One of few fights to stop a teardown

45 Sharron
George Wilkinson, longest serving politician in Leaside, lived in the this house at 45 Sharron Dr.

We often hear nowadays, “Oh it’s a teardown.” How did this happen? Is there anything we can do about it?

Every two weeks the city’s Committee of Adjustment reviews applications for so called minor variances, many of which involve demolition and reconstruction of a larger house.

The committee is all about metrics – allowable deviations (from the zoning bylaw) in the dimensions of the house, such as setbacks, sideyards and volume (massing).

The committee does not rule on design, architecture, materials, or aesthetics. Nor does it take into consideration the history, the people or the events associated with the house.

Assuming the house is not on a heritage list (and very few are) these matters are left to the neighbours to raise, if they are sufficiently concerned, and if they are available to attend a day time meeting at North York Civic Centre.

The North York committee is the busiest in the city and in each meeting there are two, three or four applications involving the Leaside area.

45 Sharron Dr, was one such application for minor variances that appeared on a Committee of Adjustment agenda recently.

Some of the neighbours were concerned about the size of the variances, while others accepted that change was inevitable.

But few knew that the house was significant for its association with the longest serving politician in the Town of Leaside, and also for its architectural interest.

It stands at a prime landmark location at the corner of McRae and Sharron (formerly Clowes), on a sight line view from Laird and McRae.  It is representative of the first phase of house building in the new Town of Leaside.

It was built in 1919 or earlier, the first home built in the McRae/Clowes area. We know this because the Nov. 11, 1919 minutes of town council record that “Mr. Wilkinson will be allowed the sum of $75 towards the expense of diverting electric light wires and poles to his house (1 Clowes).

George Wilkinson, the owner, was station agent for the Parkdale station of the Canadian Pacific Railway and his wife was the postmistress and worked at the first post office at Perrem and Knight’s general store at 322 Sutherland Dr.

They raised three children and lived there till about 1950.  George Wilkinson was elected to the Town of Leaside council in 1917 and continued to 1930 (except 1921) and was elected mayor from 1931 to 1935, a total of 22 years of service.

Canada Wire and Cable built 60 houses for its workers in the 1920s, including the distinctive set of row houses at Randolph and Kenrae.  The location of 45 Sharron (within sight of the new Canada Wire and Cable plant at Laird) and its age suggests that it may have been built by Canada Wire for an executive or manager.

In addition to the house’s style (elements of Colonial Revival, with aspects of Dutch Colonial Revival (gambrel roof) and Georgian Revival (sash windows, louvred shutters) it is distinctive and unusual in the context of the prevailing Georgian and Tudor Revival style of Leaside.  No surprise there – while 1 Clowes was built on the Town of Leaside lot (and road) plan it would be up to 20 years before other lots in the area would be built on.

So what happened at the committee? The committee heard from the owner’s agent in support, and in opposition from neighbours, the Leaside Property Owners’ Association and the North York Community Preservation Panel. Jane Pitfield, chair of the East York Historical Society, former councillor and author of Leaside, and Councillor John Parker submitted letters in opposition.

The committee voted to defer the application sine die, which means until another application is submitted.

What will happen to this property?

The owner will obviously have to consider his options. He can come back with another application at any time.

The Preservation Panel has agreed to submit the property for consideration for inclusion in the city’s Inventory of Heritage Properties. However there is a large backlog and there are few staff to process these.

Right now there are no representatives of the 1920s period of Leaside’s built heritage included in the Inventory of Heritage Properties. 2013 is the centennial of the Town of Leaside and would be a good time to do this work

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

About Geoff Kettel 222 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.