local residents and busi­nesses. Ultimately, they formed the Canary District Neighbour­hood Association (CDNA).

The CDNA began meeting in October 2023. Since then, they have been negotiating with the developer (now named: Aspen Ridge) as well as city represent­atives to influence the project details, including landscaping, public walkways, sightlines, accessibility, safety and the pro­posed community space that is to be handed over to the City of Toronto.

The Canary District’s cur­rent population is set to double by 2029, thanks to the Found­ry development and other pro­jects still pending. The CDNA advocates for improved infra­structure — schools, daycares, community space, affordable food — to accommodate the thousands of new neighbours who will arrive between now and then.

In late May, the Canary Dis­trict Neighbourhood Associa­tion celebrated its founding on the patio of The Aviary, a pop­ular local restaurant. Among the 150 or so guests were the To­ronto Centre MP Marci Ien, the Minister for Women and Gen­der Equality and Youth; MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam; and Ward 13 Councillor Chris Moise. The happy crowd spilled out onto the broad boulevard outside the restaurant to play games and (in the case of the youngest party­goers) make crafts, draw chalk art, and bust piñatas.

In this way and others, the group hopes to bring people to­gether and help them become more engaged in community life.

Franca Leeson is a represent­ative of the Canary District Neighbourhood Association. If you’d like to know more, visit https://www.cdna.to

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