295 George Street, 2008, by Olena Sullivan
EDITOR’S NOTE: Heritage Toronto’s Gary Miedema will be making a series of posts on structures around the city included in their upcoming â€œBuilding Storeysâ€ exhibit at the Gladstone Hotel that runs February 17-22.
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A few years ago, I was on my bike heading up to Allan Gardens and thought I’d bypass Jarvis by riding the residential streets to the east. When I hit George Street going north off of Dundas, my legs stopped peddling and I coasted, trying to make sense of the view — a line of neglected buildings including two that have been abandoned, windows boarded or gaping black over garbage strewn lawns.
My guess is that most readers of this website will already know that Jarvis Street, one block to the west, used to be one of Toronto’s finer neighbourhoods — a fact made clear by the architectural pedigree of its remaining homes. â€œOf all the avenues extending south from Bloor Street to the Bay,â€ judged the writer of Toronto:Past and Present in 1882, â€œthe noblest are Church, Jarvis and Sherbourne Streetsâ€, with the latter two boasting â€œthe mansions of the upper ten.â€ George Street, squeezed between them, caught â€œthe refined tone of the neighbourhoodâ€ as it passed north of today’s Dundas Street, and stopped at one of the city’s gems, Allan Gardens.
It may not be surprising, then, that three of the 14 buildings photographed for the â€œBuilding Storeysâ€ exhibit can be found in this neighbourhood. Step inside All Saints Community Centre on the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne, and you can see that this former parish church once had wealthy patrons. Completed in 1874, the church is a beautiful example of the exuberance of the High Gothic style of the Victorian period.
All Saints Community Centre, 2008 by Toni Wallachy
Back on George Street, only two blocks away, the two vacant and derelict homes, numbers 295 and 305, are among the city’s oldest — dating to circa 1856 and 1858. The home at 295, in fact, was early enough to appear on the 1858 Boulton’s Atlas, and has been catalogued in ERA Architects’ presentation at Harbourfront Centre about both the atlas itself and of all the buildings in it that are still standing today.
The homes at 295 and 305 were constructed shortly after the death in 1853 of William Allan, the man who owned Park Lot V, which stretched all the way from just east of Jarvis to Sherbourne, and from Queen to Bloor. George Allan, William’s son, moved back into the estate house called Moss Park (which was later demolished, and which is now the site of the Moss Park Arena and community centre). George subdivided the land to the immediate north of Moss Park, then played out his love for horticulture and made his subdivision that much more saleable – in 1861, he donated what is today â€œAllan Gardensâ€ to the Toronto Horticultural Society.
While the â€œBotanical Gardenâ€ (as Allan Gardens was first called) was being planned, the home at 305 George Street was built for Thomas Meredith, a grain merchant who had a strong association with the Gooderham and Worts Distillery. Now a dull grey, painted brick home with slider and boarded windows, it once was a gracious example of the Italianate style of residential architecture, complete with a red brick faà§ade with buff (or yellow) brick detailing. The Meredith family owned the house until 1911. Though it has no doubt been a rooming house and is now vacant, the elaborate plaster mouldings and six of the seven fireplace mantels (that’s right, seven fireplaces) are still largely intact. A recent photo of the back of the home still captures some of its former beauty.
Rear of Thomas Meredith House, 305 George Street, in 2006 by Scott Weir
Interior of Thomas Meredith House, 2008 by Timothy Neesam
Interior of Thomas Meredith House, 2008 by Timothy Neesam
At 295 George, the story is very different. With its neighbour at 297, the home seems to have been constructed in about 1856 as a rental property. Its original appearance is hard to figure out, but my guess is that it was once the mirror image of its neighbour, with a window where the grand front door is now and a regular door where the window on the right now appears (a close look shows no stone lintel over that window). Beneath its paint are hints of the same red and yellow brick of Thomas Meredith’s house.
For its first few years, 295 George changed owners and tenants frequently. Then, in the mid-1880s, it was acquired by Toronto businessman William Gooderham and donated to W.C. Fegan, a British man who had begun bringing destitute British boys to Canada to give them a better future. In 1887, the home became the Fegan Boys Distributing Home, and it is more than likely that the long addition of rooms to the rear of the original house (and perhaps the mansard roof on the third floor) were added thereafter to house the boys until they were lined up with a home and a job. I would assume that the Tudor style woodwork on the faà§ade was a later addition as well.
295 George Street in 2006. Note the total lack of a roof (since partially repaired). by Scott Weir
By 1939, when the Fegan organization left 295 George Street for new digs on Broadview Avenue, something like 3,000 British boys had found new lives in Canada. The house at 295 George then became the new location of the â€œSociety of Crippled Civilians.â€
Today, 295 George Street must be on its way to collapse. It was apparently torn apart for renovation a few years back, the roof partly rebuilt, and then abandoned. With windows and the roof open to the weather, it cannot survive.
Interior of 295 George Street, 2008. Open to the elements, with ladders still standing in place by Timothy Neesam
Interior of 295 George Street, 2008 by Toni Wallachy
The context of these homes explains their plight. According to an article in the National Post last year, the streets surrounding and including George Street have the highest concentration of shelters and substance-abuse facilities in the city. Just a few doors up from 295 and 305 George is Seaton House, with beds for 600 homeless men.
That makes for a tough neighbourhood, and makes the condition of these historic homes heartbreakingly appropriate.
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These homes are included in Building Storeys: A Photo Exhibit of Toronto’s Aging Spaces, held at the Gladstone Hotel from February 17-22. For more information, www.heritagetoronto.org.