What does it take to not only save a grand old building but to incorporate it into a new one? Citizen involvement, the will of some politicians, sympathetic architects, tenacity and patience. Here is the first-hand account of a Toronto resident who played a major role in the saving and building of a landmark.
The new police station located in Carleton Village has received a lot of attention, but the community that should be the first to rejoice over this success may not be fully aware of the recognition from architecture specialists and aficionados. The station’s architectural merits have been confirmed by the number of awards that keeps growing since its inauguration in the fall of 2011. First, it was the Ontario Association of Architects who granted it a Design Excellence Award in the spring of 2013. More recently it figured on Heritage Toronto’s list of nominees for the William Greer Architectural Conservation Craftsmanship Award. In the meantime, the public also showed its appreciation, granting the police station two Pug Awards: one recognizes it as the best Commercial/Institutional Building in the city for 2013 and the other as the winner of the Paul Oberman Award for Adaptive Reuse and Heritage Restoration.
Indeed, 11 Division’s new station is not an entirely new building. The police services are located in a new two-storey construction erected behind the façade of the 100-year old Carleton Village Public School. The preservation of the latter is the chief reason for its success. It is a source of pride for the residents of Carleton Village and the Junction, who played a major role in securing its preservation.
Not everyone was willing to recognize the merits of this architectural gem or was prepared to do what was needed to save it for the benefit of the immediate neighbourhood and the city of Toronto. City Council had given the Toronto Police Service (TPS) the power to demolish the entire structure and build a new station from scratch. Because the final outcome is such an encouraging example of how the will of the community ultimately prevailed over the indifference or opposition of our elected officials, it is important to tell the story of the preservation of Carleton Village Public School and to pay tribute to those who fought for it.
Carleton Village and its school
Today, Carleton Village is the result of its union with Davenport Village and the Village of West Toronto Junction, all tracing their origins to early in the first half of the 19th century.* A one-room school had been built in Davenport Village in 1859, beside the Methodist church that had been built two years before. Thirty years later it was replaced by a two-storey school of eight classrooms at the southwest corner of Osler and Connolly streets, a more westerly location where it could as conveniently serve the populations of all three villages.
In 1909, after 20 years of existing as the Town of West Toronto Junction, these communities were annexed by the City of Toronto. By that time, the populations of these former villages had increased substantially and larger facilities were needed to accommodate school-age children. In 1913, a new school with 24 classrooms was built at the northwest corner of Davenport Road and Osler Street. That 100-year old school now houses the headquarters of 11 Division. Its original architect, Franklin E. Belfry, also designed around the same time, Oakwood Collegiate and Regal Road Public School.
In 2005, before the TPS acquired the property, a Portuguese organization had wanted to purchase the old school and transform it into a community centre, adding a seniors’ residence in the former schoolyard. The Carleton Village residents, who had feared the worst about the historic building that had been abandoned and deteriorating for several years in the middle of their neighbourhood, were happy that it would finally be saved and given a new lease on life. Unfortunately, that project did not materialize because the group could not raise the necessary funding.
School acquisition by police raises fears
In August 2007, news began to circulate that 11 Division, housed in narrow and inadequate headquarters on Mavety Street, would likely move north of the Junction and establish its new station on the site of the old Carleton Village School. Had it not been for the contaminated soil, the Police would have preferred the former TTC site on Lansdowne Avenue, which was within their boundaries, while the Davenport Road site required a redefinition of the division’s territory.
The Portuguese group had been respectful of the community and had informed it of its plans early on, whereas both parties involved in the transfer of the property from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to the City were extremely secretive. They resisted informing the residents for as long as they could and never consulted them. Even our councillor declared that he was kept in the dark. A letter sent on September 28, 2007 by the president of the Carleton Village Residents’ Association to the Executive Superintendent of the TDSB, expressing concern about the lack of public consultation, was not answered for almost two months. The response announced that an information session would take place on December 7 – it actually took place on December 10 – two days before City Council voted to purchase the property on behalf of the TPS.
Contrary to what some councillors later claimed, only a few residents objected to the presence of a police station in the area. Most were concerned about the fate of the heritage school that had dominated their community for nearly a century, a building remarkable for enhancing the site and for the quality of its design. Regal Road Public School, by the same architect, is protected under the Ontario Heritage Act. With its massive Doric columns, it may appear more imposing than its counterpart in Carleton Village, but the latter is a more refined and elegant work of architecture. Details are carefully integrated to form a harmonious whole. Many articulations enliven the façades, but all are exquisitely restrained, from the large ones like the projections housing the staircases to the small ones like the pilasters and entablatures framing the main doors.
