Transit expansion ‘should not come at the expense of destroying the cultural heritage of the City of Toronto:’ Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam
Metrolinx, a transit agency affiliated with the Ontario government, has initiated expropriation proceedings for significant parts of the First Parliament Site, according to a statement issued by Toronto Centre city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam this week.
The expropriation of this land is to facilitate Metrolinx’s construction of the Ontario Line station that is being planned on the provincially owned portion of the block at 265 Front St. E. The Ontario government has indicated it seeks to take possession of this land as soon as August.
The pieces of land Metrolinx is looking to redevelop are owned by the City of Toronto and located at 271 Front St. E. and 25 Berkeley St. The First Parliament Site is located by Front and Parliament streets. Together, the sites stretch a full city block, bordered on the west by Berkeley Street and the south by Parliament Square Park.
“Residents and community leaders have been engaged in the assembly of land and the design of the First Parliament master plan for years,” said Wong-Tam in her statement. “In order to build complete communities, it is essential to work with impacted stakeholders, business owners, and residents as it makes for a stronger neighbourhood master plan.”
The First and Second Parliament buildings of Upper Canada were located at Front and Parliament in what used to be the town of York between 1795 and 1824. The First Parliament building was used by Upper Canada’s Legislative Council and the House of Assembly. American soldiers burned it down during the War of 1812. The Second Parliament building opened in 1820, but burned down four years later because of an overheated chimney chamber.
The land is undergoing a master plan revitalization strategy with a plan to develop the site in the next 10 to 20 years. A new district library is planned for the site, and other public and community uses are being examined.
Wong-Tam said city staff told her the surprise expropriation timeline is “aggressive,” particularly given the lack of notice. Metrolinx told the Ryersonian it will keep people informed and engaged on plans for the Ontario Line.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions with the city about our plans for the Ontario Line, including discussions that were held in advance of our fall 2020 virtual consultations where details on the First Parliament Site were provided,” said Metrolinx. “We recently confirmed a need to acquire the property with the city. Some (land) parcels may be temporarily needed for construction and then would be restored.”
Metrolinx said it will be making every effort to minimize impacts on culture and heritage sites, and it will work with experts to ensure these spaces are treated with respect.
Spadina-Fort York councillor Joe Cressy condemned the expropriation of the First Parliament Site in a statement.
“The notice of expropriation by the province to take permanent ownership of the site now raises serious concerns for the planned public uses for the site, including critical community facilities such as the district library,” said Cressy. “Successful city-building requires collaboration between government partners, working together on shared objectives.”
Cressy said he is concerned by the lack of collaboration from the Ontario government and the potential risk to the historic site. He vowed to continue to work with Wong-Tam, stakeholders and the public to secure the city’s goals for the site.
Metrolinx’s plan follows the Ontario government’s order for the demolition of the Dominion Foundry Complex’s buildings, another historic site. That order has prompted an outcry from community groups in the city.