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.

Did we ever announce that the Ossington Visioning Study is more-or-less finalized? It seems to be: the community work group has all but tied a bow on this document, which is the one City Planning is accommodating in its Area Policy, and therefore seems to be the one with policy significance. Does this make it “finalized”? What exactly it is for something to be “finalized” is a fascinating metaphysical question, one we would be delighted to debate until the wee small hours.

If in the course of pondering this vital issue, you feel the need to come up for air, you can read this document: the “All-But-Finalized Ossington Visioning Study Planning Principles”. We think it is pretty sound and very valid. You should enjoy it.

The community spoke loud and clear, in the Visioning Process, the Petition, and in hundreds of communications to Ward 19 Councillor Mike Layton and City Planning (we just love you guys!): Keep Ossington Lowrise to preserve the cool character, stay compatible with the neighbourhood, avoid clogging our walkways and bikeways with traffic, and protect the good jobs at good wages in our light industrial buildings (click for the Community Visioning Study plan City Planning must take as input).

City Planning agreed … sorta. On their first draft of an Official Plan Amendment, Ossington stays lowrise … EXCEPT a carveout for King West North Area 2 (east side of Ossington, Bruce to Argyle) … coincidentally, the part real estate speculators want for midrise (click for the first draft Official Plan Amendment from City Planning—the Area 2 carveout is principle f(ii) on the sixth-to-last page).

Eh? Keep Ossington Lowrise = Keep Area 2 Lowrise: the carveout for real estate speculators is ridiculous not sound planning.

Make some noise. City Planning is taking input on their first draft through January 31.

We’ve made it easy for you to badger express your opinion to Ward 19 Councillor Mike Layton and City Planning, either by using our pre-filled text or with your own message. Keep Area 2 Lowrise, yo.

Two ways to insta-email Ward 19 Councillor Mike Layton and City Planning:

  1. click to go through your mailer
  2. cut-paste the following text into the comment form below:

    Dear Councillor Layton and City Planning,

    I write to oppose Planning’s draft Area 2 principles, applying to the east side of Ossington between Argyle and Bruce.

    The goals supporting the Area 1 principles applying to the rest of Ossington—preserving Ossington’s character and protecting its neighborhood communities—also apply to Area 2.

    Area 2 is at the centre of the Ossington Strip.  Replacing the nice brick buildings here with a block of midrises would undermine Ossington’s character and harm 50 residences on Givins, Argyle, and Bruce. The draft propposal violates sound planning principles putting higher buildings at the perimeter and not the core of a lowrise area.

    Area 2 contains valuable light industrial uses that provide good jobs at good wages for many in the community, add daytime life to the streets, and are a crucial part of Ossington’s character and history.

    Area 2 abuts an important pedestrian and bike corridor, for kids walking to Givins-Shaw elementary school and cyclists using the Argyle-Robinson Bikeway. Midrises in Area 2 will bring 100s of cars and trucks across the path of these travelers.

    Preserving Ossington doesn’t mean trading good jobs at good wages for condos, doesn’t mean trading in unique old buildings for generic big new buildings that dominate over the whole neighbourhood from its very centre, and doesn’t mean undermining the safety of kids and cyclists.

    We can triple density on Ossington within the lowrise limits. Put the community before real estate speculators: Keep Ossington Lowrise = Keep Area 2 Lowrise.

    Sincerely yours,