Still more remarkable is how the building relates to its site. The two main façades, converging at a 55-degree angle corresponding to the two streets they are parallel to, could have resulted in a dull and weak corner. That was cleverly avoided with an oblique wall linking the two main façades. The wall also provides a wide backdrop to an exceptionally large bow window on the main floor, stressing the rapport between the school and its surroundings. What could have been a bland spot was turned into an expressive gesture.
These qualities, however, did not impress everyone involved in the decision-making process to determine the fate of this heritage building. At a public meeting held in February 2008, the Police informed the community of their needs. They announced that the old school offered approximately the square footage they required, but no decision was made concerning its future. Would the police services be housed in it or in a totally new structure? The Police also wanted a station that would resist earthquakes, a protection the 100-year old school could hardly provide.
In the meantime, the City Planning Division submitted to the Toronto Preservation Board a report stating that the school met the criteria for municipal designation under the Ontario Heritage Act “for its cultural heritage value”. The Board asked the Planning Division to revise its reasons for designation after meeting with representatives of the TPS but the Planning Division maintained its original recommendation. At a subsequent meeting, representatives of both the Police and the TDSB made deputations and the Preservation Board recommended to the Etobicoke York Community Council that the property be included on the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties. However, it rejected the recommendation of the Planning Division to designate it under the Ontario Heritage Act.
To explain briefly, historical designation confers a legal status on a property and consequently makes the decision process more rigorous than does “listing”. An application to demolish it can be approved only by City Council. In any case, even listing the school was too much for the Etobicoke York Community Council. At its June 10, 2008 meeting, it rejected the watered-down recommendation of the Preservation Board and City Council endorsed the Community Council’s motion on June 24.
During the three-month period it took the City to decide to adopt no protective measures at all, Councillor Adam Vaughan, who sat on the Preservation Board, fought vigorously in favour of the school. Several members of City Council, however, had no qualms about revealing how little they cared about preserving our heritage, to the point that Councillor Peter Milczyn, who presented a motion to list the school on the Toronto Inventory, declared that he was “embarrassed” by his colleagues on the Etobicoke York Community Council.
Police Chief Bill Blair declared that he would not jeopardize the budget of the TPS in order to save the two main façades of the school which, he said with some exaggeration, would raise the construction cost from $25 million to the range of $32 to $35 million. That day in June 2008, many councillors gave us the kind of colourful performance they are capable of, trying as best as they could to convince one another that Chief Blair would never build his police station if Council forced him to save a structure which was not worth it. To my knowledge, he never said that explicitly, but our elected representatives kept outdoing one another to give the Chief excuses, which he did not need, for demolishing the school.
The community fights back
The decision of City Council allowed the Police to do whatever they liked with their newly-acquired property. In Carleton Village, however, residents were determined that the last word had not yet been heard. Right from their first encounter with the Police and the TDSB in December 2007, two days before City Council authorized the purchase of the school, they had clearly expressed how strongly they felt about a piece of their heritage and they continued to show their determination to protect it with deputations at the Etobicoke York Community Council the following June. Aware that they could not count on the City, they knew that only their own actions would give the historic school its last chance and they engaged head-on, although with very limited means, in a campaign during the second half of 2008. Letters to the editors were published in The Toronto Star and the local paper, The Villager. The residents’ association also did all it could to involve the local population. Many who had never been to an association meeting started attending. A petition circulated in the neighbourhood collected close to 500 signatures (a high number given that Carleton Village is a small community). We also tried to gain support from outside the community, namely from organizations dedicated to architectural heritage. Unfortunately, that outreach was not as successful as we had hoped and the community felt pretty much alone as the planning period approached.
That phase began early in January 2009. When City Council refused to include the Carleton School on the Inventory of Heritage Properties, it formed an Advisory Working Group that included representatives from the community who would work with the architects and the TPS. The group’s role was to determine what to do with what could be salvaged, if anything.
Working with the architects proved to be a more positive experience. The Police had retained the services of Michael Moxam and Tom Kyle of Stantec Architecture, a choice well received by the community. A few years before, these two architects had designed the building of 51 Division at Parliament and Front streets, a station housed in a restored gas plant from the turn of the 20th century. The Police received much praise for preserving that exceptional structure where Moxam and Kyle had collaborated with E.R.A. Architects, well respected restoration experts with whom they would work again in Carleton Village.
Our encounters with the architects soon revealed that they, although discreetly, shared our conviction that the school had architectural merits. It was more challenging to convince the Police that their budget allowed for the preservation of the school as we envisioned, after Chief Blair and his assistants had been saying the opposite. It was somewhat daunting to make our point in front of architects and construction managers with lots of experience in building police stations.
