Oct. 18, 2016
There’s a little storm brewing in North Toronto revolving around a long-standing, tucked-away building hidden between the Capitol Event Theatre at Castlefield and Yonge and St. Clements School. On the surface, it’s a fight over the property rights of Orange Hall Lodge, and how a heritage listing would require that the owners get permission for certain changes. The Eglinton Orange Order Lodge Board has been in possession of the school-turned-hall since 1850, and they don’t appreciate having their neighbours show up to tell them what they should be doing in their own backyard – whether that means expand, sell, renovate, or any of decisions property owners consider their own, normally. So is this just another story about a residents group trying to stop development in the comfortable leafy North Toronto? Or is it really about how the heritage nomination process works in Toronto, and how the timing and direction of communication affects how neighbours interact, about property that ultimately the City makes recommendations for and City Council often recommends. John Armstrong, 86-year-old Lodge Master and Chairman of the Orange Hall Board, says it was a local residents’ group that told him his property was being listed – not the city. “They came in like gangbusters. Five of them,” he said, speaking about the women from the Lytton Park Residents’ Organization, in an interview after a Community Council meeting last Thursday.
The encounter he is referencing happened last March at the request of the residents’ group, but Armstrong feels the set-up for the meeting was under false pretenses. “They had already made an application for us to be ‘labelled,’ as I call it, and then they ask for a meeting with us to discuss it… Those ladies came in there and it was what they were going to do and what we would have to do. And I said, “Madame, you know, keep your balance here. You’ve asked for a meeting and we granted it so you’re guests on our premises so just be careful, you know.” Linda McCarthy from the Lytton Residents organization wasn’t present for the entire meeting, but she conceded the meeting didn’t go well. “They were pretty unhappy about the fact we had done this. They’re very private.”
Fast forward to last week’s North York Community Council meeting. The motion to list the property on the heritage register was passed, and now the item will go to city council to decide. Unlike a heritage designation, a heritage listing is less onerous to the property owner. But Armstrong doesn’t want it. “To us that is a stigma. We’re not paupers. All it is, is we own a piece of property. We don’t owe anybody any money. We pay commercial rent on a hall that belongs to a charitable organization because the City of Toronto insists on that, and we do it.”
The Communication Process
This is not the first time in recent memory that residents have come to the North York Community Centre angry about how the status of “heritage” is being used by City Planning. Last month, the question of whether a Lawrence Park study should occur brought homeowners to a council meeting that didn’t end up having time to hear them.
In the case of Orange Hall, the Orange Men have spoken at the two public meetings that occurred after their meeting with the residents’ association back in March. Upset and unclear what a heritage listing means, they brought their arguments to the Preservation Board in September, at which Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam moved a motion asking City Staff to be active in their response to the concerned Orange Men property owners. “Would you agree that it would be beneficial for us to reach out to them as soon as possible to provide great clarity and understanding of what the listing requirements are and aren’t and what would be expected of them so there’s no further confusion?” Councillor Wong-Tam asked. “Most definitely. And it would be best to have that meeting before Oct. 13, which is when this matter will be at community council, so we can commit absolutely to that,” Director of Heritage Preservation Services Mary MacDonald said.
However that follow up never occurred, and the Orange Men were left with the impression that it was very hard to get the information from staff. “I did give her a call several days ago and she attempted to explain why they were doing that,” said William McKendry, Recording Secretary of Orange Lodge and member of the Hall Board. “But no one has ever set foot on our property. In fact, [Heritage City Staff Tamara Anson-Cartwright] said that they weren’t allowed to step foot on that property.”
Signal Toronto asked Anson-Cartwright if in-person meetings are possible (as had been suggested through Councillor Wong-Tam’s motion at the Preservation Board) at other times besides the Preservation Board and Community Council. “I think it’s a case-by-case situation. It’s hard for me to say that I will have, you know [pause]. I think I’ll just leave it like that. If they can just contact me, I’m happy to answer any questions they have about it. It’s really at the point, whether it’s appropriate – we can decide if I can make a meeting or not. I think I’ll just leave it as the staff information is available for contact and they can follow up.”
Despite the two public meetings, phone call, and in-person interactions Anson-Cartwright had with the Orange Men at the meetings, they were still left unsure of the difference between their building being listed and being designated. “That’s the question that we were asking [the city staff person] this morning – what’s the difference between a listed building and a heritage building – and I never did get an answer… There’s all she gave us this morning,” Armstrong said, pointing to a piece of paper, “just before the meeting started, five minutes before we were called [to speak to the item at North York Community Council], actually.”
