Few homes of our early settlers are left

Old Leaside house

Saving old Leaside

The news earlier this summer that Nick Kypreos’ house at 33 Heather Rd. was up for sale raised some excitement in Leaside. Can a house here really be worth almost $3.5 million?

The answer is: “We will have to wait and see.” But this is no ordinary house – that much is plain. It is an extraordinary house not only because of its healthy specifications, beginning with the size of the lot, 80 by 150 feet, but also for its unique origins and its story.

Only a few homes in Leaside remain from the settler farmstead era: the James Lea House (201 Sutherland), the John Edmund Lea House (33 Heather) and the Elgie Family House (262 Bessborough).

The first of the Lea family dynasty was John Lea, who in 1819 arrived from England by way of the United States. The Lea family, John, Mary, his wife, and William, his son, settled in York County because of its close proximity  to an expanding community (Toronto, then known as York) and because of the fertile land in the region.

Two more children, John and Mary, were born to the Leas after their arrival in Canada.

John Lea settled on a 200-acre farm, some of the land having been previously cleared but the majority of it heavily timbered. Cows were pastured and a dairy established, and in the succeeding years the remaining land was cleared for an apple orchard.

John Lea’s first house was made of logs, then replaced in 1829 by a brick house on the same site at Lea Dr. and Laird, which was reported to be the first brick house in York County. Much later, in about 1912, this house was destroyed by fire.

When John Lea died in 1851 he left his son John Jr. 110 acres of land, including the house, orchard and all of the out-buildings.

John Jr. married Sarah Charles and they had three children, Mary, James, and John Edmund. James Lea built his own brick house in 1909 on Lea’s Lane, a street which no longer exists. The house however remains as 201 Sutherland.

John Edmund Lea similarly built a house on Lea’s lane in 1902, now known as 33 Heather.

When the Town of Leaside was designed in 1912, little consideration was given to the old settlement roads, or the farmsteads, the original dwellings. The new organization left the John Edmund Lea House with its front door facing its back yard and the front door of the James Lea House faced the side of the house next to it.

Despite the disorientation to Sutherland Dr., the James Lea House’s exterior remains basically unchanged except for the addition of a porch and entranceway. The John Edmund Lea House was extensively renovated in 2004, including the addition of a new porch built facing Heather Rd.

The third surviving settler farmstead, the Elgie Family Home on Bessborough, is believed to have been built in the early 1880s for Robert Elgie, of the Elgie family, who were original settlers on the property located east and south of what today are Bayview and Eglinton Aves.

Robert Elgie inherited the property from his father, Thomas Elgie, who came from England in 1841, and who for several years after his arrival managed a hotel in the Toronto area before purchasing the 200-acre property. This house has been altered and substantially enlarged since that time, and in the 1990s the lot was split to allow a house to be built on the second lot to the north.

So  what is  the heritage status of the three homes? Can they be demolished and replaced with new homes?

All three are included on the City of Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties. While this does not by itself convey legal protection, in the event of an owner’s application for a demolition permit it provides for a 60- day delay during which the city can consider designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Much  of  the  information for this piece comes from Jane Pitfield’s Leaside.

About Geoff Kettel 194 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Residents Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), member of the Toronto Preservation Board and Past Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.