August 20, 2014

Ice cream house in jeopardy of demolition

City staff is expected to complete heritage review in January

Brian Barron of the Casa Loma Residents Association

Brian Barron of the Casa Loma Residents Association

Local residents are scrambling to save a more-than-100-year-old home in the Casa Loma neighbourhood after Toronto and East York Community Council issued its purchaser a demolition permit last month. While City of Toronto: Heritage Preservation Services conducts a heritage review, there is little stopping the purchaser of 72 Wells Hill Ave. from moving ahead with demolition.

The Ontario Heritage Act requires that one of three criteria be met in order for a home to be designated with architectural, associative or contextual significance. Residents believe this home possesses all three. The architect who built the home, W. R. Gregg, worked on other important local projects from this period, such as the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. Charles Neilson, son of the founder of the Neilson ice cream and chocolate empire, and president of the company for a period, lived in the home, which is believed to be one of the oldest on the street and in the area.

Coun. Joe Mihevc said Toronto and East York Community Council was bound by provincial law to approve the demolition permit, as the building permit was already in place. He added that because the purchaser can’t simply toss out the tenants now living there, heritage preservation services staff will likely have time to report back in January before the home is demolished.

“To lose the house would be a serious blow to heritage.”

Joel Farber, a lawyer for the purchaser, said his client disagrees with the contention that the home has associative value. If anything, the founder of Neilon’s Gladstone Avenue home and original factory does. The purchaser is currently trying to address any concerns residents may have.

But, Farber said, “He’s not willing to forgo any legal rights that he has.”

Brian Barron, a member of the Casa Loma Residents Association, said his group would be sympathetic if the owner wanted to repair and update the home, but it does not want to see the home demolished.

“To lose the house would be a serious blow to the heritage characteristics of the neighbourhood,” Barron said.