By Peter Small
A 19th-century house on Maitland St. that was nominated for heritage designation has been torn down after being damaged by two recent fires.
“We have been working with both a structural engineering company and the City of Toronto to examine the damage and identify ways to secure the site,” said Colleen Krempulec, VP, brand marketing & corporate social responsibility for Hazelview Properties, formerly Timbercreek, which manages the site.
Unfortunately, in their professional opinions, the building’s structural integrity is unsafe,” Krempulec wrote in an email after the owners obtained a demolition permit.
The unoccupied three-storey house at 34 Maitland St. had two fires in four months.
The first fire occurred on Oct. 8, 2020, two days after the Architecture Conservancy of Ontario Toronto branch featured research on Instagram noting that the Second Empire house, which had been empty for several years, was at risk.
Local preservation advocate Adam Wynne, who conducted the research, proposed the house for designation under the Ontario Heritage Act due to its architectural, contextual and historical value.
“It’s certainly disheartening that the building has been lost,” Wynne said in a recent interview. “I’m very curious as to what will happen to the parcel of land.”
The property is adjacent to but is not part of a 45-storey condo development proposed by PlazaCorp.
The October blaze was investigated by the Office of the Fire Marshal. The office emailed CWNA on April 22 saying it was not authorized to release the fire investigation report and that it must be sought through a freedom of information request.
Hazelview’s Krempulec did not respond to questions about the cause of the October fire.
The second fire broke out in the early hours of Jan. 16, 2021. Its cause is undetermined, according to Toronto Fire Deputy Chief Larry Cocco.
“No violations of the fire code were noted following the Jan. 16th, 2021 event and no enforcement action was taken,” Cocco wrote in an email to Tyler Johnson, a senior advisor to the area’s city councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam. Johnson asked about the fire on behalf of the CWNA.
After the January blaze, Toronto Fire Services issued a notice that the building had suffered significant structural damage and was unsafe. It ordered the owners to hire an engineer to evaluate the building’s safety and structural stability for possible further collapse and danger. The engineer was required to make recommendations to eliminate unsafe conditions, which the owners would be obliged to follow.
According to city documents, Timbercreek Asset Management, which had charge of the house, declared as early as 2016 that the property “is not, nor will it be, occupied and is being considered for demolition.”
Eli Miller, Timbercreek’s then-director of development, made the statement in a letter appealing a Municipal Licensing and Standards Order that eight types of defect on the property be corrected.
“We are open to discussing protective measures that would satisfy the City, while options are assessed regarding demolition and/or redevelopment,” Miller wrote in his letter to the property standards committee for Toronto and East York.
The building, constructed in either 1867 or 1870, is one of the first properties built on the north side of Maitland, according to Wynne.
It is the former residence of George Smith Holmested (1841-1928) -- a prominent barrister and member of the administration of Osgoode Hall -- in addition to being the home of several other notables, Wynne wrote.
It has been “vacant for several years and is under increased and/or imminent risk of demolition due to an increasing number of intensive redevelopment projects in the surrounding area,” Wynne wrote in his nomination.
However, City staff rejected the building for heritage designation. Staff found that the property did not meet provincial criteria and so they did not recommend it for inclusion in the city’s Heritage Register.
Wynne said he is very thankful that City staff did consider his heritage nomination.
He added, however, that it is “disheartening that this building was ultimately lost and that it was not granted heritage status. It represents some of the earliest development on Maitland St.”
Other historic homes in the area have had fires in recent years:
Toronto heritage preservation staff say a City Wide Survey aims to ensure that properties identified as having cultural heritage value are included in the Heritage Register. Their inclusion would ensure that maintenance concerns would be brought to the city’s attention, staff wrote to Johnson.