Fantastic story on the area in NYT Home and Garden section, in Julie Lasky’s ‘Four Square Blocks’ series, ‘Between a loft and a hard place’. Some highlights”

First came the manor houses, then the mental hospital, then the stockyards. By the end of the 19th century, the part of Toronto known today as Queen West had had more reversals of fortune than an entire season of “Dallas” (the original or the new version).

That was before industry and immigration billowed in the 20th century, before this neighborhood west of downtown grew seedy and unpredictable, before a gangland double murder was committed in a karaoke bar in 2003.

And long before the poles reversed again, and Queen West became one of the most appealing places in Toronto. […]

Despite these cliches of gentrification, the neighborhood is like no other. It has charming exaggerations: a retired Victorian fire station (now a drug treatment facility) with a tower like a pilgrim hat […]

“This is probably the most fertile creative area in the city right now,” […]

It is also one of the oldest. In the late 18th century, Queen Street was known as Lot Street, after the narrow 99-acre parcels that John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, bestowed on his military confederates as a way to create a loyal landed aristocracy.

By 1818 a manor house called Brookfield, the estate of the Denison family, stood at the northwest corner of present-day Queen and Ossington, where the Canadian film director Atom Egoyan opened Camera, a screening room and bar, 186 years later. Directly south, the Provincial Lunatic Asylum was opened in 1850 on the current site of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health.

As lot owners sold off their lands, and the area became populated and industrialized, the parcels crumbled into small blocks with little coherence. They are “helter skelter,” said Benj Hellie, the spokesman for the Ossington Community Association, which has pushed to have the neighborhood declared a heritage conservation district. In his proposal, Mr. Hellie, who is also a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, described cattle being driven from Ossington along tiny Bruce Street in the 19th century on their way to the slaughterhouse.

The application for heritage status was recently turned down, Mr. Hellie said, on the grounds that the district was “not sufficiently intact.” In some ways, his proposal can be read as a memorial to the many neighborhood buildings that have been demolished and the historical layers buried. The oldest existing structures he identified on Ossington appear to date from no earlier than 1871. One is a modest shingled house at No. 91, now home of Crywolf.

Still, the neighborhood throbs with historical echoes. Not two blocks north of Bruce Street, where cattle marched to their doom, is Côte de Boeuf, a butcher that provides meat to Union restaurant, a sister business at 72 Ossington. The Candy Factory Lofts, on the south side of Queen, east of Shaw, is a relic of local industry, as is the 1970s former textile factory that houses the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, or Mocca, diagonally northwest.

The OCA has submitted a Heritage Conservation District nomination form for the proposed Ossington Strip district. HCD status is the ultimate in preservation, enjoyed by Queen West (University to Bathurst) and Yorkville as well as a number of neighbourhoods (including Harbord Village, Riverdale, and, who would have anticipated, Rosedale). We believe that Ossington is truly one of the most wonderfully distinctive places in Toronto, and that people know this, which is why it is such a great success as a destination district.

To do the nomination, we wrote up a detailed history of the the area; after that exercise we are even more convinced of the incredibly cool weirdness of our area. (Did you know that this was a meatpacking district until around 1900, with cattle turning left off Ossington onto Bruce, and that the Levack Block was built by a major family in the meat trade, who lived up the street from their stockyard on Givins and eventually built what is now the Maynard Nursing Home as their mansion, on the site of the 1804 house Pine Grove of the Givins family, which in 1884 was celebrated as the oldest house in Toronto, was looted by America in the War of 1812, and …)

The history is pasted in below the fold. Read More