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Big plans for the old Durant site

146-150 Laird Perspective drawingThe Durant Motors office building on Laird Dr., a listed heritage building, is proposed to be partially demolished and redeveloped as a seven-storey condominium with 109 units, linked to an eight-storey rental retirement home with 175 units next door.

Durant Motors aerial viewThe two-storey brick and stone building, which was originally constructed as the administration building for Durant Motor Company in 1928, represents the one remaining vestige of the manufacture of Durant motor cars in Canada.

The factory, established in 1921 in a redundant munitions factory, was located across the street on a site now redeveloped as the SmartCentre shopping centre. By 1929 Durant had become Canada’s third largest domestic producer of automobiles.

The developer’s proposal is to retain only the front facade of the building and part of the north and south sides. The additional storeys would be set back but, as indicated in the image above, would dwarf and over-power the heritage building. As well, the distinctiveness of the Durant Motors building in its setting is radically diminished by the blending of the two buildings.

The unacceptably low level of heritage conservation is part of the reason why the local residents and the Leaside Property Owners’ Association are vigorously opposed to the proposed development. There are also several others: the development represents massive over-development of the site, and poor urban design; the proposed buildings are monolithic in the context of the existing mixed format commercial on Laird; and there is single detached housing elsewhere on the block. The massing height and length of the project would create unacceptable shadowing and loss of privacy for the neighbouring residents.

Unlike the building’s new “storeys,” the Durant Motors “story” is distinct.

Durant Motors of Canada was founded in 1921 as the Canadian subsidiary of the American company, Durant Motors Incorporated. Durant Motors acquired the former site of the Leaside Munitions Company on Laird where it expanded the property to include 20 acres of land with 11 buildings.

An impressive office building was completed on the west side of Laird, opposite the plant, in 1928. Two years later, the American parent company faced financial failure and passed control of the venture to its Canadian branch.

In 1931, the Durant Motor Company was taken over by Dominion Motors Limited, a new enterprise headed by Durant’s Canadian president, and based in Leaside. With the impact of the Great Depression, Dominion Motors closed in 1935.

The Durant Motors Office Building was subsequently acquired by the Imperial Oil Company for its Ontario sales division. In the late 1960s, the Metropolitan Separate School Board occupied the building with a long term lease, and in recent years it has housed a number of small business and politicians including former MP John Godfrey and former Councillor Jane Pitfield.

So what can you the devoted readers of Leaside Life do about this? The planning process has not finished, in fact it may have just begun. At the community public meeting held in February to consider the public’s comments there was not one voice in support.

Durant Motors carCity Planning invites comments on the plans and you can contact Guy Matthew at 416-395-7102 or gmatthe2@toronto.ca.

The planning application, together with the applicant’s plans and reports submitted, can all be viewed at the city web site.

And a final point. There is still at least one Durant car in Leaside. All Canadian Self-Storage owner Hal Spradling has one sitting at his business at 1 Laird.