I will skip the details of this negotiation as well as the stages of the design process. Suffice it to say that less than two months after beginning, the architects were able to present the residents of Carleton Village and the Junction with preliminary drawings that preserved most of the two main façades of the old school and announced that the “Police have made the commitment to save as much of the building as possible”. Those in attendance “breathed a sigh of relief”, as The Villager reported. When the architects addressed the community again in August 2009, they were accompanied by Chief Blair and members of his staff. The proposal was almost in its final stages, including landscaping. Some residents had reservations about juxtaposing the three-storey historical building with a low structure of glass and steel, but the general reaction was overwhelmingly favourable.
The ground-breaking ceremony took place in November 2009 and the official occupancy by the Police Services in September 2011.
A notable addition to Carleton Village
As it had for a century, the heritage school stands proudly on its corner. Now, it relates even more prominently to its community as if pushed forward by a long and uniform wall of glass and steel acting as a contrasting backdrop. The converging façades of the historic part define a triangular plan with, at its apex, a large room on the ground floor used by the residents of Carleton Village and the Junction for community activities. It occupies the library of the former school, which for a short period had also served as a kindergarten, and it expands outward in a large bow window forming a unique landmark.
The new wing, behind the modern glass façade houses the more secure area reserved for the staff. On the main floor, the new and the old parts are accessible by a common lobby, an open, well lit, and welcoming space. This inviting character of the new station begins even outside, where the entrance is approached through a landscaped forecourt emphasizing the transition between the street and the station. Within that triangular garden, a long staircase narrows toward the summit guiding the visitor.
The 11 Division Police Station goes a long way to improving the quality of the environment. It is a certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) building, the first police station in Toronto to be granted that status by the Canadian Green Building Council. A geothermal well under the parking lot heats and cools the premises. The property also makes a huge contribution to the greening of the neighbourhood, an improvement much needed by Carleton Village. Over 100 mature trees were planted bordering the entire city block occupied by the station and the parking area behind it. Along Davenport Road, three long rows of trees, and in some places four, precede the façade rising at the top of terraced lawns. They are mainly ornamental pear trees, but an entire row is made up of oaks. Along the other three streets, the green curtain of beeches, forming a thick hedge, conceals the parking area. Finally, on the northwest corner a parkette was redesigned and dedicated to police constable Percival B. Cummins who died while on duty in 1981. Diana Gerrard of gh3 Designs was the landscape architect. It should be noted that even with these additional improvements, embellishments and the preservation of the two main façades of the heritage school, 11 Division’s station was built under budget.
All these attributes make the police station a truly exceptional building and a much-appreciated improvement to Carleton Village. As mentioned, it has been suitably appreciated by architectural experts and the public. There is little doubt, however, that the quality of the building is due mainly to the respect it pays to its architectural heritage and to the community of Carleton Village, which can legitimately take pride in the role it played to secure it.
The community has many more opportunities to preserve worthy structures. The neighbourhood already includes a historically designated building, the Davenport-Perth United Church, whose origins go back to 1857. Heydon House, at the corner of St. Clair Avenue and Old Weston Road, is another unusual building worth preserving. This 1891 former hotel, the oldest building on St. Clair Avenue, unfortunately does not show its potential now, which is all the more reason for the population to keep a watchful eye on it. Indeed, the residents of Carleton Village and the Junction, these two ancient villages that made up the former town of West Toronto Junction over a century ago, must remain attentive to the fact that their territory is home to a concentration of historical treasures few other neighbourhoods in Toronto can compete with.
– Claude Bergeron
*The information about the history of Carleton Village and its school is borrowed from Nancy Byers and Barbara Myrvold, St. Clair West in Pictures, a History of the Communities of Carleton, Davenport, Earlscourt, and Oakwood, Second Edition, Toronto Public Library, 1999.
The author is a former president of the Carleton Village Residents’ Association and a member of the Advisory Working Group created by City Council to work with the architects and the TPS.
Just want to back up the authenticity of Claude Bergeron’s account of the history and evolution of the modern 11 Division police station at Davenport Road and Osler street.
Thanks for chronicling not only the trials and set backs, Claude, but also the triumph of preserving such a fabulous work of architecture and art. Thanks again for a well written account.
John Sweeney, Toronto
Enjoyed the story about the TPS “New” 11 Division station. Amazing what we can do to preserve our built heritage when people care.
Mike Filey, Toronto
Found this article very interesting. I had no idea the police division building was completed, etc. This is the first info I have received about it.
I completely enjoy the Living Toronto online journal. Thank you to all of your team
Angela Muto, Toronto