It’s unclear who had the idea first, to nominate Orange Hall for a listing on the Heritage Register. Anson-Cartwright explained via email that the City did engage in a “robust consultation process” for the Midtown in Focus study with a meeting in November 2015. “City staff have led a variety of consultation and engagement activities in order to document stakeholders’ insights, confirm priorities and test emerging directions,” the email states. Around that time, the Lytton Park Residents’ Organization were asked by the North Toronto Historical Society and North York Historical Societies to take on the issue of nominating the Orange Hall and neighbouring Capitol Theatre for the Heritage Register so the buildings wouldn’t be demolished, as the societies said they didn’t have time to do the work themselves. McCarthy maintains their nomination had nothing to do with the City’s nomination. “Unbeknownst to us, the City had been doing a parallel historical review of both sites [the Orange Hall and Capitol Theatre], so when the City called, we did the link up and it was actually the City that wrote the reports and made the recommendations to the Toronto [Preservation] Board,” McCarthy said in a phone interview with Signal Toronto.
While Orange Hall may not have been in the know about heritage listing, they were approached by Madison Properties to buy their lots. The Orange Lodge said no after a unanimous decision from their members. Madison Properties did, however, purchase the Capitol theatre and some stores on Yonge. It is also understood that Madison has purchased the City-owned parking lot beside the Capitol Theatre just south of the lodge and that Madison will want to build a condo there.
Now, having declined to sell their property, the Orange Lodge may now be given a Heritage listing that could affect the value of their property if they did ever want to sell it or if they did want want to renovate it to increase value.
When it comes to heritage, we need to make sure that what we’re listing and what is being named heritage is heritage, that we’re not diluting the word heritage, that we’re not doing this just to stop development
For now, Armstrong has been told by his insurance provider that his rates will rise if their building is listed on the register.
But McCarthy maintains that the issue is about preserving the building itself, and not just about preventing it from being demolished for another condo. She says it was the first school in the village of Eglinton, “then it became the first St. Clement’s church, and then it became the first Eglinton Presbyterian church before the Orange Order bought it, so it has history… It would be lovely if it was open to the public. It could be made into a little museum.” McCarthy says the whole area was a Huron Iroquois settlement and they are still digging up artifacts, and so her argument is that the building has historical heritage value that needs to be preserved.
The heritage listing
The other reason Armstrong and McKendry don’t want to see the Orange Hall Lodge designated is because they don’t think it’s actually a heritage building. The men’s group has done many renovations to it over the years, and say the current location is actually not the original location of the building that was once a schoolhouse, and was brought to where it is now on rollers.
At the community council meeting, local Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb moved staff’s recommendations, but questioned whether “heritage” is being used for its authentic purpose in her comments. “When it comes to heritage, we need to make sure that what we’re listing and what is being named heritage is heritage, that we’re not diluting the word heritage, that we’re not doing this just to stop development… just because a developer buys a property and they’re working with the neighbourhood, that we don’t jump and try and list something as heritage just to stop that. Because I think that dilutes why we need to have heritage in this city.” This point was something the Orange Men agreed with after the meeting.
The councillor also spoke to the importance of communication. “I think there needs to be a lot more consultation with the local area and with the owners of the properties because oftentimes they’re the last ones to find out that an application has been put in. For this property in particular, it hasn’t been designated heritage, it’s on the list of the registry so there’s just another step if they wanted to do some work, an extra step that they would have to go to, doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to make changes to the building. But I do believe that more needs to be done, when a third party puts in an application for heritage. I think more requirements need to be put in place so that the owners of the properties are notified or consulted earlier in the process.” However the councillor’s office had not made contact with the Orange Lodge (they said they are usually the ones approached.) The property owners didn’t even know that Councillor Greb is the councillor for that ward.
A changing city
In a province where the Orange Order once had a reputation for their prominence and proximity to government, is it a sign of the times that the City’s Heritage staff didn’t so much as knock on their door before nominating their building? If they had, the Orange Men may have been able to retain a lawyer and perhaps even mobilize some support. They may have also had a chance to clarify what a heritage listing means for them, before spending time putting together their arguments against it.
The decision will be made by council in the end and will likely follow the recommendations made by heritage staff, that are meant to be in the context of city planning. One inside source said it’s rare that council will disagree on staff recommendations, but it can happen.
Until then, the building will remain the private meeting space for the Orange Order. Armstrong says the hall is still used twice a week for meetings by the Orange Men, whose membership numbers 50 people, with six new members who have joined recently.
The space will stay private; a fraternal organization. “They [Lytton Residents] asked us why there was no women present, and I informed them that there were no ladies in an Orange Lodge,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t further clarify it by saying that the ladies have their own separate lodges and organizations because it’s none of their business. If I asked them how come they have no men representing you, what would I be?”
The buying and selling of property and how it will be used has major implications for the future of the GTA. The issue is whether “Heritage” has become a political issue at the City of Toronto, and if there is a fair process where everyone has an equal opportunity to influence the outcome. Had the Orange Lodge been contacted by the City earlier in the process, perhaps they would have had some time to mobilize some political support to keep their building off the City’s heritage register.
By Arianne Robinson